What Is Spiritual Direction? Insights from Margaret Guenther

by Christine Sine

Holy listening

The focus for the next few months on Godspace will be spiritual direction, a good preparation I think for the Advent season and Christmas. It is also a good follow on to the emphasis in the last few months on hospitality.

What on earth is spiritual direction some of you may ask? The very idea for some, connotes a desire for control, authoritarian and dictatorial. For others it sounds like an other worldly mysticism they want nothing to do with.

As I mentioned in my initial post: Seeking Help Through the Faith Shifting Process

Wikipedia defines spiritual direction as: the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality. It is a discipline that has emerged in many spiritual traditions, using language specific to that tradition.

In Christian faith spiritual directors are known by many names – soul friends, mentors, or my favourite – Kathy Escobar’s lovely term spiritual midwives. Some find spiritual direction through personal encounters, others seek help through their favourite blogs, websites or Bible apps. Anyone who supports us as we notice and reflect on God’s presence and activity in our daily lives, encouraging us to grow our faith and live into our calling, can be considered a spiritual director.

Margaret Guenther in her inspirational book Holy Listening, likens spiritual direction to the act of hospitality.

Spiritually, we cannot make it through the desert or across the frontier alone, but must depend on the kindness of strangers. Yet those strangers upon whom we depend are not really strangers, but our sisters and brothers in Christ. They are the hosts, the givers of hospitality, who sustain us on the journey, our spiritual friends and directors. (10).

She talks about the need of any host to prepare for their guests by cleaning house and encourages any potential spiritual director to start by enlisting the help of someone who can lead them through their own path towards awareness and wholeness. Accepting the hospitality of another is essential before we can offer it ourselves. Otherwise, she emphasizes, the pathway is a dangerous and open to self deception.

Guenther reminds us that hospitality is sharing our space with others. Therefore it should be as welcoming as possible, a space, almost a sanctuary, secure from interruptions. It should be unhurried, yet with set limits.

guests cease to be guests if they come to live with us. (22)

And just as hospitality was traditionally extended to people on a journey, so is spiritual direction.

It always a story of a journey, always a story about relationship with God – whether the directee is fleeing the Hound of Heaven, or lost, or yearning, or living among the swine and eating their husks.

The director’s task is to help connect the individual’s story to the story and thereby help the directee to recognize and claim identity in Christ, discern the action of the Holy Spirit. (32)

Later in the book Guenther likens spiritual directors to midwives, bring to birth the life of God in the soul – beautiful imagery of the process that all of us need to go through, not once but time and again in our lives. And as we move towards Advent and our preparation for the birth of the Christ child, what better time to think about our own need for new life to be birthed within us. I highly recommend this book to anyone exploring the art of spiritual direction.

Spiritual direction is more about learning to ask the right questions than to give the right answers and as we begin this journey to learn more about spiritual direction let me ask you:

What are the questions stirring in your heart that could give birth to new aspects of God’s life within you?


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Mark Votava September 17, 2014 - 9:37 am

Some helpful books I have been reading lately around spiritual direction themes are: Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans and Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire. I love the idea of whitespace, a place within myself where God is able to create something new, life-giving, restful and my true self is coming alive. I love the idea of living more restful into more silence and solitude. I am discovering God more within me in silence, solitude and rest.

Christine Sine September 17, 2014 - 5:30 pm

Thanks Mark. These all sound great. I think that the idea of whitespace is great too and like you I discover God more within me in silence, solitude and rest.

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