I have been meeting with a spiritual director for nearly two years. Inevitably, when I return home from my monthly meeting, my husband asks me if I have found my spirit yet. He says that since I am going for "spiritual direction," obviously my spirit must be lost. It is a poor joke on his part, but it serves to illustrate some of the misunderstanding that surrounds spiritual direction. I admit, even I wasn't quite sure what I was walking into when I attended my first session, and that was after doing extensive research and attending an open house at the Center for Spiritual Direction in Holyoke, MA!
What exactly is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction has existed as long as there have been people who have wanted to explore and deepen their relationship with God and have sought the help of others more experienced in the spiritual journey to guide them. In the earliest days, such a guide might have been a shaman or medicine man (or woman). The tradition was continued in both the Jewish and Christian faiths. For many centuries in the Christian tradition, however, formal spiritual direction was offered only to clergy and vowed religious. Laity could receive some direction through their confessor in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For the most part, however, the opportunity for a lay man or woman to meet with a trained spiritual director expressly for the purpose of exploring his or her spiritual life is a fairly recent development.
Spiritual direction presupposes that God is at work in the life of the person coming for direction (the directee) and that God has been at work since the moment of that person's birth. The role of the director is to help the directee see where God is in his or her life at this moment in time. "Direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director, the Holy Spirit, hidden in the depths of our soul." (1)
Margaret Guenther, a married Episcopal priest, compares the role of a spiritual director to that of a midwife. "The midwife is present to another in a time of vulnerability, working in areas that are deep and intimate. It is a relationship of trust and mutual respect." (2) Ultimately, the directee does the hard labor, but the director is there with her, to guide, to wait with, to celebrate when the way becomes clear. The directee must be willing to open herself, to share any relevant details of her life. Nothing should be considered "off the table" for discussion. The director, in turn, holds these life stories in complete confidentiality, asks relevant questions, and seeks to help the directee find God revealed in the experiences of everyday living. The director can also help in nurturing the directee's relationship with God through prayer and spiritual reading. Spiritual direction provides a sacred space and a dedicated time for reflection.
Should you have a spiritual director? The Holy Spirit is at work in every life. There are many good people who live virtuous lives without the aid of a spiritual director. The idea of talking to someone about their relationship with God may not appeal to them. (3) There is nothing wrong with that. If this describes you, then spiritual direction is probably not right for you at this moment in time. If, however, you have reached a point in which you are struggling to find God in your life, or you are trying to discern God's will for your life, or you would simply appreciate the opportunity to speak with a willing listener about your spiritual journey, then spiritual direction may very well be the answer.
How do you find a spiritual director? There are many centers for spiritual direction. If there is one that focuses on your faith tradition in your geographical area then that is a good place to start. Otherwise, asking a member of the clergy for a recommendation may offer some leads. As with any other therapeutic relationship, there may be some trial and error involved. Every director-directee relationship is different. Personalities may not gel. An initial interview should be used to determine what you hope to obtain through spiritual direction and whether the relationship would be beneficial.
In my own experience, I have benefited greatly from spiritual direction. I lead a busy life and I appreciate the opportunity to have that one hour a month set aside for reflection. I look forward to it immensely. Meeting with my director has helped me to see God's action in my life more clearly and to be more open to the workings of the Spirit. I would recommend it to anyone who seeks to explore his or her relationship with God.
1 Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968) quoted in "Writings on Spiritual Direction by Great Christian Masters, " Ed. Jerome M. Newfelder & Mary C. Coelho. Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1982, 15.
2 Margaret Guenther, "Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction," Boston: Cowley Publications, 1992, 87.
3 Madeline Birmingham & William Connolly, "Witnessing to the Fire: Spiritual Direction and the Development of Directors," Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994, 65.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of "The Spiritual Woman Newsletter", (http://www.spiritualwoman.net) and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother"(iUniverse 2004). She has a Master of Arts in Applied Theology from Elms College.
Your article reminds me of what is called discipleship in days of old. Thank you for sharing your view point. I appreciated your comment on my article. (I'm amateur) I edited it--and I believe it is a little better through patience. (LOL) Spiritual advisor's help. God bless you sis, littlelight