Anam Cara - Spiritual Mentoring
The Process of Spiritual Direction
What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.
~ Thomas Merton
Spiritual direction, sometimes referred to as spiritual guidance or spiritual friendship, is an ongoing relationship in which one person (the directee), desirous of being attentive to his or her spiritual life, meets with another person (the director) on a regular basis (approximately once a month), specifically for the purpose of becoming more attuned to God's Presence in order to respond more fully to that Presence in all of life.
The primary focus of the session is the directee's relationship with the Holy Other as it is reflected and challenged by all aspects of that person's life. It is not counselling. It is simply have a person dedicated first and foremost to listen - unreservedly to you. Spiritual Direction is NOT "Therapy", but it IS therapeutic...
Although discussions between a Spiritual Director and a Directee can touch on many subjects, Spiritual Direction should not be considered to be counselling, psychotherapy or financial planning or financial advising.
Spiritual Direction is an ancient practice common to almost all spiritual traditions, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic and Taoist, in which individuals seeking guidance meet with a trusted guide or mentor to explore the significant spiritual questions of one’s life. In the ancient Celtic Church, this guide was called an AnamCara, or “Soul Friend” who often took the form of a priest or monastic with whom an individual seeking guidance would meet with privately to discuss matters of the spirit. In the Buddhist tradition, this “soul friendship” is most clearly demonstrated in the relationship between student and teacher and is an integral component of Buddhist Spiritual Practice. But regardless of the terms used or the tradition practiced, Spiritual Direction is a precious and sacred opportunity to journey with others in a discovery of the divine.
Seekers and directors agree to meet regularly, typically once a month but more often if needed, for private spiritual conversation, discernment, or mutual agrred upon guidance.
The directee assumes responsibility for his or her life with God. This means that the person coming for direction is trying to be serious about some form of intentional prayer and reflection on the God-currents of everyday life and prayer. During the meeting of about one hour, director and directee seek to enter a prayerful atmosphere where together they can be attentive to the Spirit who is in fact the Real Director.
The director may question, challenge, suggest, support, as seems called for by the Spirit, but it is the directee’s prayerful openness to the Sprit that determines whatever insights are uncovered or the course of action that is to be taken. It is assumed that the directee has begun a journey with God long before he or she comes into direction. Also, this intentional journey will continue long after leaving a particular director. The director is only a facilitator in the process. The directee must claim the journey.
Direction and Therapy: Some Differences
It should be noted that there are distinctions between spiritual direction and therapeutic relationships. In general it might be said that therapy and counseling deal primarily with problem areas of one's life and attempt to bring healthy resolution to issues. Spiritual direction is concerned with finding and responding to God (in the midst of pain or disorder as well as in the rest of life). Problem/issue solving is not the primary focus of direction.
Finding a Director
It seems important to pray about finding a spiritual director, asking God to guide your search and to open your eyes to the possibilities available to you. Accompanying this prayer should be the exploration of avenues already known to you for persons whose spirituality speaks to you though they may not name themselves or be recognized as "qualified" spiritual directors. Such persons may be found among persons with whom you have shared small groups, or others who seem to attract you for reasons unclear to you.
It will probably take some time to find the right person for you. If God is in the felt need for a director, however, then it is safe to assume that the Spirit will eventually provide the resources you need. The key is to remain patient yet diligent in the waiting, to trust God in the process, remaining attentive to the direction of the Spirit in all of life.
Choosing a Director
In a direction relationship, it is important for there to be a mutual sense that the potential for open, honest, clear communication is present and that there is a reverence for the unique way God is working in the individuals involved. Coupled with this is a mutual dependence upon the Spirit at work in the relationship. Human specifics of age, sex, denomination and so forth, may assume more importance at one time in a person's life than at another. Basically, however, it is only necessary that the two persons experience the kind of "fitness" that allows them to be free for their common purpose together without undue attention to their relationship. After an initial appointment to get acquainted and if it seems right to continue, it is helpful to set up three meetings and then evaluate how things are going. Following that, periodic evaluations are encouraged so that what was begun as a right thing does not continue past its time.
