Spiritual Direction - Reflections from others engaged in the process

August 15, 2014

Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.  Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day.  Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions.  Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living.  It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is.  Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.

 (Liz Budd Ellman, M.Div, Executive Director, Spiritual Directors International)



Spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which God may be touching her or his life, directly or indirectly.  In our postmodern age, many people dislike the term “spiritual direction” because it woulds like one person giving directions, or orders, to another.  They prefer “Spiritual companionship,” tending the holy, or some other nomenclature.  What we call it doesn’t make any real difference.



It involves conversations about life in the light of faith.  Although spiritual direction has had a burst of new life, it is really quite ancient.  Across both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, we find people seeking spiritual counsel.  The Queen of Sheba sought out the wisdom of Solomon.  Jesus gave us examples in his conversations with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, in the ongoing formation of Peter and the other disciples.  In the early church, people flocked to hermits in the desert for spiritual counsel.  Across the centuries we find striking examples in some Irish monks, in some German Benedictine nuns, in Charles de Foucault, Theresa  of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and others.  Today, spiritual directors come from many traditions (Marian Cowan, CSJ)




Spiritual Direction is not “therapy,” but it IS therapeutic…

although discussions between a Spiritual Director and a Directee can touch on many subjects, Spiritual Direction should not be considered to be counseling, psychotherapy, or financial planning or advising.



Spiritual Direction offers…

*a safe, confidential space for wrestling with spiritual issues

*a deeper relationship with God

*exploration of callings in new directions

*a deepening of one’s faith life

*support for grappling with life’s transitions

* support for living more authentically

* a way to be in touch with those deeper, hidden parts of yourself

*discovery of ways to live spiritual practices more fully

*cultivation of compassion, as God is compassionate

*support for responding more faithfully to God’s faithfulness to us



What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?  This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.

— Thomas Merton




A Prayer of Thomas Merton


God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. 

We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact

that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so.

But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  

And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. 

We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. 

And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road,

though we may know nothing about it.  Therefore, we will trust you always

though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  

We will not fear, for you are ever with us,

and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.


Thoughts in Solitude, p. 83 adapted



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