What is spiritual direction?
(I offer this as first in a series of reflections on spiritual direction)
In the last few years, I have witnessed the proliferation of spiritual direction training programs both in my area, and around the country. For a vocation that, until recently, was either unknown, or known only in monastic and priest formation circles, it is exciting to see a growing interest in this ancient and life-giving practice. So, what is spiritual direction?
I first learned about it as I began my seminary training; and after finding a spiritual director (thanks to a referral from one of my professors), I began what has become an essential and ongoing commitment to reflect on every aspect of my life with the support and presence of a trained listener.
What comes to mind when you consider spending an hour each month with someone whose sole intent is to listen for what gives you life? And to help you listen for, and reflect on, your own deep questions and longings?
During the almost 20 years that I have met regularly with a spiritual director, I have become more familiar with my inner life; my core being; my wounds, my challenges, my shadow side; and my heart’s deepest desires. As a person who readily seeks a spiritual framework to engage these questions and concerns, I have found spiritual direction to be a homecoming of sorts. It has been a place where I experience Divine Presence and inspiration through the words, the silence, the listening that comes through the heart and soul of my spiritual director. I have felt freed to honor what my wounds have to teach me, and to pursue the passions and deep desires that draw me more closely to my true self. Spiritual direction has been a resource for healing and growth, helping to integrate body, mind and soul.
So I suppose it is no surprise that I felt a call to this vocation of listening and companioning, and after a 2-year program in formation as a spiritual director, I began offering this practice of sacred listening. I have been listening with people in spiritual direction for over 10 years now and continue to come away feeling like this is the work I was created to do. While my intent is to listen for divine stirrings in the words and heart of the individuals with whom I meet, I feel close to Divine Presence as well. I feel enlivened and restored in my own life with the Divine every time I sit and listen with another.
The image that is often used to represent spiritual direction – 3 chairs – expresses it best, I think. At every session, there are three listeners: spiritual director, the person who has come to reflect, and Holy Presence . . . God . . . Divine Love. Together, we seek to bring deep healing, to strengthen greater compassion for self and others, and to free the capacity for loving presence in the world.
“O, the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort
of feeling safe with a person.
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
nor measure words
but pouring them all out
wheat and chaff together.
Certain that a faithful hand
that which is worth keeping,
and with a breath of kindness
blow the rest away.”
–Dinah Maria Craik, 18thC British poet