When I tell people I have a spiritual direction practice the most common response I hear is: “what is spiritual direction?” Below is a brief explanation of spiritual direction as I practice it.
Spiritual direction offers a safe and restful time to step away from the busyness of life and to reflect on your spiritual questions, longings and dilemmas with a trained spiritual companion who listens deeply and non-judgmentally. It can assist you wherever you are on your spiritual journey. In spiritual direction you may explore, interpret, and deepen your relationship with God, integrate spiritual practices into your daily life, consider important decisions, process grief and share hopes, sorrows, struggles and joys in a peaceful and confidential setting.
The ”director” in the process is the Holy Spirit, while the person you meet with serves as a spiritual companion who is primarily an empathetic listener and sounding board. Often meetings begin in silence as both the companion and the person seeking direction center and quiet themselves. Then you share with the spiritual companion whatever is in the forefront of your heart and mind, positive or difficult. Sometimes you simply return to silence for a time. You and your companion may pray together. In spiritual direction you gently explore and discern where God is present in your life and in what way the Holy Spirit may be nudging you to move. Typically, spiritual direction occurs once a month for an hour. Many spiritual companions offer a sliding fee scale. Some do not charge a fee.
While there is some crossover between spiritual direction and counseling, there are clear distinctions as well. The focus of spiritual direction is on the relationship with God and the spiritual elements of the person’s life. If you are struggling with emotional pain and negative patterns of behavior, dealing with depression or mood disorders, anxiety, addictions, or other diagnosable conditions, working with a professional counselor may well be your best option. A spiritual companion should refer an individual with such issues to a therapist or counselor as they are outside the scope of companion’s training. However, if you are trying to grow in your relationship to God and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life, then spiritual direction is something to consider.
Issues appropriate for spiritual direction include: discerning a big question or decision such as “what does God want me to do now that I’m retired/out of school/single/etc.?” Or, “am I called to a specific ministry?” Or, “what does my Maker want from me in my role as parent, spouse, child, friend?” Or, “How can I live a life centered in God in our culture that is so materialistic and secular?” Or, “I’m drawn to Jesus, but have so many issues with the institutional church.” And everything in between. Dilemmas such as sorting out career or relationship issues or discerning how to maximize your talents could potentially be addressed in either counseling or spiritual direction. Or both. I meet with a number of people who concurrently are in counseling.
Spiritual direction is not a new discipline. Throughout church history, there are stories of people who engaged in spiritual companionship and guidance including Jesus and his disciples, the desert mothers and fathers, Celtic anam caras or soul friends, medieval anchorites, and
Renaissance mystics. Modern trained spiritual companions follow in those traditions.
There are a number of reputable sources of information regarding spiritual direction online that you can access, including Spiritual Directors International (www.sdicompanions.org/) and the Franciscan Spirituality Center in Portland, Oregon (www.francisspctr.com/spiritual-direction). Both these sites include lists of spiritual companions with contact information.
More information on my spiritual direction practice is available at spenglerspiritualdirection.com. I meet with people of all faiths and none.
Wishing a joyous Epiphany to all who celebrate it, and all a healthy, peaceful, and hope-filled 2023 to all.
• Tim Spengler has lived in Juneau since 1984, and he and his wife, Kasia, have raised their children (and cocker spaniels) here. He is a parishioner of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and is a hospice chaplain. ”Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.