Spiritual Direction, also called spiritual companioning or spiritual accompaniment, is the ministry of listening and paying attention to God’s/Spirit’s movement in our daily lives in a confidential setting of encouragement and compassion. A Spiritual director companions rather than “directs” individuals. Through conversation, storytelling and reflection on life experience a director forms a supportive relationship with a directee to help foster openness and responsiveness to God’s (Holy) presence in our lives. You are encouraged to listen more deeply to your own experience and to speak from that experience while witnessing, reflecting, and interpreting the significant movements (where you are being moved, invited, or nudged), and countermovements (where you are challenged or experiencing stagnation) in your daily life. The conviction in this ministry is that you are guided, nudged, lured from within by an “inner voice,” “God,” “spirit,” “inner teacher,” or “soul.” It is through the process of connecting to this deep part of yourself that greater clarity, insight, and direction comes forth.
This process also connects one to a more intimate relationship with God, Spirit, Holy Spirit, Great Spirit, Christ, YWHW, or the Creator whom has many names. The Holy Spirit is the “third guest” in the spiritual companioning process, and the one leading the spiritual accompaniment process. Shaun McCarty states in Basics in Spiritual Direction:
By whatever name, this ministry calls one to a reverence for the mystery of the other and others and for genuine hope in the more-to-come in persons. Its primary focus is on a person’s relationship with God. Any genuine spiritual help should aid another in becoming more open to the promptings of the Spirit in ordinary events of life. Here people are summoned to continual conversion and toward a deepening union with God and communion with others. Through the real presence of one person to another, the presence and power of the Spirit of God can be better discerned (McCarty, p. 58).
Spiritual companioning focuses on holistic discernment which “encourages us to put our whole self – mind, body, feelings, imagination, intuition, dreams – into the process of seeking God’s guidance. A holistic approach insists that God is found everywhere and that attention to the divine must be wide-ranging and inclusive” (Wilkie Au, Holistic Discernment). Spiritual direction is a sacred experience leading to a deeper relationship with oneself, others, and the divine. One of the gifts that can occur from this process is to gain clarity on your soul’s passion and mission in life.
Spiritual direction is for people of all faith traditions as well as for those who may not claim a particular religious tradition yet seek to explore the deeper meaning of spirituality in their lives. Spiritual direction meetings are usually about an hour long and typically take place every month or six weeks, although there may be times that the directee may want to meet more often during the spiritual journey.
During the meeting of an hour, director and directee seek to enter a prayerful atmosphere where together they can be attentive to the Holy Spirit who is in fact the Real Director. The content of a meeting is usually not just the individual’s prayer but their whole life experience reflected on as part of the encounter with God.
Cost: $65 per hour
Differences Between Spiritual Direction and Therapy
Spiritual direction is not counseling, therapy, pastoral counseling, coaching, or mentoring. There are distinctions between spiritual direction and therapeutic relationships. Therapy and counseling deal primarily with problem areas of one’s life with the goal of bringing healthy resolution to issues. Spiritual direction is concerned with finding and responding to God (in the midst of pain or disorder as well as in the rest of life).
A quote from Reaching Out, by Henri Nouwen:
How do we know that we are not deluding ourselves, that we are not selecting those words that best fit our passions, that we are not just listening to the voice of our own imagination?...Who can determine if [our] feelings and insights are leading [us] in the right direction?
Our God is greater than our own heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God. Therefore, we need a guide, a director, a counselor who helps us to distinguish between the voice of God and all other voices coming from our own confusion or from dark powers far beyond our control.
We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give it all up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair. We need someone who discourages us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal. We need someone who can suggest to us when to read and when to be silent, which words to reflect upon and what to do when silence creates much fear and little peace.
Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was a Spanish nobleman whose personal encounter with Jesus Christ transformed his life. Founder of the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus), Ignatius documented his relationship with God as well as the interior movements of his conversion in his book the Spiritual Exercises. The exercises include prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat.
Ignatius wrote that the Exercises:
“have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The Spiritual Exercises can be done in a thirty day retreat or over thirty weeks. "
The Structure of the Exercises
Ignatius organized the Exercises into four “weeks.” These are not seven-day weeks, but stages on a journey to spiritual freedom and wholehearted commitment to the service of God.
First week. The first weekof the Exercises is a time of reflection on our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us. We see that our response to God’s love has been hindered by unhealthy patterns and “disordinate attachments.” We face these shortcomings knowing that God wants to free us of everything that gets in the way of our loving response to Him. The first week ends with a meditation on Christ’s call to follow Him.
Second week. The meditations and prayers of the second week teach us how to follow Christ as his disciples. We reflect on Scripture passages: Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, his raising Lazarus from the dead. We are brought to decisions to change our lives to do Christ’s work in the world and to love him more intimately.
Third week. We meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, passion, and death. We see his suffering and the gift of the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of God’s love.
Fourth week. We meditate on Jesus’ resurrection and his apparitions to his disciples. We walk with the risen Christ and set out to love and serve him in concrete ways in our lives in the world.
Prayer in the Exercises
The two primary forms of praying taught in the Exercises are meditation and contemplation. In meditation, we use our minds. We ponder the basic principles that guide our life. We pray over words, images, and ideas.
Contemplation is more about feeling than thinking. Contemplation often stirs the emotions and enkindles deep desires. In contemplation, we rely on our imaginations to place ourselves in a setting from the Gospels or in a scene proposed by Ignatius. We pray with Scripture. We do not study it.
The discernment of spirits underlies the Exercises. We notice the interior movements of our hearts, and discern where they are leading us. A regular practice of discernment helps us make good decisions. All the characteristic themes of Ignatian spirituality are grounded in the Exercises. These include a sense of collaboration with God’s action in the world, spiritual discernment in decision making, generosity of response to God’s invitation, fraternity and companionship in service, and a disposition to find God in all things. Spiritual integration is a prominent theme of the Exercises: integration of contemplation and action, prayer and service, and emotions and reason.
Ignatian spirituality is contemplative and active, lived in the world, and grounded in a personal relationship with God/Christ. It is a spirituality that searches for God in truth and justice, is motivated by the needs and issues of our time, and is adapted to each person’s uniqueness.