The Process of Spiritual Direction
Spiritual direction, sometimes referred to as spiritual guidance, spiritual companionship or spiritual friendship, is an ongoing relationship in which one person (the directee), wishes to spend some intentional time being attentive to their spiritual life, meets with another person (the director) on a regular basis (approximately once a month), specifically for the purpose of becoming more attuned to the presence of the Sacred, Holy, or God in order to understand and respond more fully to that Presence in all of life.
The primary focus of the periodic session is the directee’s experience of the Sacred as it is reflected, impacted, and challenged by all aspects of each person’s life. All experiences of the Sacred will be honored. While a shared vocabulary is important for authentic communication, the director and directee will not necessarily experience the Sacred in the same way.
The directee acknowledges they are responsible for their own spiritual formation. This means that the person coming for direction is seriously engaged or wishes to be consistently engaged in spiritual practice and reflection. During the meeting of about one hour, director and directee seek to enter a contemplative or prayerful atmosphere where together they can be attentive to Spirit who is in fact the real director.
The director may question, challenge, suggest, support, as seems called for by Spirit, but it is the directee’s prayerful openness to Sprit that determines whatever insights are uncovered or the course of action that is to be taken. It is assumed that the directee has begun a journey with God long before they come into direction. Also, this intentional journey will continue long after leaving a particular director. The director is only a facilitator in the process. The directee must claim the journey.
Direction & Therapy: Some Differences
It should be noted that there are distinctions between spiritual direction and therapeutic relationships. In general it might be said that therapy and counseling deal primarily with problem areas of one’s life and attempt to bring healthy resolution to issues. Spiritual direction is concerned with finding and responding to God (in the midst of pain or disorder as well as in the rest of life). Problem/issue solving is not the primary focus of direction.
The following list, developed by Karin Grosscup, a Spiritual Director herself, summarizes the chief differences between Therapy and Spiritual Direction. The Covenant between Director and Directee will also speak to these differences.
Therapy: Problem Solving, Healing Mental Illness, Developing the ego, Goal Directed, Changing Behavior Patterns, Focus of Interaction between Therapist and Client, Challenge of Misperceptions, Change
Spiritual Direction: Embracing the struggles, Listening to the teaching of one’s pain, Letting go of the ego, Moving toward surrender to Spirit, Detaching from behavioral patterns, Focus of Interaction between Directee and God, Discovery of inner wisdom, Transformation.
Finding a Director
It seems important to pray about finding a spiritual director, asking God to guide your search and to open your eyes to the possibilities available to you. Accompanying this prayer should be the exploration of avenues already known to you from for persons whose spirituality speaks to you though they may not name themselves or be recognized as “qualified” spiritual directors. Such persons may be found among parish staff, persons with whom you have shared small groups, or others who seem to attract you for reasons unclear to you. If no one rises from these more natural settings, then you might check out nearby retreat centers, religious communities, or centers which offer programs for spiritual directors.
It will probably take some time to find the right person for you. If God is in the felt need for a director, however, then it is safe to assume that the Spirit will eventually provide the resources you need. The key is to remain patient yet diligent in the waiting, to trust God in the process, remaining attentive to the direction of the Spirit in all of life . MCC Spiritual Directors Network will make an effort to prayerfully connect directees with directors in the Network.
Choosing a Director
In a direction relationship, it is important for there to be a mutual sense that the potential for open, honest, clear communication is present and that there is a reverence for the unique way God or the Sacred is working in the individuals involved. Coupled with this is a mutual dependence upon Spirit at work in the relationship. Human specifics of age, sex, denomination and so forth, may assume more importance at one time in a person’s life than at another. Basically, however, it is only necessary that the two persons experience the kind of “fitness” that allows them to be free for their common purpose together without undue attention to their relationship. After an initial appointment to get acquainted and if it seems right to continue, it is helpful to set up three meetings and then evaluate how things are going. Following that, periodic evaluations are encouraged so that what was begun as a right thing does not continue past its time.
Spiritual Directors International suggests that you may want to ask yourself the following questions to assist in your discernment:
- What is your experience with working with a spiritual director? Is this a first experience of spiritual direction?
- What brings you to spiritual direction at this time in your life?
- Is the gender of the person you meet with important? If so, what do you prefer?
- What spiritual affiliation or denomination would be most helpful for you?
- What time of day would best serve you for meetings?
They also suggest that you may want to ask a prospective Spiritual Director some questions as well. Some possible questions include:
- What spiritual formation and theological education do you have in spiritual direction?
- What is your personal experience tending your own prayer, meditation, and contemplative life?
- What is your experience as a spiritual director? How many years? In what environments? What are you most interested in spiritually?
- How do you continue your education and supervision for your spiritual direction ministry and service?
- What ethical guidelines do you abide by, such as those published by Spiritual Directors International? Have you ever been accused or convicted of misconduct?
- What type of covenant or agreement will we establish to clarify roles and responsibilities in our spiritual direction relationship?
Spiritual directors may be laity, clergy and those in religious communities and are found in many denominations. They may be married or single and may seek their livelihood in a variety of occupations. What is paramount is that the director is responding to an invitation from God to participate in this ministry; that the gift of direction has been called forth by others; and that the director has sought to enhance the gift and sharpen skills through means appropriate to their particular needs.
The primary responsibilities of the director are prayer for the directee and openness to Spirit for what is truly called for on behalf of the directee during the sessions. This assumes that the director is taking seriously their relationship with the Sacred through intentional prayer, attention to solitude time and regular spiritual direction. Further, as a means of accountability and growth, spiritual directors will also engage in professional support and development either in individual supervision or in a peer group setting with other directors. Whatever way this happens, confidentiality will be observed and anonymity of directees will be preserved.
Love Offerings and Contributions
One of the motivations for the development of the Spiritual Direction Network within MCC is to be able to provide Spiritual Direction at an affordable cost according to the Directee’s individual situation. Fees and pay scales can be discussed with individual Directors.
If Not Direction, then What?
Spiritual direction is not appropriate for every person. While you may feel the nudge of something needing attention around human/spiritual growth, direction may not be what is called for now. Or something in addition to direction may be called for. You might test out your need through the following questions and suggestions:
Am I looking for some “how to’s” in developing a prayer life? Or a group with whom I can pray and share? Or support for my practice of intentional prayer and meditation?
Consider: Local meditation groups, Local church prayer groups
Are there areas of my life calling for focused healing prayer that might be supported and directed in a group setting?
Consider: Local church healing services and/or prayer groups
Do I want moral, biblical, or theological guidance for my life? Some person or group to explore questions around life issues?
Consider: Local church leadership and groups
Are there specific problem areas of my life or troubling emotions siphoning off energy? Serious blockage issues that I want to talk about with another in hopes that I can find some ways of overcoming the difficulties?
Consider: Counseling or therapy, 12 Step Groups
Finally, Spiritual Direction is the process of listening to the “still small voice” within that is a loving guide. Direction comes first and foremost from the inner Sacred Voice that each of us has. The task of the Spiritual Director is to listen with the directee for ways the Sacred is already present in their lives.
— Adapted for MCC from An Online Version of The Shalem Pamphlet on Spiritual Direction [https://www.shalem.org] and other sources [https://www.sdiworld.org], [https://www.hadeninstitute.com] and [https://audirespiritualdirection.org].