Instances of Discovery

I got to know Diane Millis in the spring of 1997, when she was a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research where I was executive director.

She first heard about the Institute in the book Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life, in which Roberta Bondi says that in Collegeville she learned how to put theology and life together. Diane decided she wanted to know more about such a place.

Diane, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, has shifted the center of her interest and work from the conventionally academic to concentrate on the art of spiritual direction, a field in which she is an acknowledged expert and mentor. Already a quarter-century ago her trajectory was coming clear: while at the Institute she wrote an article called "Family Spirituality: Memories, Mayhem, and Meaning." Near the end of the article she says, "Living spiritually as a family does require trust that there isn't anywhere or any time God isn't, including times and places we're sure God is absent."

In her 2019 book, Re-Creating a Life: Learning How to Tell Our Most Life-Giving Story, she distills much of what she has learned through seminars, retreats, and projects such as "Companions on a Journey" at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University and "Lives Explored" at the Collegeville Institute.

The book is a treasure. Here is why I think so.

The fruits of heartbreak. The refresh button on first impressions. Holding a container. The tuning fork of the human soul. Do-over, freeze-frame, or fast-forward as you re-examine an experience.

These images – fresh, sometimes counter-intuitive – moor Re-Creating a Life. Too many books that purport to offer spiritual guidance aren’t tethered to everyday reality. They float away. Millis keeps coming to ground. Through the example of her own story, and of many others gleaned from her decades of teaching and retreat leading, she demonstrates that while we can’t rewrite history (that traumatic event actually happened), we can re-author it.

In the most compelling image in the book, she recounts the shift of her story from Broken Apart to Broken Open. The breaking was there, not to be denied. But Humpty Dumpty could be put back together – not by all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, but by Millis herself, with the help of people who listened to her, really listened.

“While there are no guarantees that through our telling our stories will be transformed into something we can understand, I do believe that we will be transformed through their telling.” The balance of “no guarantees” and “I do believe” – there’s why you can trust Millis. She details a process, and offers helpful, practical suggestions for how to engage in it yourself, but she doesn’t oversell. It’s up to you, but you aren’t alone.

Millis has good things to say about super-encounterers. You wonder what they are? Read Re-Creating a Life. It will entice you to become one.