Friday, January 11, 2013

Spiritual Direction: Just Do It!

Lots of people have asked me about spiritual direction lately. I explain it a bit, and offer them some resources and some names, and send them to the Spiritual Directors International website for additional help.

Then weeks or months later I'll check back, only to find that they haven't pursued any leads at all.

What is that?  Were they just making polite conversation or were they really, as I suspect, sensing a nudge from the Spirit to experience prayer and the friendship of God more deeply than they have in the past?

There's really no excuse around here.  There are lots of potential directors -- Benedictines, Carmelites, Jesuits, Protestant pastors, rabbis, and people from just about every kind of religious and professional background who have troubled themselves to train and study as spiritual directors. 

And spiritual directors, at least when operating in that mode, are among the kindest and least intimidating of people.  And we are all quite willing to explain how what we do, how we were trained, and what we do and don't have to offer. 
Maybe it would help, I sometimes think, to explain my own history.  I first tried spiritual direction with a Methodist church leader who had taken a course offered by the Catholic diocese and done lots of reading and study on his own.  In retrospect, I think that while he was a man of deep prayer, he didn't really know how to guide a rank novice, and I fell off the wagon pretty quickly.
Next was a Catholic woman who was largely focused on a fairly traditional devotional life.  Mary, saints, sweet little prayer books.  I don't think either of us understood the other at all.
Years passed, and I stumbled into Ignatian spirituality, via an older Jesuit who exuded light and life, who was worldly and eloquent and wickedly funny, whom some people have described as "channeling Ignatius" ~ though that phrase would have been meaningless to me at the time.  And so I started meeting with him weekly to make the Spiritual Exercises, of all things. A year's worth of intense daily prayer, for someone who hardly knew what the word "prayer" meant.  Now that one, in retrospect, I can only view as either completely random and crazy or the Holy Spirit working overtime.  Perhaps each the equivalent of the other.
Two years later, I had to change directors.  Jesuits have an extremely bad habit of moving away.  But, ok -- someone new, another Jesuit, to provide me with some prayer stability as I embarked upon my journey through seminary and training as a spiritual director.
And then my son died, and I found myself in the darkest place I have ever been.  Spiritual direction was no longer about developing a prayer life or practicing discernment or structuring a pathway to ministry.  It was about survival. 
I would not have survived, in the most literal sense of the word, had there not been someone there to sit with me, to respond to my rambling and child-starved emails, to be the presence that said, without ever saying it, "You will not die."
Three someones in the end, as I found a third Jesuit, a psychologist who specializes in my "stuff," to guide me on my annual retreats.  Those have been intense and and focused weeks, weeks which have provided fodder for the journey ahead.  In fact, I was thinking just yesterday that the prayer and conversation of last spring's retreat is now coming to fruition.  I haven't been thinking about it; it's just all been there, lying dormant in the depths, and begun to surface in the form of clarity for the present.
These days, most of my direction centers on the conundrums of ministry.  The same director who saw me through the darkest months has mostly been a parish priest in his ministerial life, and he understands all the questions and challenges I face now.
So there you have it, my own last seven or eight years of spiritual direction in a nutshell: learning to pray, growing in relationship with God, framing a ministerial life, losing it all, rebuilding in the dark, learning to live and minister in balance with pain and anguish.
What can I say?  It works.  It works to have someone else share your conversation with God.
So: Just do it.  Make the call; send the email.  Just do it.


  1. Robin, I couldn't agree with you more. A spiritual director has the distance to be enabled to provide perspective where we sometimes lack that for ourselves. Spiritual direction has been a very powerful influence in my spiritual life and I am so grateful to our Lord for my spiritual director.

  2. Yes, I'd echo that. It can take courage to take that first step, I agree. IME spiritual directors are indeed amongst the kindliest of people, But once you've stepped out, the benefits are incalculable. I know that I often look back over the 10 years...and counting since I first met mine and think, "Wow!"

  3. Thanks. I know the benefits to well to be not actively doing this in my life.