Spiritual Direction

Article excerpt

The first question people usually raise about spiritual direction is, "What is it?" Spiritual direction can mean different things to different people, but in my understanding it is the art of Christian listening carried out in the context of a one-to-one trusting relationship. It is when one Christian is trained to be a competent guide who then "companions" another person, listening to that person's life story with an ear for the movement of the Holy, of the Divine.

For many people spiritual direction is a new concept, and some people are uncomfortable with the word "director" because of what it might imply. Is it a problem for you? "Director" really is a misnomer, because God is the Director and I am simply one who companions. There is a tradition of using the word "director", and I don't see that being changed, but truly God is the Director, and the spiritual director simply assists the seeker in uncovering and discovering the direction of God in that person's life. This enables the directee to see, claim, receive, own, and reverence God's voice, God's nudging, and God's acting, in such a way that it elicits a natural and genuine response. Spiritual direction - or mentoring, or companioning, or spiritual friendship - has been part of the Christian tradition for centuries. It's part of the discipling model. People sought out Jesus because they saw that he was wiser, and they respected his walk with God. John Knox sought out Calvin in Geneva and walked with him. In monastic communities a novice might have the abbot as his/her spiritual director. These kinds of prayer relationships have existed down through the ages.

Can you say something about the relationship between spiritual direction and pastoral counseling or psychotherapy? Are they the same thing? If you were to be looking through two one-way mirrors and on your left was a spiritual direction session and on your right was a pastoral counseling or psychiatric session, they may look quite similar, but actually there are important differences. In the spiritual direction session there would be a candle or some other non-verbal symbol representing the Holy. It may be an open Bible, a plant, a cross, or maybe some water - something that is understood to represent the Holy. Spiritual direction, unlike pastoral counseling, always happens in the context of prayer and spiritual intimacy. This is where intimate engagement happens. Whereas in psychotherapy the clinical distance is crucial to bring about objectivity and healing, in spiritual direction discernment is based upon the intimate engagement of two people walking into the sanctuary of God. Another difference is that people usually enter pastoral counseling, because something is wrong in their life, whether it is an area of shame, or guilt, or abuse, or addiction, or poor self-image. They're coming because something is wrong and they want it to be made right.

So they're in some sort of crisis. Yes. A crisis is what initially gets a person into therapy. It may not, however, be what keeps the person in the therapy, but it often is the initial threshold crossing. Spiritual direction deals with the assumption that the person is already whole, but hasn't yet fully embraced this truth for themselves. Another important assumption of spiritual direction is that it is not for everyone, because it presumes some degree of psychological health in one's life. We're really listening for the stream beneath the stream of the person's life,... for those moments of encounter with the Holy. A classic question is "Where is God in the midst of this experience. . .?" "Directors do not create relationships between God and their directees, they simply foster these relationships so that they may deepen and grow.

What will impel someone to seek out spiritual direction then? Assuming that the person who is coming to explore this for the first time is not in crisis, is there something else that usually will draw them to this? …


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