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Spiritual Direction: What it is and what it isn't

by Linda R. Douty

There seems to be an explosion of interest in the ancient spiritual practice
of spiritual direction. In response, the following questions and answers may
prove helpful.

Q: In Spiritual Direction, does someone "direct" my spirit by telling me how
to conduct my spiritual life and practice?

A: Despite the way "spiritual direction" sounds, it is not one person
telling another what to do. Rather, it is one person helping another listen
to what the Spirit of God is already doing in his/her life. There is a
shared premise between the director and the directee that in actuality GOD is
the Spiritual Director and is already active in that person's life. The task
is to pay attention to it, learn to sense the dynamic presence of the Spirit,
and learn to distinguish the "still small voice" from the competing voices
present inside us. God works with each of us uniquely, so much of the work
of spiritual direction involves learning to listen to one's Life in the
company of a director who is in effect attempting to listen to God on that
person's behalf.

Q: Why do people seek spiritual direction?

A: Sometimes it is because the person is experiencing a feeling of imbalance between the head and the heart--a yearning for "something more" or some unnamed yearning to deepen one's connection with God. Most of us live our spiritual lives in the mind - thinking, believing, analyzing, judging, evaluating---but not actually experiencing the reality of a relationship with
God. Trust, faith, relationship are just words unless they are experienced
from the center of the heart and soul. Sometimes people are seeking discernment regarding a particular life issue. They want to learn how to be in harmony with the Divine will. In direction, they tend to get better acquainted with their own deep desires and gifts in an orientation toward God.

Q:What happens during the hour?

A: The director may open with a prayer, then there is an easy, flexible
reliance on the Spirit of God to set the agenda. Since spiritual direction
is about the presence and action of God in one's life, there is an effort
toward identifying the lessons and actions evident in relationships with
others, with work, with the body, with the institutions and groups to which
the directee belongs, and with simple day-to-day life. There is a movement
toward authenticity and wholeness in God,
becoming aware of letting go of whatever blocks that process.

Discussion of one's prayer life, beliefs, and spiritual practices are
also relevant. The director may suggest different ways of praying and make
helpful suggestions for a variety of ways to nurture the spiritual life.
Dreamwork is also a rich tool for spiritual formation, if the director is
trained in working with dreams. At the end of the hour, there is usually a benediction directed toward the directee's needs.

Q: Can I feel safe and secure regarding the director's confidentiality?

A: Trained spiritual directors are taught to maintain a high level of
confidentiality. You should feel free to discuss this issue thoroughly at the

Q: How is spiritual direction different from therapy and counseling?

A: Generally speaking, therapy and counseling are problem-oriented - that
is, one seeks help to resolve a particular issue. By contrast, spiritual
direction has as its goal the discernment of God's presence and action in
one's life.

Q: Where do spiritual directors receive their training? Do they have to be
ordained clergy?

A: There are a number of creditable institutions that train directors, such
as the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Guidance in Washington, D.C., the
Stillpoint Center in Nashville, and others. Some directors are clergy;
however, many are laity with a special interest and training in spiritual

Q: How often do you meet and what does it cost?

A: Usually, the sessions are every 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the wishes of
the directee. Most directors have "mutual assessment" times every 3 months
or so. In any event, the directee need never feel "trapped" into a long
commitment. Continued involvement in the process is at the discretion of
both parties.

A few churches (mostly in midwest and northeast) employ a trained
spiritual director on the staff. In that case, the person is free to make a
contribution to the church. Directors with a private practice usually charge
on a sliding scale between $25 and $75 per hour.

In short, spiritual direction is nonjudgmental listening to whatever is going
on in a person's spiritual life--- as a gentle companion on one's journey
with God.

Copyright 2002 Linda R. Douty

Linda Douty currently serves as a book reviewer, teacher, retreat leader and individual spiritual director. She shares her personal experiences as well as knowledge gained at the The Acadmey for Spiritual Formation, Bethel Bible Series, SMU's Perkins School of Theology and the Shalom Institute of Spiritual Guidance.


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