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Spiritual Direction:
An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)


Occasionally with my clients the subject of 'Spiritual Direction' is raised. For those who are not in the Catholic tradition (like me) this concept is a little foreign. I've received great help from the four spiritual directors I've had. The following is a summary of the 'received wisdom' in this area - the full text is on my home page.

Shalom! Rowland Croucher

Director, John Mark Ministries - resources for pastors/leaders.
(Bookroom, library, and worldwide F.W.Boreham Trading Post)
Home Page: http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME (AGAIN)

Mark Link sent a letter to a number of students in the high school where he taught. He invited them to

* attend the eucharistic liturgy once a week (in addition to Sunday)

* give 10 minutes of each day to meditation; and

* meet with a spiritual director every week (or 2 weeks) to help them with their spiritual growth, particularly with their prayer.

The response, he says, exceeded expectation. The book on prayer he wrote for those students is still one of the best around (YOU: Prayer for Beginners and Those Who Have Forgotten How, Argus, 1976).

I met a pastor-friend in a shop. Asked what his goal was for the coming year, his response was immediate: 'To find a spiritual director'.

In the words of William Barry, spiritual direction is 'that form of pastoral care which offers direct help to another person to enable that person to relate personally to him or her, to respond to God personally, and to live the consequences of that relationship.'

John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul seemed to have this sort of relationship with their disciples. Luther said every priest ought to have a 'father in God'. No one is an island. In our spiritual journey two are better than one.

The Role of the Spiritual Director.

The spiritual director helps another Christian become himself or herself in faith. He or she helps the other to recognize God's working in all the events of life. The seventeenth-century Benedictine mystic, Dom Augustine Baker, wrote, `In a word, [the spiritual director] is only God's usher, and must lead souls in God's way, and not [his or her] own'. Spiritual direction is simply and clearly to lead us to our real Director. The director shares my vision of the Lord, and the Lord's vision of me, and is the one to whom I say regularly, 'Keep me true to this vision; help me to be faithful.' The director helps me to discover which 'rumours' are of God in my life and which are not.

The best spiritual directors are highly skilled at 'noticing', listening and attending to the key interior movements in a person's prayer. However this is not just a mystical thing. Because prayer covers all the major areas of one's life, so does spiritual direction. Thomas Merton told of a Russian spiritual director who was criticized for spending so much time earnestly advising an old peasant woman about the care of her turkeys. 'Not at all,' he replied. Her whole life is in those turkeys.'

How does spiritual direction happen? As spiritual direction involves two people listening together to the Lord in the events and relationships of life, it is essential to be honest about the directee's 'desire.' What does he or she really want with the Lord? What are the presenting - and the real - motivations and problems? What are the 'inner movements' within the directee's life? Where is the 'good spirit' - God's Holy Spirit - at work and where might there be another spirit operating?

If a spiritual director is to help with these complex issues, he or she will need some special spiritual gifts. First, we must say that friendship is not a prerequisite for spiritual direction, though love and trust are. 'We come to God,' declared St. Augustine, 'by love, not by navigation.' The director doesn't usually give advice, but rather discernment and encouragement. And experienced directors will be alert to the dangers of dependency and transference. (The latter, put simply, involves the sense of someone relating to us as if we're someone else. Lots of emotion is dumped on us which doesn't belong to us).

Essentially the spiritual director discerns what Ignatius called the 'movement of spirits', whether good or evil, in the other. 'Consolation' is a life-giving movement towards God, though it won't always be pain- or struggle-free. 'Desolation', on the other hand, might even be pleasurable, but leads away from God, into chaos, confusion and turmoil.

So the key gift a spiritual director will possess will be that of 'discernment of spirits'. He or she, as Kenneth Leech suggests, will be one who can 'read the signs of the times and the writing on the walls of souls'. The spiritual director will be a person of above-average faith, hope and love; of experience (spiritual, theological, psychological, and in the life of prayer), and of learning (steeped in Scripture and the wisdom of the spiritual masters).

How Can I find a spiritual director?

First, do some reading in the area. Ask yourself: do I know someone who fits the characteristics outlined by these authors? Ask God for guidance, of course. Sometimes, if a more mature person can't be found, you can try mutual direction with a caring Christian friend. Attend courses and retreats. Ask your local Anglican or Catholic priest for contacts: their traditions have not excluded this discipline, as most have.

Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) suggests that while spiritual direction can become formalized, it need not be. 'If we have the humility to believe that we can learn from our brothers and sisters and the understanding that some have gone further into the divine Center than others, we can see the necessity of spiritual direction. As Virgil Vogt has said "If you cannot listen to your brother, you cannot listen to the Holy Spirit".'

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