Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh, To Find a Spiritual Director . . .

While I was away on retreat, a friend wrote to inquire how she might find a spiritual director.  I don't think she'll object to my responding, at least preliminarily, in a post.

You might begin by reading a bit about spiritual direction.  The term itself is something of a misnomer, indicating a relationship in which one individual exerts some sort of authority or control over another.  It's a residual phrase from the desert monastic movement of the early centuries of the church, and retains a bit of the flavor of that era, when the curious, the broken, and the seeking ventured into the desert in search of the solitary figures who had recused themselves to a dry and barren land of prayer and of God, seeking a word of wisdom and guidance.Today, however, spiritual direction is more accurately described as spiritual companionship, a relationship in which two people walk with God together, one of them more experienced and knowledgeable in recognizing the ways of the Holy Spirit, who is herself the real director of the venture. 

Some helpful books include Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction or The Practice of Spiritual Direction.  Each offers an interpretation of the spiritual direction relationship and a window into the dynamics of spiritual companionship.  I'm sure that others reading this post have their favorites, and I hope that they'll include them in the comments section.

You might think and pray about your reasons for seeking a spiritual director.  It's often easier to talk about spiritual direction in terms of what it is not ~ it is not pastoral counseling or therapy or spiritual instruction or Bible study, although many of the same questions and issues that would be addressed in those situations emerge in spiritual direction as well.  Spiritual direction is an opportunity to grow in attentiveness to your relationship with God; it opens the door to a deeper recognition and understanding of God's labor and love in your life.

Nuts and bolts: The website for Spiritual Directors International provides both a directory and a set of interview questions for your potential director.  You might ask your own priests or pastors for some referrals; ask your friends, ask your professors, ask your choir director, ask anyone who mentions some form of engagement with spiritual direction.  If there is some sort of program for the training of spiritual directors near you, call and ask for a list of possibilities.  And ask your online friends: in today's world, it's becoming increasingly common for spiritual direction to take place via online services.  

Qualifications:  There is no nationally recognized certification or licensing for spiritual directors.  However, there are a number of excellent training programs, and you might wish to research any of those from which your potential directors has received training.  Ask a director whether he adheres to ethical standards for spiritual directors; ask her in what ways she continues her education and maintains accountability to her calling.

Slant:  There are a number of approaches to spiritual direction.  Ask whether the director follows any particular school of spirituality or philosophy or direction; ask about his or her own experience of spiritual direction.  Ask how he or she generally approaches a meeting or session.  And then, if you decide to give it a try, ask questions as you go, if you are so inclined.  I recall reading a post a few years ago in which a woman described "what a spiritual direction session is like."  It was nothing like any spiritual direction I have ever participated in, as either director or directee!  I recall thinking that if someone came to me expecting something similar, major disappointment would ensue.

And finally, after you've met with someone a time or two, ask yourself:  Is this director a person of integrity, generosity, and imagination?  Is this someone who listens with compassion and attentiveness to what I have to say?  Is this a person who asks questions about or makes suggestions for prayer that are meaningful to me?

Do I sense God's grace in the air?



  1. I found mine by emailing a local Roman Catholic parish staffed by Jesuits to ask if they knew someone, and they referred me to a "retired" Jesuit (in quotes because he still serves a great deal, at least half or 3/4 time, despite being 75 and retired). It's worked out great. I'm a female Episcopal priest, so it's good to think outside the denominational box. If you have Jesuits in your vicinity, it's worth asking -- they're good people.

  2. My spiritual director is also a Jesuit and engaging in this journey has been a life-changing experience. I thank God for the gift of my spiritual director's time and wisdom which are so generously given.

  3. I would also suggest having others pray that God prepare the way for the search. I was assigned a spiritual director when going through the Exercises in spiritual direction training. The facilitators of the program prayed for each participant before making the choices. I have always smiled that they continued praying - after I was notified of my assigned spiritual director, they called to tell me they were making a change and gave me the new information. I have been going to her for over 16 years and have been blessed with our listening to the Holy Spirit through joys and pains over the years.

    Your book selections are great.

    Glad for your retreat and glad you are back.

  4. Very good and useful post - should become an online reference. Interesting the distinction between a director for a particular occasion (retreat, Exercises...) and how, as Nancy says, sometimes one can straddle this distinction very fruitfully...

  5. Echoing Mike's comments here. Would it be alright to link to this? I'm planning to collect together online resources on the topic; the kind of information I would have found helpful when I first set out to find a director, nearly ten years ago now.

  6. Was it really last May?? Finally gathered a few thoughts together. You can find the results, such as they are, over on my blog.