What is The Art of Spiritual Direction? A Collection of Thoughts to Contemplate When Considering Direction
“It is by being awake to God in us that we can increasingly see God in the world around us.” ~Henri Nouwen
Guest Blog. Please meet my colleague, Shannon Jernigan, Spiritual Director. She helps others journey into the truths of God, self, relationships, work and the world. Shannon has studied healing from anger, shame and addiction under Dr. Paul Hegstrom’s Life Skills International and has been trained in Advanced Sozo, a form of healing prayer.
“Spiritual direction is an invitation to a journey. It is the art of paying loving attention to the world and oneself in relationship to the world, doing so in faith and with hope that God will meet us there, says author Maria Bowen. Throughout church history, spiritual direction has had the high honor of being a necessary and primary vehicle that helps believers discern the shape and meaning of the Spirit’s work in their lives. In the Christian world, it has both Protestant and Catholic roots. It is a way of following God’s urgings toward maturity, a means by which we establish and maintain growth mindsets, and a tender and tough way to be held accountable to one’s true self. At its best, says author Paul Jones, spiritual direction helps us celebrate, struggle, encourage, reflect and discern God’s work through sharing our personal faith journey with a trusted person.
We all need to find our why. Sustainability, lasting vitality or growing joy, deep peace and meaning are only found in communion with God. Human power, human priorities and human purposes alone simply cannot offer these things. Spiritual direction then is a vehicle for discovering treasures as a person becomes ready to find them outside of self and the world.
A form of pastoral ministry, Spiritual Direction rests firmly on the premise that grace, experienced as the free gift of unconditional love, is the restorative ingredient necessary for someone to undergo deep and genuine healing. Wise directors know that healing is possible, the yearning at the center of each person is for unconditional love and only God’s grace is sufficient for wholeness.
Sometimes you simply need to talk to someone who is also on a spiritual path and can help you discern a way forward. That’s what a spiritual director does–gently and carefully accompanies you along the journey. Mostly, they listen and reflect back to you the wisdom of God that they notice in you. Directors do this without judgment. They want you to discover for yourself where you are being led.
A spiritual director is a trustworthy person who keeps the long view of your life in focus even and especially when you cannot. They can connect the dots by showing you how what you are saying now connects to a part of your story from the past. So a spiritual director becomes a kind of holy container for your thoughts, ideas, yearnings, and stories. You get to hear your own voice in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Ideally, the spiritual director brings insight but the gift is the noticing.
According to authors and spiritual directors Gem and Alan Fadling, skilled and thoughtful questions reveal God’s work in us. Some typical things you might hear in a session are questions such as…
- What do you love?
- What is standing between you and getting closer to God?
- What are you afraid of?
- What do you really want?
- What lies are you believing?
Keep in mind, says the Fadlings, we move at the pace of grace. We grow at the pace of transformation. You have all the time you need in God’s economy. The opportunity is to notice God’s invitation and to let him show you how he wants to meet you and walk with you personally on your life’s journey.
Spiritual direction is an excellent practice for becoming more aware of God’s presence, for savoring the goodness in your life, and for sorting out difficult life situations and choices (discernment).
Spiritual direction centers on discovering the beauty of God and self in daily life. It can be part of a healthy lifestyle that keeps us growing and leads us to wholeness. Healthy things grow. And we need others help on our journey. It requires vulnerability and trust to allow others access into our lives. Spiritual direction is a safe place to be heard, and to invest in our own wellness. Being conformed to the image of Christ, takes place in the midst of our relationships with others, not apart from them. And says legendary pastor Robert Mulholland, there can be no wholeness in the image of Christ which is not incarnate in our relationships with others, both in the body of Christ and in the world.
So what do you need to bring to spiritual direction? Openness and willingness. The continuum process in direction usually moves from Openness to Awareness to Willingness to Invitation to Intention to Response.
Spiritual direction is a type of oxygen mask in life. You know the drill: “Should the cabin lose pressurization, please put the mask on yourself first and then the person(s) you are traveling with.” This may seem selfish until you acknowledge that if you pass out you will no longer be able to help anyone. Similarly, we need intentional methods of self care to stay the course. Spiritual direction plays a vital role in that wholeness.
‘Reflection on our experience reveals the mysterious presence of God, who is always acting to draw us into community with the Trinity and thus with one another; this community is the Kingdom of God, and its bond is the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts. Fear and egocentrism lead us to resist God’s action, and spiritual direction is a singularly appropriate ministry to help us overcome our fears and egocentrism.’” ~ William Barry
Please reach out to Shannon on her website.
With acknowledgement & appreciation to these gifted authors and ministers:
- Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich, The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith
- William Barry, Spiritual Direction and The Encounter with God
- W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction
- Maria Tattu Bowen, The Supervision of Spiritual Directors
- Robert Mullholland, Invitation to a Journey
- Gem and Alan Fadling, What Does Your Soul Love?