Today’s post is part of the series Seeking Help Through the Faith Shifting Process. It is contributed by Lynne Baab who has written many books and articles on Christian spiritual practices. Her latest book is The Power of Listening. Visit Lynne’s website and blog for numerous articles she’s written on spiritual practices.
The words “spiritual direction” can mean quite a few different things, and numerous recent posts on this blog have illustrated the variety of possible meanings. When I use those two words, I almost always mean an intentional spiritual practice of meeting monthly with someone who gives me guidance in my walk with Jesus Christ.
My favorite book on spiritual direction was written by a dear friend, Susan S. Phillips, and the title is Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction (Morehouse, 2008). Here’s how Susan describes what she does as a spiritual director:
I spend many quiet hours listening to people – to what they say and don’t say, to inflections, silences, laughter, weeping, aspirations, sorrows, joy and longing. I listen for prayer. Some of prayer’s manifestations in us were expressed by seventeenth-century poet George Herbert as “God’s breath” in us, “the soul in paraphrase,” the “heart in pilgrimage,” “a kind of tune,” and “Heaven in ordinary.” I have witnessed such prayers in my office. My listening is different from that of many professional listeners, in that I listen for how the holy penetrates lives. I am there to help people discover the ways their lives are imbued with spirituality. This is spiritual direction.
I’ve been in spiritual direction for 17 years, and I’ve been a spiritual director (on a small scale) for four years. Why is this particular spiritual practice significant to me, and how have I benefitted from it?
Paul says to the people on Mars Hill in Acts 17:28 that in God “we live and move and have our being.” Yet so many aspects of our lives, including the consumer culture and the pace of daily living, conspire to push us in the direction of living as autonomous beings. Spiritual direction is one of many spiritual practices that can help us remember that God is present, working, caring and bestowing grace in our lives. With my spiritual directors I have talked about where God is in the midst of my family, my work, my friends, my service to God, and my call to be a Christian. I love the way Susan Phillips describes this process: “I listen for how the holy penetrates lives. I am there to help people discover the ways their lives are imbued with spirituality.”
In her book, Susan begins and ends with general comments on this practice, but the bulk of the book traces nine individuals as they journey through several years of spiritual direction. These participants vary widely in their faith commitments, and her descriptions illustrate how a spiritual director helps people on a variety of paths. She divides the stories into three stages: beginning, journeying and fruition. Her categories make me think various stages with the three spiritual directors I have had.
I lost my first spiritual director when she retired, and I lost my second when we moved. With all three, there was an exciting beginning period when I had the joy of discovering the uniqueness of the director’s priorities and style. Then, to be frank, there was a bit of a ho-hum stage where I felt like maybe I’d gotten everything I was going to get from this person. In all three cases, the ho-hum stage was followed by deepening and richness. So, in parallel with Susan’s book, I have experienced at least three stages with each of my spiritual directors.
One of the FAQs that people often ask me is whether I pay for spiritual direction, and the answer is a resounding YES. Many spiritual directors offer a sliding scale based on ability to pay, and I think paying something is important. A sad reality about human life is that we value what we pay for. If I really believe that my love and obedience for God will be enhanced by identifying God’s breath in me or by trying to see heaven in the ordinary, then devoting myself to spiritual direction, and being willing to pay for it, is a very good idea.