What is Spiritual Direction?
Spiritual direction is an intentional process during which a director accompanies an individual on his or her journey towards a deeper relationship with God. A spiritual direction session is like a conversation between three people, two seen and one unseen: the directee, the director, and God, whose presence and Spirit guides and brings light to the conversation.
Generally speaking, people seek out spiritual direction because they sense a pull towards God in some way. They may be at a crossroads in their life, facing an issue of discernment or perhaps a crisis, drawn to complete the Ignatian exercises, or simply pursuing spiritual growth. Spiritual directors, both in groups and in one-on-one settings, listen to and with spiritual seekers on their journey towards a deeper understanding of God and of themselves.
Some people prefer the term “spiritual friendship” over “spiritual direction,” because the word “direction” has connotations of being in charge, while the first term emphasizes the essentially relational nature of the bond between director and directee. Other popular terms for a spiritual director are “soul friend” or “spiritual midwife,” i.e. one who accompanies the spiritual “birth” or growth process as it moves along.
Another metaphor I’ve found useful is that the spiritual director is like a person holding up a mirror in such a way that the directee is able to see both self and God, together. The director’s job is not to appear in the mirror herself, only to hold the mirror at the right angle.
Spiritual Direction vs. Counseling or Therapy
Like a counseling session, a spiritual direction session is a place of safety and confidentiality. But although spiritual direction has similarities to counseling, and over time can help a person find great healing and freedom, spiritual direction is not specifically aimed at addressing a problem or receiving the guidance or advice of a mental/emotional health expert.
Spiritual direction creates a sacred space in which persons can bring their whole selves to God and invite God to be present as well. Depending on their tradition, giftings, and experience, spiritual directors work by listening to the Holy Spirit, asking guiding questions, leading the directee through spiritual exercises (such as the examen, imaginative prayer, lectio divina), and using Scripture, the arts, prayer, and other modalities that help open up a person to spiritual knowingness and to discerning God’s movement and direction in his or her life.