What is Spir­i­tu­al Direction? 

A brief sum­ma­ry from Richard Foster:

1. Spir­i­tu­al direc­tion is an inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ship in which we learn how to grow, live, and love in the spir­i­tu­al life.

2. Spir­i­tu­al direc­tion involves a process through which one per­son helps anoth­er per­son under­stand what God is doing and saying.

3. Dis­cern­ment is a cru­cial gift in the work of spir­i­tu­al direction.

4. In spir­i­tu­al direc­tion there is absolute­ly no dom­i­na­tion or control.

5. The spir­i­tu­al director/​mentor/​pastor guides anoth­er in spir­i­tu­al things through the spir­i­tu­al world by spir­i­tu­al means.

6. God has ordained that there be spir­i­tu­al directors/​mentors/​pastors among his peo­ple. This is the struc­ture of love in practice.

7. Supreme­ly, spir­i­tu­al directors/​mentors/​pastors are per­sons who have a sense of being estab­lished” in God. Oth­er­wise they are too dan­ger­ous to be allowed into the soul space of others.

More About Spir­i­tu­al Direction

Spir­i­tu­al direc­tion pro­vides an address” on the house of your life so that you can be addressed” by God in prayer. When this hap­pens, your life begins to be trans­formed in ways you had­n’t planned or count­ed on, for God works in won­der­ful and sur­pris­ing ways.

— Hen­ri Nouwen, Spir­i­tu­al Direc­tion: Wis­dom for the Long Walk of Faith

While the phrase spir­i­tu­al direc­tion” may sound a bit lofty, it is sim­ply a rela­tion­ship through which one per­son assists anoth­er in attend­ing to the pres­ence and call of God in all of life. Though not always called by this name, spir­i­tu­al direc­tion has been a vital min­istry in many streams of the Church for hun­dreds of years.

Spir­i­tu­al direc­tion is for any­one yearn­ing for God. Some­times this desire appears as a sense of long­ing for some­thing greater or a sense of dis­con­tent with the sta­tus quo. For oth­ers this pin­ing is more focused, ris­ing from a clear under­stand­ing that a sense of God’s pres­ence is miss­ing from par­tic­u­lar parts of life.

Of course, an under­ly­ing assump­tion and basis for spir­i­tu­al direc­tion is that God — Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it — is active­ly draw­ing us into the Eter­nal Pres­ence. God is the one, true direc­tor,” work­ing con­stant­ly, active­ly, pow­er­ful­ly in the very midst of our ordi­nary, every­day rou­tines and life cir­cum­stances. A spir­i­tu­al direc­tion rela­tion­ship is one way to help us pay atten­tion to this Divine work. It inter­rupts our typ­i­cal rou­tine long enough to help us notice God’s woo­ing of us and become more deeply aware of God’s pres­ence with us.

The spir­i­tu­al direc­tion rela­tion­ship includes a direc­tor and directee, with the direc­tor often being called a spir­i­tu­al direc­tor.” While dif­fer­ent direc­tors have dif­fer­ent approach­es to their prac­tice, typ­i­cal­ly she takes an active/​passive role, sim­ply cre­at­ing the envi­ron­ment for the direc­tion to take place. The direc­tor inten­tions to do more lis­ten­ing than talk­ing, ask­ing lead­ing and, some­times, prob­ing ques­tions as need­ed and appro­pri­ate. Times of silence are apro­pos and wel­comed. There is very lit­tle actu­al direc­tion giv­en as this is com­mon­ly under­stood. Rather, the spir­i­tu­al direc­tor con­venes a con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing which a direc­tion will be deter­mined by the directee and direc­tor togeth­er, co-labor­ing with God. Both directee and direc­tor explore togeth­er what God might be doing in the areas being dis­cussed.

While the lines may be blur­ry at times depend­ing on the style of the spir­i­tu­al direc­tor or present cir­cum­stances, spir­i­tu­al direc­tion is dif­fer­ent from pas­toral coun­sel­ing. Peo­ple usu­al­ly enter a coun­sel­ing rela­tion­ship because some­thing is wrong with life. Coun­sel­ing tends to be cri­sis-ori­ent­ed or prob­lem-dri­ven. Solv­ing par­tic­u­lar prob­lems or han­dling spe­cif­ic crises is not the goal of spir­i­tu­al direc­tion. The spir­i­tu­al direc­tion rela­tion­ship takes the long view. It looks for how God is work­ing, call­ing, prod­ding, and invit­ing us to new ways of being with Jesus in the midst of our cir­cum­stances. It focus­es on build­ing an inti­mate rela­tion­ship with God over a life­time, through all the prob­lems, crises, joys, and bless­ings.

Oth­er items for con­sid­er­a­tion include:

  • Direc­tion ses­sions are usu­al­ly one hour in length, once per month and can be held any­where con­ducive to inten­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion — a qui­et office, cof­fee house, or park bench.
  • The direc­tor may or may not give the directee a spir­i­tu­al prac­tice to work with between sessions.
  • There is a place for group spir­i­tu­al direc­tion, but the clas­si­cal mod­el and that in mind here is the one-to-one inter­ac­tion between direc­tor and directee.
  • Many spir­i­tu­al direc­tors will dis­cour­age the rela­tion­ship extend­ing beyond the direc­tion ses­sions so that they might remain objec­tive and not get caught up in per­son­al feel­ings and opinions.

On look­ing for a spir­i­tu­al direc­tor, many retreat cen­ters and monas­ter­ies can help you find one. Gov­ern­ing offices of more litur­gi­cal church bod­ies may have lists of direc­tors in your area. Please be dis­cern­ing as you choose a direc­tor. Your first time togeth­er should be more of an inter­view than a ses­sion for direc­tion, with both directee and direc­tor lis­ten­ing to see if they are a good fit for one another.

    List orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the Feb 2009 issue of Chris­tian­i­ty Today. Oth­er con­tent adapt­ed from a Youth Spe­cial­ties event fly­er. Pho­to by Priscil­la Du Preez on Unsplash

    Text First Published February 2009 · Last Featured on Renovare.org May 2021

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