A Personal Story
I had been a Presbyterian minister for twenty-five years before I had any direct knowledge of spiritual direction. Five years ago I went through a seemly endless spiritual dry spell. I was emotionally burned out about my work and spiritually confused about my pastoral call but my heart longed for God. I sought out a Presbyterian spiritual director and in the unique intimacy of that relationship something profoundly spiritual and human was opened. I gained an unprecedented sense of faith and freedom in Christ. I became more aware of the immediate presence of God in myself, in others not like myself, in the life of the church, in liturgy and sacraments, in prayer and bible reading, in the corporate workplace, in society in general and in the natural environment. Nothing in my formal theological, pastoral or psychological training prepared me for what spiritual direction offered. It was clearly a gift of the Spirit. A subterranean fire of emotion and motivation hidden in my soul for decades was released like a volcano. Spiritual direction was the essence of pastoral work. Direction has been the unequalled spiritual process of bringing my true self and true work to clarity. The place where my deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet (Buechner). I have especially noted how a practiced spirituality gives birth to self-discovery and obedient action.
A Brief Definition
In its most common everyday form "spiritual direction takes place anytime two people agree to give their full attention to what God is doing in one (or both) of their lives and seek to respond in faith" (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles). These gatherings may be planned meetings or spontaneous moments but there are always three underpinnings to spiritual direction,
But spiritual directors donít direct. Direction is about the Holy Spirit as the director not the pastor, friend, or trained director. Direction is about God not us and requires a discipline of complete ego surrender on the part of the director. The human directorís role is like a midwife to assist others in noticing and cooperating with their inner voice of God never to impose our inner voice of God. A director is primarily interested in our experience of God and how we can follow the Spiritís call. That process is a spiritual journey into the truth about ourselves, our relationships, our work and world.
The premise of spiritual direction is that God is present and active in our daily life in endless ways though largely unnoticed. God is not obvious. But when we slow down and take a long loving look at the subtle details of life we begin to recognize the experience of the immediate presence of God in new ways. The more we know ourselves the more we notice God, the more we know God the more we know ourselves and our meaning, purpose and direction.
Such increased familiarity with God whether its through a new opening to God, or surrendering some part of ourselves, or being surprised by a new insight, or learning to cooperate with the hiddenness of God, or experiencing the mystery of Christ in us becomes transformation, healing and a source of strength for taking action emotionally, creatively, morally, relationally, socially, or professionally.
Presbyterian Spiritual Direction
Presbyterian spiritual direction requires a scriptural foundation and theological familiarity in our case with the Reformed faith and tradition, thatís our lens. But direction is primary interested in our universal spiritual experience and that necessitates the capacity and willingness to notice God through many lenses. Direction is not about telling people what to believe or how to act but working with the Spirit to discover, surface, name for themselves, and engage in what God is doing.
Also, direction is not psychotherapy or pastoral counseling. It is not about analysis or fixing anything. Most people who seek direction just want personal attention in growing in their awareness of God. Direction is as full of laughter as tears. However, direction is hard work and may drop down into our lowest depths and worst suffering, it can be a demanding process of discovering the truth about ourselves in the presence of Godís unconditional love.
The subject matter is always about God but the complexity of our lives cannot be reduced to simple spiritual formulas and steps. Direction gets into the messy, wonderful and real journey from fear to faith and freedom in Christ.
A Lost Art Regained
Spiritual Direction has been a lost art. All Christian traditions have had mentors and guides. Some of this is person to person, some in letter writing, some in groups, some formal and hierarchical, some casual. But at the end of the 20th century we have grown too busy to slow down and engage in the carefulness of listening for God in our ordinary lives. We simply donít have the time or organization to give prolonged individual attention to one another. The longing for God in our churches isnít because we donít know Jesus itís because we yearn for greater awareness of Jesus. Spiritual direction is one of the many ways the Spirit is restoring and revitalizing the church.