Spiritual direction had been part of the Christian tradition since
earliest times. The desert fathers and mothers were convinced of the
value of having a spiritual guide or companion with whom to share
their experience of the ways in which the Lord had been dealing with
them. Likewise the early Celtic Christians valued the practice so much
that they sometimes travelled great distances over land and sea to
meet with their director, known as their Soul Friend - Anam
Cara. Meetings with directors would take place at regular
intervals, and not only when there was a ‘problem’. Spiritual
direction is not problem-based, though problems may be part of a
person’s spiritual journey. Rather, it is faith-based.
This does not mean that it deals only with ‘religious’ topics, but it assumes that those seeking direction will have some sense of their lives being an expression of their relationship with God. The promotion of that relationship, in whatever way is appropriate, is the business of spiritual direction, and the director does this by encouraging the directee to recount their reflections on their life and prayer. Many will agree that to do this frequently opens up gateways that may not have appeared at the time.
In recent times there has been a problem about the term spiritual
director because it sounds rather directive and thus belies the nature
of the directors’ role. It is common today to refer to spiritual
guidance or more often, spiritual accompaniment.
The director is not there to give advice or tell you what you ought to feel or how you ought to proceed or what you ought to believe. Rather, the director is there to listen carefully to what you recount, to echo back relevant parts of it, and perhaps ask for explanation or further comment on things that have been said. In this way the director acts as a ‘sounding board’ for whatever you bring to the direction session, and helps you discern what is life-giving and what is not.
It may well be that the session starts in prayer - becoming aware of how God is regarding you at this very moment. The way you imagine that God regards you will normally indicate how you regard God. Sometimes the director will suggest things to reflect on, or Scripture to read or pray with, but whatever it is, its sole purpose will be to help you reflect further on your life and attitudes. If you are trying to make an important decision, the director may suggest helpful ways of proceeding, without trying to influence the decision in any way, since the decision is yours, not the director’s.
It is important to know that anything shared with a director is held
in strictest confidence, with two exceptions:
1. Where there is the possibility of self-harm or harm or abuse to another, and 2. In the supervision situation where the anonymity of all directees is safeguarded.
In the UK, directors are legally bound to report to the police or safeguarding authorities when disclosures of child or at risk adult abuse have been made to them. However they would never do this without discussing it first with the directee.
Directees who are not comfortable with incidents of abuse being reported to the authorities should not identify an abuser.
The prime mover in any direction session is not the director, but
God, and, after God, the one receiving spiritual direction. The
director’s role, therefore, is constantly to invite the directee to
let God shed light on what they are presenting. From this it is clear
that the way in which the session moves will depend on what the
directee brings to it.
If nothing is presented, there is not much the director can say, though she/he may well feel forced to make an attempt. It is important, therefore, that the one seeking direction should prepare for the event.
While it is true that the direction session is an interaction between God and the directee, with the assistance of the director, the groundwork needs to be there. Like gardening, seed put into prepared ground is more likely to germinate than if cast into the wind.
There are three main elements of ongoing preparation for spiritual
direction: prayer, reflection, and keeping a record.
Prayer is one of the main means of connection between God and individuals: it is an expression of our relationship with God. Therefore, being aware of what is happening in our prayer will be a valuable source of information about our spiritual health. Our prayer will also be a main indicator of how we are reacting to the events of our ordinary lives. And so, it is important that we do not simply pray, but that we keep a record of what we pray and what happened
Unless we have exceptionally good memories, it will be useful to make
notes of events, thoughts and feelings each evening, so that we will
have a definite idea of what we want to talk about when we next meet
with our director. A perusal of these notes will enable us to see if
there are patterns in what we have experienced and observed, and this
will form a basis of what we bring.
It is advisable, therefore, prior to a direction session that the directee read through their notes to see it there are particular points of significance which would then be presented as the starting points of the session. Of course, if the Holy Spirit is involved, the session might diverge into other channels!
Spiritual direction is a valuable part of our Christian heritage.
It can be used to great benefit or squandered, depending on how we approach it and prepare for it.
It is usual for the person receiving spiritual direction to offer something to the director for this service. Clergy and others engaged in pastoral work may be able to charge the spiritual direction offering as a cost of professional development to their parish or other work agency.