What is a Spiritual Director?
Have you ever gotten lost when you are driving to a particular location or ever needed directions to a particular destination before you set out for the day?
Nowadays, many of us reach for a GPS device to help us navigate our journeys. A spiritual director acts in a similar way to that device, joining individuals as they seek to navigate their way through life and work out how best to address a particular situation. The difference is that a spiritual director sits in the “passenger seat” alongside a fellow pilgrim and together, in partnership, they look to God for direction.
Engaging in spiritual disciplines provides various entry ways to converse with and listen to God. Choosing to abide in an intimate relationship with God underscores our practice of spiritual disciplines. The great spiritual thinker and theologian, Howard Thurman, maintains in his essay "Prayer" that "The true purpose of all spiritual disciplines is to clear away whatever may block our awareness of that which is God in us" (A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life, 90). Jesus himself said that if we abide in him he will abide in us (John 15:7).
As a spiritual director, I provide a safe space for individuals to explore the options and religious experiences that are available to them. We discern how God — the Holy One, Jesus, the Shepherd, the Divine, the Lord, or Holy Spirit, or however God is revealed — will accompany us on our journey of discovery. Don’t be surprised if our end-point looks very different to what we expected when we first embarked on the journey!
"Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence -- priceless and irreplaceable" — Henri J.M. Nouwen
Cultivating an intimate relationship with God
William A. Barry and William J. Connolly "define Christian spiritual direction . . . as help given by one believer to another that enables the latter to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship. The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, i.e., that dimension of any experience that evokes the presence of the mysterious Other whom we call God. Moreover, this experience is viewed, not as an isolated event, but as an expression of the ongoing personal relationship God has established with each one of us" (The Practice of Spiritual Direction, pp. 8-9).
Henri Nouwen's definition of a spiritual director proves a useful reference for those seeking to understand this role.
"A spiritual director is someone you ask to hold you accountable for exercising the disciplines and practices of the spiritual life. Spiritual direction, the ancient practice and provision for receiving such needed help, offers prayerful presence, wise counsel, and careful guidance by a spiritual [companion] who is sensitive to the movements of the Spirit and familiar with the disciplines of the traditions. . . . A spiritual director in this strict sense is not a counselor, a therapist, or an analyst, but a mature fellow Christian to whom we choose to be accountable for prayerful support in our constant struggle to discern God's activity" (Henri Nouwen Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith: Spiritual Direction with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird (pp. 22-23).