Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spiritual Direction - How I Got Here

With my eight days of silence on the immediate horizon, I've been doing some preparatory reflection, and the discovery of a blog written by a pastor who's about to enter the training program in spiritual direction I completed a couple of years ago has prompted me to write a bit about that part of my experience.

Like many people, I "failed" spiritual direction a couple of times.  I wasn't ready, didn't "get it," found at least one really bad match of a director ~ and generally thought it sounded cool, but had no idea how to go about it.  Then I bumped into the Jesuit who became my first real spiritual director (he had been my professor for a couple of graduate classes) and guided me through the Ignatian Exercises over the course of a year.  They say that when the student is ready, the master teacher appears -- and that's exactly what happened in my case.

During that year of the Exercises, I realized that I was heading for seminary, but I didn't particularly envision myself as a spiritual director. A teacher and preacher, sure.  And I fell in love with the sacrament of communion that year.  And after many years as a lawyer, particularly a family lawyer, I knew that I had developed some listening skills.  

But I saw myself as a problem solver.  There was a reason that I had gone for a law degree rather than a Ph.D. in psychology when I was a young woman.  I like action and solutions.

The space of spiritual listening seemed so holy to me.  The skill of listening to someone for an extended period of time and then making a few suggestions, the sense that the Holy Spirit was abroad -- so not what I was about.  At least as far as I knew.  I was deeply and profoundly grateful for what I had received, for the person who had been listening to me so intently every week for a year, as if my spiritual life were a matter of great significance, but I didn't imagine myself as capable of something similar.  And then toward the end he nudged me a bit (no nudging allowed during the Exercises themselves!) and . . .

I found myself launched into a two year program for the training of spiritual directors.


Year One: A long evening class and a five-page reflective paper every other week; a basically academic year in which we studied the theology and practice of spirituality from an Ignatian perspective.  Two Saturday workshops on discernment and one on communication skills.

Year Two:  The classes and papers were reduced to once a month, and the material was more practical in nature: ethics, spiritual development, another communications workshop.  Most of that year was devoted to our practicums: 50 hours of one-on-one spiritual direction, nine five-page verbatim reports, and monthly meetings with our individual supervisors to discuss our verbatims.  (Those who've completed CPE will recognize that ominous word, verbatim:  a detailed replication of a portion of a conversation followed by an in-depth analysis of your own responses and reflections.)

Was it a little intense?  Well, I was in seminary at the same time, and so one day I tabulated the hours of class and meeting times and the pages of writing, and concluded that it was approximately like adding another class to each of six quarters of school.  It meant a lot of extra driving for me, too, since seminary is in another city and my spiritual direction classes were back here, on (sigh) Wednesdays.

And, you know, my son died in the middle of all of it..  At that time, I'd been seeing my current spiritual director for a year, and he and the head of the program (and my first director as well) were very instrumental in getting me back on track.  I thought they were completely delusional in their gentle suggestions that it might be helpful for me to focus on working with others in their spiritual lives, and expressed my strong reservations ~ but they were right.  It was painful (What wasn't?), but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Seminary gave me a place to retreat into the life of the intellect, field education forced me into the life of a church, and accompanying others in spiritual direction made it possible for me to observe the Spirit intimately at work ~ all during a time in which God seemed to have completely withdrawn from me.


I've had some big conversations with people from my program over the last few months about our training.  We all recognize that our program was an immersion into one tradition of spirituality, and lacked an overview of others.  But I think we've all concluded that we're grateful for that depth of immersion, and feel well equipped to venture into explorations of other traditions from the solid foundation we've gained in the Ignatian approach.  One of the men has told me about the time he's spent immersed in Franciscan prayer, and one of the women has described her involvement with Carmelite spirituality (in which I took a short class last winter).  This summer, several of us are reading Julian of Norwich together.

And you know what?  I was a good enough lawyer.  I was kind and thorough and skilled and got my clients through some tough situations.  But I was never as completely and passionately immersed in law as I have been in ministry ~ in so many dimensions of it.  I look back at the woman who so hesitantly and inarticulately first began to spell out some of some of her hopes and questions to a Jesuit who listened as if God might be doing something worth paying attention to ~ and I can hardly believe how much I have grown and changed in these past six years.  I am so very grateful to have been transformed into a spiritual director, and for all the stories and questions and experiences of prayer that are shared with me in that very quiet and contemplative space in my life.


  1. God is so good. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your story evokes gentle tears in me. My gratitude to you for sharing it

  3. to listen as if God might be doing something worth paying attention to

    Whew. Yes. That is a gift not to be given over lightly.

  4. Isn't it interesting how often we humans believe, really truly believe, that it is our ACTION that is solving the problems?

    And also interesting, satisfying, and I hope a nice smile for God, when it begins to dawn on us that True Presence (ours with another and His with us in the Eucharist) is so incredibly involved in the solution.

    Having been married to a lawyer for over 26 years now, I can tell you that this particular training goes very, very deep. It is extremely hard to imagine that simple listening will "do anything." I see this with my husband as he has finished up year three of the five-year Permanent Diaconate Formation.

    Verbatims kicked his butt. Not the writing. Not the actual visitation with the sick. Not the analysis. But getting out of his description of, and assessment of, the problem and solution and trying to be more reflective and self-revealing.... well, for this particular tax attorney it's been quite a transformation!

    Thanks for continuing to share your journey --

    it's so filled with deep, real beauty.

  5. I have yet to find a spiritual director here, having works with the same woman for many many year in both Illinois and AZ. I often think I will take a retreat and go back to Tucson to work with my director and spend some time at the Desert Hpuse of's a gift, this spiritual companionship!

  6. Thanks for the great post. Your initial experience of SDn and learning about the process sounds similiar to mine: I didn't get it, but I felt drawn back to sitting with a SDr regularly. I still feel sometimes 'awarkward'in the practice of listening and guiding others, but I've noticed that the people who come and stay for direction are the ones where it seems to glide along naturally and we both sense the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in the moment together. It is also good to see that a former lawyer has trained as a SDr b/c at a recent SDn conference I attended with workshops, at least one in 5 present were former school teachers and all these seem to present as 1's on the enneagram.
    I don't know if its entirely 'correct' but my sense of call to SDn and a contemplative orientation seems deeper than my call to ordained ministry. The former certainly preceded it and I suspect, will be there after retirement. It certainly nourishes my life in ministry so I find I need to give the contemplative area of my life the attention it needs.

  7. So we have here a lawyer-deacon to be, and a lawyer-spir. dir. I know at least one other lawyer, a guy, who's lso a spir. dir. I suppose that we are exactly the sort of people to be drawn to the Ignatian ideal of "contemplatives in action."

    And I know there are good, intuitive matches between directors and directees and there are the opposite. Certainly there are people who have concluded that I am not the director for them, just as I did with the one woman. All you can do is experiment a little.

  8. thanks for sharing this part of the journey.