Dr. Catherine C. Gregg
Spiritual direction is a series of conversations in which one person comes alongside the other to help him or her to listen for the words and work of God in his/her life. A spiritual director usually has had special training in the art of listening, being able to demonstrate good communication skills with people, and a deep understanding of many of the ways in which God has communicated with people (and people with God) throughout history. This would include knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, of church history, of spirituality, and of psychology.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A SPIRITUAL DIRECTION MEETING?
What does the director do? Depending on what is comfortable for the directee, a director may begin the meeting in one of several ways: he/she may pray a prayer of invocation, and sit in silence with the directee for some moments until the directee feels ready to break the silence and begin sharing what’s happening for them; or sometimes the director begins with the simple question “How has it been going since the last time we met?” Often there is some time for general conversation as both the director and the directee transition into the direction time. As the directee shares, the director will be listening, and from time to time ask questions or make observations about the sharing. The director will “pace” the meeting, creating space around the sharings that seem to be tapping into the directees’ connection with God. The director will validate and encourage the directee, but will never rebuke, command or exploit the directee. Based on the directees’ sharing, the director may make suggestions about spiritual practices or experiences that the directee may want to explore in the coming month.
What does the directee do?
The directee shares about his or her relationship with God (as much or as little as he/she feels safe to share). Anything that is in the realm of one’s spiritual life is appropriate to share in the meeting with the director.
Questions a spiritual director may ask:
Generally, spiritual directors begin with the basic question “How would you like to begin?” Because this time is for and about the directee, anything that the directee wants to talk about regarding their relationship with God is okay. The spiritual director is not an “answer person”, but will provide a space to explore the questions and issues that are of interest and concern to the directee. Over the course of several months, the director may ask questions about the directees’ on-going experience of God, perhaps exploring such questions as “When have you experienced the most closeness to God and to yourself recently? When have you felt most disconnected from God and from yourself this past month? What has that looked like? What do you think God is up to in your life right now? Are you sensing God asking or telling you something in this season of your life? How/are you responding to what you understand God to be asking?”
Suggestions a spiritual director may make:
Sometimes a director will suggest specific kinds of prayer (such as lectio divina, the prayer of examen, etc.), or perhaps highlight a question that the directee may want to keep before God during the coming month. Suggestions about ways to practice the presence of God, to grow in discernment, and to explore issues of call and vocation may also be made. A director may encourage the directee to practice a specific spiritual practice or discipline (such as journaling, solitude, service or fasting) for a season.
HOW OFTEN DOES SOMEONE MEET WITH A DIRECTOR?
Typically, one meets with a spiritual director once a month. The time is used to reflect on the directee’s experience in relationship with God during the past month. The director and directee may explore together what the directee’s prayer experience has been, or to talk about other matters that have influenced his or her experience of God.
HOW CAN I BE HELPED BY THE PRACTICE OF SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?
Spiritual direction is an utterly confidential setting, giving a directee an opportunity to explore with someone who is safe and non-judgmental the real issues of their spiritual life. The director is not there to “fix” the directee, or to make the directee holier, or to tell him or her what he or she should do or be. Rather, the director is there to help to create a sacred space which will facilitate an ongoing conversation between the directee and God, and to provide another set of listening ears for the words and the work of God in the directee’s life.
HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM COUNSELING?
Usually, counseling is concerned with the relationship dynamics in one’s life. All relationships, but especially the primary relationships with family are explored in this context. Spiritual direction, which also focus’ on relational dynamics, is concerned specifically with relationship with God – who one is in relationship with God; how one communicates (both “sends” and “receives”); what God’s call or purpose is for one’s life, etc. Spiritual direction is not a discipline that is oriented towards solving problems, but about growing in our inner life with God.
IS THIS A CHRISTIAN PRACTICE?
Spiritual direction has been a part of the Christian Church since the first century, and while having undergone a series of shifts in its focus, has been seen as a necessary component for Christian growth and nurture..
“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the facade of conventional gestures and attitudes which are presented to the world, and to bring out the person’s inner spiritual freedom, his/her inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his/her soul.” – Thomas Merton
For help in securing a spiritual director, or for more information about training in spiritual direction, contact Joyce Vidal-Thornburg @ firstname.lastname@example.org