A Word on Spiritual Direction

Fifteen years ago I had no idea what spiritual direction was. While I was well acquainted with church, spiritual direction wasn’t a ministry in the church tradition of my youth. In fact even now when my Texan Southern Baptist grandmother asks what I do, she concludes with “that sounds like a Catholic thing.” My answer to her is, “Yes it is, and so many other streams[1].”

I came to spiritual direction through the Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation. It is a two-year experiential learning school for spiritual formation. There we were required to find and see a spiritual director once a month for two years. I journeyed with that spiritual director for four years and in that time; he took me through the Ignatian Exercises through which we discerned a call to spiritual direction.

It was clear that indeed I had been walking alongside others in their life with God since I woke to the reality that I was having a life with God. Still, I was dreadfully ill equipped to be a spiritual midwife.[2] Since then I have been trained in both spiritual direction and supervision of spiritual directors, however, just writing that sentence gives me pause.

In our modern age, commodification is so much a part of our lives that we hardly notice it. It can be so easy to commodify spiritual direction. In my seminary work, students often express a desire to “get” a certification in spiritual direction because it is just something they would like to “have.” A mixture of conviction and caution surfaces in me.

Spiritual direction is not something we have; a spiritual director is someone we become. We keep in mind that the Spirit is an expert spiritual director; I am a novice. The Master Midwife is the Spirit. You and I, we are learners.

The Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spenser, Massachusetts use a two handed child’s mug to remind them to have the faith and humility of a child and to remind them that we are all beginners, we are all learners.

One way to attend this posture of a childlike learner in spiritual direction is to trade the word “training” for the word, “forming.” This is the word Anglican priest and spiritual director, Sue Pickering uses in her book, “Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction.”

In Genesis 2 we remember that God formed human persons from the dust of the ground. Jeremiah 1 echoes this forming, as does the Psalmist in Psalm 139. It seems that shaping, molding, creating, tending, cultivating are part of the ongoing spiritual process. And it is a process.

Quakers remind us to, “trust the process,” of God’s ongoing formation. All of life is ongoing process, so there is space to be gentle with ourselves. The pilgrimage we are on is not linear in nature.

Commodification is linear, but the forming of a spiritual director is cyclical in nature. We will forever be in the process of forming, allowing Christ to be formed in us. (Galatians 4:19) Jesus, the greatest spiritual guide to have ever lived, incarnated a human body, forms us, and continues forming us into persons who can, like he did, accompany another in their life with God.

I am still learning that it is a remarkable thing to set aside time to do nothing else but attend to relationship with God. I am learning that it is a remarkable thing to bear witness to an adult or child’s sacred story. I am learning that it is a remarkable thing to listen another to life.

So, welcome childlike learner. We will learn together.


[1] Richard Foster calls the various expressions of church “streams of living water” that flow from the heart of Christ. In his book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, he introduces us to the whole family of God. In addition, David Benner and Gary Moon offer a balanced and thought provoking treatment of spiritual direction as expressed by various denominations in their book, Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls.


[2] Midwife is the metaphor for spiritual direction that Margaret Guenther uses in her essential book on spiritual direction, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction.