Spiritual direction is an ancient practice rooted in the search of the holy in each and every religious tradition. It’s been practiced by contemplative people both inside and outside of the institutions of religion.
Seeking people used to travel outside of the structures of their faith to seek wisdom from the nuns and monks that might enliven their spirits. Spiritual direction has long been practiced as a way to listen to those that are looking to find the holy in their ordinary lives. A recent article in the Boston Globe reminds us that that search continues today.
Spiritual direction is a particular relationship shared between two seekers where the conversation returns again and again to the awareness of God in our lives. It is a practice where by the spiritual director helps the other to tell their stories when so quickly we lose our stories. Those stories we can recall, we can only recount in bits and fragments. The spiritual director helps to thread the holy through each and every story.
Though we are called directors, we are not steering the ship. Saint John Climacus made this clear in a letter he wrote to accompany his writing Ladder of the Divine Ascent. He wrote not of a ship captain to direct the spiritual life, but instead a marine pilot. It is what is known in the Greek as kubernetes and the very word that Saint Paul uses to describe the gift of administration to his letter to the church in Corinth. Kubernetes come alongside the captain to help navigate by calling out what he sees. He knows something about the terrain, but he doesn’t take control from the captain. Likewise, spiritual directors don’t take charge. We don’t give advice or counsel, but we listen to that great thread that God is weaving through each story.
Many pause and wonder why this is different than the work that pastors, coaches or even therapists might do. Spiritual direction is not counseling, but it can be hard to tease out the difference between the tangled threads of these many helping professions. You might find this chart helpful in understanding the unique gift that spiritual direction can offer.
It is a gift and an honor to listen for me to discover and explore these holy threads. I will be the first to admit that what happens in spiritual direction is hard to explain and so it might help you to imagine this possibility in your life by reading what to expect and what to bring.