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Spiritual Direction

What is spiritual direction?

Spiritual Direction offers sacred space to sit with a spiritual guide and decipher together the working of God's Spirit in your life.  It is an invitation to retreat from the noise of the world, for you to be heard, and, most importantly, hone in the art of discerning and hearing God's voice speaking personally to you, as you move deeper into union with the triune God. 

Who is spiritual direction for?

Spiritual Direction is for anyone desiring to advance in their experience of God.  Seeking the support of a spiritual director can be especially beneficial when one is faced with an important decision, navigating a life transition, feels stuck in their faith, or moving through a crisis, as these moments often constitute liminal, or thin spaces, where the presence of God is most imminent and available for discovery. 

How often do you meet with a spiritual director?

Many find monthly meetings with their spiritual director beneficial.  This allows ample space for the director and directee to review God’s activity between meetings.  More frequent sessions may be appropriate at different times, such as when discerning God’s will in making decisions, participating in the spiritual exercises, or in a season of trial.

Is spiritual direction something new?

Not at all.  Spiritual direction is an ancient practice.  Some scholars will trace its origins back to the time of Jesus when people went out into the desert (and thus outside the normal religious institutions) to hear a word from John the Baptist.  Spiritual direction, however, really began to take shape and grow in the 4th century after the Roman emperor Diocletian was succeeded by Constantine.   

 

During this time, some of those committed to the Way of Jesus found it difficult to experience God and grow in their faith within the religious intuitions of the day.  In response, they retreated to the desert.  Antony, whose life details are recorded by Athanasius, is probably one of the most well-known among the earliest desert dwellers.  These men and women would often live in seclusion, but close enough to challenge one another in their faith as well as offer spiritual guidance and encouragement.  They would also practice ascesis (Greek word for training or discipline) such as prayer, fasting, repentance, meditation, and inner watchfulness.  Others began to go out to the desert to seek out these men and women (who became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers) to receive spiritual guidance, thus fostering the practice of spiritual direction.  This practice of spiritual direction, of one Christian helping another, has continued through the history of the church up to our present time.       

Why have I never heard of spiritual direction?

Many protestants are not familiar with Spiritual Direction as it has been more commonly associated with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Though even the in west its practice has fallen into obscurity among Catholics, leading Acklin and Hicks in 2017 to refer to spiritual direction as a lost or forgotten art.  This is despite renewed calls for its revival, even by those such as Pope Benedict XVI, who highlighted its importance alongside academic rigor when addressing the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum stating, “As she has always done, today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction not only to those who desire to follow the Lord closely but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his or her Baptism, that is, new life in Christ." 

 

Thankfully, awareness of spiritual direction and its importance for advancing towards God seems to be gaining in prominence.  Post graduate degree programs in spiritual direction are becoming more prevalent, even among protestant institutions and seminaries.  Also helping draw attention to this ancient art is that accessable spiritual guides such as Fr. Richard Rohr are championing and supporting its practice. 

How is spiritual direction different from counseling?

There will be some overlap between counseling and spiritual direction.  For example, spiritual direction may incorporate elements of emotionally focused therapy (EFT), family systems, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – especially since there are theological underpinnings to each of these – e.g., we are created for relationships and secure attachments (EFT), curses and blessings as well as patterns of thinking and acting can be handed down through generations (family of origin), and we are called to think rightly about reality and rule over our inner monologue (CBT).  Vice-a-verse, counseling may incorporate spiritual practices, such as prayer or meditation.  There are, however, two primary differences.  The first is focus.  Generally counseling will focus on an acute issue that is presenting and the therapeutic relationship continues until the issue is resolved.  Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is an ongoing relationship that focuses on an individual’s growth in their relationship with God and how His Spirit is intersecting their life.  This leads to the second difference.  Spiritual direction always presumes that God is active in a person’s life and can be experienced.  

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