What is spiritual direction?
The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which one presents to the world, and to bring out one’s inner spiritual freedom, one’s inmost truth, which is what [Christians] call the likeness of Christ in one’s soul. This is an entirely supernatural (spiritual) thing, for the work of rescuing the inner person from automatism belongs first of all to the Holy Spirit. (Thomas Merton)
How do we know that we are not deluding ourselves, that we are not selecting those words that best fit our passions, that we are not just listening to the voice of our own imagination?…Who can determine if [our] feelings and insights are leading [us] in the right direction?
Our God is greater than our own heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God. Therefore, we need a guide, a director, a counselor who helps us to distinguish between the voice of God and all other voices coming from our own confusion or from dark powers far beyond our control.
We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give it all up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair. We need someone who discourages us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal. We need someone who can suggest to us when to read and when to be silent, which words to reflect upon and what to do when silence creates much fear and little peace. (Henri Nouwen, “Reaching Out”)
Spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another, more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which God may be touching her or his life, directly or indirectly. In our age, many people dislike the term “spiritual direction” because it sounds like one person giving directions, or orders, to another. They prefer “spiritual companionship,” “tending the holy,” or some other name. What we call it doesn’t make any real difference, and through this page we will refer to it as direction for the sake of ease. The reality remains conversations about life in the light of faith.
Although spiritual direction has had a burst of new life, it is really quite ancient. Across both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, we find people seeking spiritual counsel. The Queen of Sheba sought out the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus gave us examples in his conversations with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, in the ongoing formation of Peter and the other disciples. In the early church, people flocked to hermits in the desert for spiritual counsel. Across the centuries we find striking examples in some Irish monks, in some German Benedictine nuns, in Charles de Foucault, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and others. Today, spiritual directors come from many traditions and are clergy and lay.
Would spiritual direction be a helpful choice for you?
Probably, if . . .
- You find yourself wanting a deeper relationship with God;
- Your search for God is at a crossroad;
- You want to explore new ways to pray or if prayer has become difficult;
- You feel the need for someone to help in discerning the call of God for you;
- You desire a companion on the spiritual journey.
How do I find a director?
First of all – pray that God will show you the right director for you. You may wish to talk with your parish priest about a potential direction relationship with them, or with someone they could suggest. You might have met a potential director at an Anam Cara Community event, or be aware of them through something you’ve read. Or you might get in contact with us to obtain a list of potential directors near you. Spiritual Directors International also maintains a list. The directors on the list we can provide you are either trained or experienced, or in a formation program.
What happens in spiritual direction?
During a session, the director will spend most of the time listening carefully and attentively to your story, experience of your prayer and your struggles. In a confidential and trusting setting, you will have a chance to talk about your search to know and do whatever God is asking of you in your life.
Will it cost anything?
Ordinarily not, but this is something you might discuss with a potential director.
What if I don’t live close to anyone?
There are possibilities for direction using the phone, email or letters. Don’t let distance put you off.
Can I try before I buy?
Certainly. You need to be sure direction, and the director, is for you. Though once you have begun a relationship it is important to remain committed to it.