Thursday, July 16, 2015

What is Spiritual Direction?

I am currently studying at Charlotte Spirituality Center to become a certified Spiritual Director. There is so much beauty and potential in this course, that sometimes I find the descriptions of Spiritual Direction inadequate. As a student at the center, I am spiritually nourished and fed to overflowing with the material, the practice, the intimate cohort I study and practice with, and the leadership that pours love into my life. All of the students receive Spiritual Direction monthly and have an Adviser who guides us into becoming the version of a Spiritual Director that we were destined to be. All of that said, there are so many people in my life who still aren't sure what Spiritual Direction is. I was one of them only a year ago, so I thought it would be an important move to stop and explain what Spiritual Direction has become to me and my experience of it. I hope this affords some clarity to those who are curious or possibly interested in receiving some Spiritual Direction in the future. 

image from Charlotte Spirituality Center

In my studies, I have read descriptions of Spiritual Direction that go something like this:

  1. Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality. The person seeking direction shares stories of his or her encounters of the divine, or how he or she is experiencing spiritual issues.
Or something like this:

Spiritual direction focuses on religious experience. It is concerned with a person’s actual experience of a relationship with God. Spiritual direction is about a relationship. The religious experience is not isolated, nor does it consist of extraordinary events. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God. Most often this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer. Spiritual direction is a relationship that is going somewhere. God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service. The spiritual director asks not just “what is happening?” but “what is moving forward?” The real spiritual director is God. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship. 

Or like this:

Being a Spiritual Director is like being a midwife laboring alongside someone who is pregnant with a revelation from God and helping them deliver it safely into their consciousness. 

Photo by Sarah DeSheilds from the CSC website

In dream interpretation, when someone dreams they are pregnant (when they are not) they are actually "pregnant" with an idea, a new creation, a new understanding of self, a new dream. Delivering this "baby" is really bringing this new life (idea) into the world. 

Having loved dream interpretation for years and practiced it for most of my adult life, I found myself naturally drawn to the idea of a Spiritual Director being like a Spiritual midwife helping someone birth a revelation from God. The problem with this analogy is that it makes itself pretty inaccessible to men. I want to go ahead and say that just because women have been the bearers of new life biologically, does not mean that men don't also labor a new creation into existence all the time. Men labor on God's revelations and Men have spiritual experiences just as often as women. I don't want anyone to think that Spiritual Direction is a "female" thing. This is simply a metaphor I happen to like and feel connected to in explaining a beautiful gift of the Spirit that is changing my life. 

My personal experience being Spiritually Directed has been so life-giving. A typical direction session lasts for an hour. My director will invite me into a clean, hospitable, quite space and light a candle to remind me that the presence of the Spirit is with us. Then she will offer to open us in prayer or clear the mood with a moment of silence that I can break when I am ready. For the next hour, I will hear things pour out of my mouth that I didn't even know I was thinking about or wanted to discuss. 

Photo from the CSC website

My director will ask me questions that guide me a little deeper into a thought I had or statement I made. She will sometimes repeat things I have said over and over just so I know this is coming up again and again, or sometimes will summarize what I have just told her. Occasionally, when I am stuck or too emotional to speak, she will ask me to imagine something or just sit with that moment and be open to what the Spirit might reveal to me. In every instance, there is great revelation and growth. I walk away feeling full and whole with plenty to pray about and ponder.

As I have practiced direction as a Spiritual Director, I have also found that this experience of direction is incredibly life-giving. Unlike counseling, the Director and Directee are both choosing to be present to the Spirit at work in our lives and in the moment, so the Spirit is working on both participants simultaneously. As a Director, I am trained in Holy Listening and learning to discern when the Spirit is guiding me to share something or when I am simply to remain quiet. 

Photo from CSC website (I like these because they are from my class)

In a moment of direction, I have discovered a whole new freedom learning that I am not responsible for solving a problem for the directee or making sure they have a meaningful experience. My role is to listen, REALLY listen to them and be open to what the Spirit is doing in that moment. God is the one who is shaping their lives and opening their hearts and the truth is, mine is being shaped and opened in that moment too. When I am able to truly let go and give myself to the moment of BEING with this person and the Holy Spirit (and it becomes easier and easier), I am humbled and awed by how little I am actually bringing to the table. God is bringing it all. I am touched, the directee is touched, and something profound is revealed to both of us. I believe this is possible because we both want to be there and we both are seeking the presence of the Holy One. 

However it works, it is an honor and a joy to labor alongside someone as they seek to discover what God is doing in their lives. It is life-giving to sit in a designated, holy moment with another person and be present to the Holy Spirit. It is a dream come true to me that this is a job and a offering that I am able to share with the world at this time in my life. 

Image result for charlotte spirituality center

I have another year until I am certified as a Spiritual Director so I have lots of free practice hours to offer anyone who is interested and seeking Spiritual Direction. I believe everyone should be investing in their Spiritual Life in this way or something like it. I know how powerful and transformational it has been for me and I would love to share this with you. 

If you would like to read more about Spiritual Direction please visit my school's website here. You can find certified directors there or drop in and talk with the Directors about classes. If you would like to seek me out for Spiritual Direction, that would be my joy! Feel free to contact me here

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.
- Henri Nouwen

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