By the Rev. Marshall Craver and Joe Taylor
Within the Christian faith, there are many spiritual practices to embrace as a means of being drawn into deeper communion with God. These practices open space within our spirit and assist us in becoming more aware of and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance in all of life. Many of these prayer forms such as the daily office, centering prayer, lectio divina, visio divina, guided meditations, body prayer, and many more are known and practiced within our diocesan community.
What is spiritual direction?
Perhaps an important but lesser-known spiritual practice within our diocese is the practice of spiritual direction or what one might call spiritual companioning. So, what exactly is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is an ancient ministry within the Christian faith dating back to Jesus, the early church, and to the desert fathers and mothers. ln spiritual direction, a person or a group of people seek, with the help of a spiritual director, to become increasingly aware of and responsive to the Holy Spirit thereby leading one toward the fulfillment of the great commandment to love one another as Christ loves us! Centering upon the Holy Spirit as the true lover and director of the "directee's" soul, a spiritual director becomes a co-discerner of the Presence and movement of the Spirit in the life of the directee. The practice and ministry of spiritual direction is open to lay people as well as clergy and many lay people are serving as spiritual directors today.
What do directees generally hope will occur in spiritual direction?
By asking someone to be his or her spiritual director, directees are generally looking to deepen their relationship with God and others by becoming more discerning of the Presence of God in their life. They want to grow in their prayer life, to learn more about God, particularly as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They want to be more open to recognizing God's voice within their spiritual heart and to have someone help them discern how they might be more responsive to God's loving presence.
How is a spiritual director different from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselors?
While there is some commonality in these helping ministries, the fundamental difference is found in the primary focus or intent of the sessions. Psychotherapists and counselors work with individuals who come to them with specific problems, issues or pathologies. Whereas, spiritual direction is a relationship in which one person assists another in becoming more present, and more open and receptive to the transforming radiance of Christ’s presence which is always within and around us, constantly leading us toward the fulfillment of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
While it is helpful to distinguish between the intent of these helping ministries, it is also important to know that each type of helping often touches on the other in an attempt to help a person experience spiritual growth and healing. In talking about and exploring their relationship with God, directees may touch on psychological difficulties they are exploring in their relationship with others. Although a director is not usually a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, the director’s own educational background and life experience can be helpful in discerning with the directee the possibility of seeing a counselor or mental health professional.
What to expect of someone you choose to accompany you as your spiritual director.
A spiritual director honors the dignity of the directee by respecting the directee's values,
conscience, spiritual journey, and theological background. The director should be careful not to
impose his or her own will, expectations, or agendas on directees. A compassionate, truthful
and spiritual relationship should exist between the two. The director should be a holy listener,
that is, listening for God's voice and presence as the directee unfolds one's life. Confidentiality
should be maintained at all times by the director by keeping private all oral and written matters arising in their sessions. The director should protect the identity of the directee, and conduct sessions in appropriate settings. The directee usually meets regularly once a month with a director for a session lasting about an hour or so to share one's faith journey. However, some people may seek to talk with a spiritual director for just one or two sessions concerning a particular act of discernment or a particular life situation.
What type of background does a spiritual director need and how might they serve a directee?
A director needs to have had formal training and experience in spiritual direction, be familiar with the history and various practices of prayer and spirituality, knowledgeable of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the praying of scriptures, and sensitive to the spiritual and psychological dynamics that are unique to the lay and ordained ministry. Most importantly, a director must know that one's ongoing life of prayer and relationship with God are the most important gifts that one brings to others who come for spiritual direction. ln summary, the primary intentions of serving as spiritual director to the lay persons or clergy of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast are:
To serve as a co-discerner of the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the directee.
To provide a safe, hospitable, listening space for the directee to share any thoughts or feelings he/she wants to share, feels the need to share, or has difficulty sharing in other settings.
To meet on a regular basis, if that is what the directee desires, in order to support the directee's life of prayer by exploring various prayer practices, and/or movements of the Spirit within his or her spiritual heart, including the opportunity to bring to light any obstacles to grace that the directee may be experiencing.
To meet for a limited number of sessions, rather than an ongoing basis with those who desire prayer and mutual discernment regarding specific life situations or vocational opportunities.
To accept, assure, and affirm the directee as a beloved child of God.
Want to know more?
To learn more about the practice and ministry of spiritual direction, finding a spiritual director, or even exploring a path to becoming a spiritual director, you can email Rev. Marshall Craver at firstname.lastname@example.org or Joe Taylor at email@example.com.