Spiritual directors may be people ordained or not and those in communities. They may be married or single and may seek their livelihood in a variety of occupations. What is paramount is that the director is responding to an invitation from God to participate in this ministry; that the gift of direction has been called forth by others; and that the director has sought to enhance the gift and sharpen skills through means appropriate to her or his particular needs.
The primary responsibilities of the director are prayer for the directee and openness to God for what is truly called for on behalf of the directee during the sessions. This assumes that the director is taking seriously her or his relationship with God through intentional prayer, attention to solitude time and regular spiritual direction.
Further, as a means of accountability and growth, spiritual directors avail themselves of prayerful support for the ministry. This can take place in a one-to-one or a peer group setting with other directors. Whatever way this happens, confidentiality must be observed and anonymity of directees needs to be preserved.
Fees and Contributions
Usually there is no set "fee for service" for spiritual direction. However, some directors need financial support in order to be able to offer this ministry. It is best to check this out at the beginning. From time to time, you may find it appropriate to give a material gift expressive of appreciation (e.g., a plant, candle, food, or something else). Also, you may be drawn to contribute to the outreach of Patmos Abbey or some other charitable cause. Again, this should be discussed with the director.
If Not Direction, then What?
Spiritual direction is not appropriate for every person. While you may feel the nudge of something needing attention around human / spiritual growth, direction may not be what is called for now. Or something in addition to direction may be called for. You might test out your need through the following questions and suggestions:
§ Am I looking for some "how to's" in developing a prayer life? Or a group with whom I can pray and share? Or support for my practice of intentional prayer and meditation?
Local meditation groups
Local prayer groups
§ Are there areas of my life calling for focused healing prayer that might be supported and directed in a group setting?
Local healing services, 12 Step groups and/or prayer groups
§ Do I want moral, biblical, or theological guidance for my life? Some person or group to explore questions around life issues?
Your local church leadership and groups
§ Are there specific problem areas of my life or troubling emotions siphoning off energy? Serious blockage issues that I want to talk about with another in hopes that I can find some ways of overcoming the difficulties?
Counselling or therapy
12 Step Groups
§ Do I feel the need for a "spiritual friend" with whom I can have an informal mutual relationship of prayer, sharing and support for one another in our spiritual journeys?
Looking at the groups you are in and take the risk of asking someone to whom you feel drawn and feel you can trust.
Here are some reflections on Spiritual Direction by others engaged in the practice...
Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories everyday. Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions. Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs
to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living. It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names. (Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv, Executive Director, Spiritual Directors International)
Spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another, more often a more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which the Holy Other may be touching her or his life, directly or indirectly. In our postmodern age, many people dislike the term "spiritual direction" because it sounds like one person giving directions, or orders, to another. They prefer "spiritual companionship," "tending the holy," or some other nomenclature. What we call it doesn't make any real difference. The reality remains conversations about life in the light of faith. There was much to talk about, to sort out in the light of faith in those days when confusion and disenchantment with religion becomes a daily reality.
Although spiritual direction has had a burst of new life, it is really quite ancient. Across both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, we find people seeking spiritual counsel. The Queen of Sheba sought out the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus gave us examples in his conversations with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, in the ongoing formation of Peter and the other disciples. In the early church, people flocked to hermits in the desert for spiritual counsel. Across the centuries we find striking examples in some Irish monks, in some German
Benedictine nuns, in Charles de Foucault, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and others. Today, spiritual directors come from many traditions. (Marian Cowan, CSJ)
Edwards, Tilden. Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion. NY: Paulist Press, 2001.
Gratton, Carolyn. The Art of Spiritual Guidance. NY: Crossroad, 1992.
Guenther, C. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. MA: Cowley Publications, 1992.
May, Gerald. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit. NY: Harper & Row, 1992.
The Abbey offers accredited programs and continuing education program for spiritual directors as well as assistance in forming peer groups.