“God is a person and can be known in increasing degrees of intimate acquaintance as we prepare our hearts for the wonder.” 1
What is Spiritual Direction?
THE SHORT STORY:
Spiritual Direction is the practice of companioning a seeking person on their spiritual quest. The seeking person tells his or her story. The director listens, asks questions, and guides the seeking person toward attentively noticing the movement and presence of the Divine in his or her life.
THE LONGER TALE:
As a term, “Spiritual Direction” seems to repel concise labels and definitions, and that is perhaps as it should be. Each unique human soul possesses, as C.S. Lewis says, “a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance.” The journey of each soul, following its desire to seek and know this Divine Incomprehensible, defies outline and form. So also, each spiritual director has a unique way of providing guidance along that journey.
How do I define spiritual direction and what is my hope as a Christian spiritual director?
Spiritual direction is about paying attention to our relationship with God. Very simply, we seek God. We seek to place ourselves in the merciful presence of the life-giver, light-bearer, truth-maker, Spirit-breather, the Heart at the heart of love. Responding to the initiative of God’s desire for us is our transformational journey and the hope for ourselves, for our relationships with others, for our world.
A spiritual director companions the journey as an intimate listener. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes “Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.” Listening to God, to our brothers and sisters, and the profound wonder of a listening, relational God ever drawing us toward transformational encounter, are the elements of spiritual direction. A spiritual director listens to people’s stories, for God-With-Us in the midst of those stories, and seeks to facilitate awareness of God, and awareness of response to God.
This mysterious and personal God regularly meets us in the mundane of our lives, in the dishes left in the sink, in the hospital bed, in the young man stocking the yogurt shelves at the grocery store, on the subway, in a dog, a child, an acorn, in the long sleepless nights. Though it may take us by surprise, we ready ourselves to receive this grace through attentiveness, watchfulness, learning to listen, through Scriptural meditation and prayer. “The altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else.”2
So we look to God revealed within ourselves exactly as we are, revealed within our lives exactly as they are, in the reality of the present moment.
Christian spiritual direction places the hope for peace, wholeness, redemption, and transformation in that which to human reason can only appear an insoluble contradiction: a suffering God. If we humans keep bumping up against tension, it is because paradox is in our atmosphere. For Christ to possess absolute power and not use it? To hold the ultimate identity and slip quietly out of it? To indwell perfect love and risk rejection? To own unflawed compassion and endure the torment of fruitless hope in a friendless garden? To be the master artist-engineer-designer of every component of the human person – flesh, nerves, spirit, mind, heart, emotions – and to inhabit such a body and experience its cruelest destruction?
Strategically placed, this sacred body blasts a hole through our darkness barrier, and opens our connection to the source of love. Such love turns our perceptions upside down; our life-vision is radically challenged. “Christ’s love makes us shudder. It shatters us with tenderness.”3 The door opens for us to walk with Christ into the mystery of the gospel story, the story of humility, self-giving, resurrection, and life. The door opens for us to know, and be known, in love.
At the heart of human transformation this eternally relational God is saying “yes” to us, to our world, knowing our potential, and offering possibilities beyond our imagining if we will open ourselves in grateful receptivity. If we will say “yes.”
This is my hope and the reason for my passion as a spiritual director.1. A.W. Tozer
2. Charles Williams
3. Peter Kreeft