What Is Spiritual Direction?
Spiritual direction is a contemplative practice, a process of accompanying people on a spiritual journey in order to help them live closer to God. It is an ancient ministry of the church, and is a relationship in which one person assists another in attending to God’s presence and call. The object of spiritual direction is to cultivate one’s ability to discern God’s presence in one’s life — to notice and appreciate moments of holiness, to maintain an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, to explore ways to be open to the God in challenging and difficult moments as well as in joyful ones. The spiritual director serves as a companion and witness, someone who helps you (sometimes with questions, sometimes just by listening) to discern God’s presence where you might have missed it and to integrate that awareness into your daily life; your work, study, and prayer.
In order to understand what spiritual direction is, let us consider what it is not:
- It is not counseling.
- It is not therapy.
The spiritual director is not a trained psychologist or therapist. Her function is not to delve into a person’s past life, or emotional and psychological issues. She is, however, professionally trained, experienced, and generally certified as a spiritual director. The directee is free to discuss with her whatever is on her heart that pertains to how God is acting in her life.
Spiritual Direction in Discernment
Having a spiritual director is a requirement as one discerns a call to religious life in the Society of the Sacred Heart. It is not necessary that the spiritual director be a Religious of the Sacred Heart, though this is preferred if the discerning woman lives in proximity to a trained RSCJ spiritual director. It is beneficial that the director be a member of a religious order, male or female, if an RSCJ is not available. We believe that someone who lives religious life is best able to guide a person who is discerning a call to religious life.
Through quiet listening, thoughtful questions, and reflecting on the thoughts and feelings conveyed by the directee, a spiritual director provides an opportunity for the directee to regularly reflect on life’s events and circumstances from a spiritual perspective.
The spiritual director seeks to be a companion who, relying on the Holy Spirit, guides the directee with wisdom, encouragement and discernment. Honoring the sacred mystery in the soul of the directee, she witnesses to this mystery and reflects it back to the directee in word, prayer, and attentive listening. She stands in faith and love with the directee as the personal journey of the directee unfolds.
Meetings are scheduled on a regular basis, usually once a month. It is important that the directee feel comfortable with the spiritual director. It is understood that after a few sessions the relationship would be discussed and evaluated.
A sort of archetypal spiritual direction in the Christian tradition was practiced by the Desert Fathers and mothers (between 300 -600 AD). In the desert surviving as a human being and a faithful Christian was for most people only possible with a reliable guide. Spiritual guidance grew in a very natural way. Beginners looked for support from experienced fellow-travelers along “the way.” They sought concrete advice. 'Speak a word to me.' They wanted clear guidance so that they would not lose their way. In essence, this trust on the part of the directee and care on the part of the director are what comprises the relationship of spiritual companionship even today.