The Art – and Heart – of Spiritual Direction
In the midst of an ever-increasing secular society, more and more Catholics (and people of other faiths, including Judaism and Islam) seem to be discovering the beauty of Spiritual Direction. For those unfamiliar with this form of Pastoral Ministry, Spiritual Direction is a deep sharing about God’s actions in a person’s everyday life with one’s director. It is a means of helping a person to get in touch with what God may be saying in one’s life – not just in our hearts or in prayer but in our relationships, work, events and situations – whether good, bad or indifferent. Many people seek to find the Holy in their lives, to get in touch with it and to draw from it. According to Fr. Thomas Dube, author of the great spiritual book Fire Within, “God reveals interiorly but it is confirmed exteriorly in Spiritual Direction”.
Who goes for Spiritual Direction? Anyone who wants to deepen his/her relationship with God – laity, clergy, monks, men and women religious, singles, married persons – even Spiritual Directors have their own Spiritual Directors!
Where does one find a Spiritual Director? At one’s parish church, Catholic College/University, a monastery or simply by asking around. Many certified directors choose (but are not required) to hold membership in Spiritual Directors International (www.sdiworld.org). This website has many articles on various topics within Spiritual Direction such as how to interview a prospective Spiritual Director for yourself, ethical issues, misconceptions about Spiritual Direction and how to properly terminate the relationship if it is not working out. Because a relationship within the context of Pastoral Ministry is an intimate relationship, a sudden phone call or email from one informing the other that the relationship has ended would be unprofessional and inappropriate. It would also need to be brought about with mutual consent after much prayer. Many who come to direction may be going through difficult issues so the director must know how and when to let go of the relationship. Why would it terminate? People move on or realize that it is not for them; some directees cannot handle going to Spiritual Direction and outside counseling at the same time (if that’s the case) and, yes, sometimes it happens that what a directee is sharing could be dredging up muck within the director that hadn’t been noticed before. For this reason, Spiritual Directors should also participate in what is called Peer Supervision.
Spiritual Directors International also has a global map that allows you to enter your location that brings up a list of all its members in that area.
What should a person look for in selecting a Spiritual Director? The person should be certified in the field, have their own Spiritual Director, participate in Peer Supervision, be a good match in terms of personality as well as spirituality, capable of being a good listener and maintaining confidentiality and, above all, a Spiritual Director must be a person of prayer.
Sr. Aline Plante, P.M. has been offering Spiritual Direction at Marie Joseph Spiritual Center (www.mariejosephspiritual.org) in Biddeford, ME for five years. A former Provincial Superior for her community (Sisters of the Presentation of Mary) for twelve years and assistant General Superior in Castelgandolfo (Italy, at the community’s generalate) for six, she currently has 10 directees with whom she meets regularly…one of whom lives in Guam and “meets” with her by way of Skype! Sr. Aline says that she meets with several non-Catholics as well as Catholics and adds that “they all hunger for the Lord…and…they have a sincere desire to grow in their faith”.
Another way for growing in and sharing one’s spirituality is by way of participating in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Available at Campion Renewal Center in Weston, MA (http://www.campioncenter.org/programs/ignatianspirituality.htm); one can choose between a 30-day retreat (a.k.a, the Long Retreat which is done in silence), or the 19th Annotated Version or even the 18th Annotated Version for those unable to be away from home for 30 days.
In addition to Ignatian Spirituality, there exists Franciscan Spirituality, Augustinian, Thomistic, Carmelite, Benedictine and others. Four of these types are described here in these self-assessments designed to help determine a person’s prayer type. Based on the temperament type of persons using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, one can come to a better understanding of one’s prayer type preference that matches their temperament. For example, Francis of Assisi was able to best “meet” and experience God in all of God’s creation (his “Type” was thought to be ISFP) while Thomists tend to bring logic to their prayer experience. Is knowing your prayer type a pre-requisite for Spiritual Direction? No but the assessments can give good insight on how you tend to experience and relate to God.
For those who might feel God’s call to become a Spiritual Director, a graduate school program in Pastoral Ministry at many Catholic Colleges or Universities would be a good route – but not the only one. However, most programs would require a student of such to have been going through Spiritual Direction for at least two years. It is truly a humbling experience to be called to guide a person on their spiritual journey – as Sr. Aline says it so eloquently, “It is awesome to see how God reveals himself in a different way to each person”.