Spiritual Direction

Yesterday I shared the column I wrote for the Our Lady of Lourdes parish bulletin on discernment. Fr. Dan Griffith, the pastor at Lourdes, asked me if I would also write a piece on spiritual direction, on the thought that many parishioners might not be familiar with it. So here is my column that will appear in this Sunday’s bulletin:

I’ve been a certified spiritual director for about a decade and I’ve been in spiritual direction myself for longer than that. Since, despite the fact that spiritual direction has been part of the Catholic tradition from the earliest days of the church many people are unfamiliar with the practice, I thought it might be useful to say a little bit about what spiritual direction is and why it is something that can be of benefit to anyone who is a person of prayer.

Spiritual direction is an ongoing relationship in which someone meets with a trained and experienced spiritual director for the purpose of becoming more attuned to God’s presence in their lives. In their book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction, William Barry and William Connolly describe spiritual direction as “help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”

Despite the use of the term “direction,” a spiritual director is less a director, in the sense of providing directive programs for spiritual growth, and more of a spiritual companion, to persons on their own spiritual journey of self-discovery. “The spiritual director”, Thomas Merton wrote, “is concerned with the whole person, for the spiritual life is not just the life of the mind, or of the affections, or of the ‘summit of the soul’ – it is the life of the whole person… A spiritual director is, then, one who helps another to recognize and to follow the inspirations of grace in their life…” (When people ask me the difference between counseling and spiritual direction, I respond by telling them that in counseling the agent of change is the counselor; in spiritual direction the agent of change is God. The spiritual director’s job is to facilitate the encounter between the individual and God.)

From the Christian perspective, the God in whose image we are made is Trinitarian. That is, within the very nature of God is an eternal celebration of loving communion. This centrality of the communal or social dimension to who we are means we have a yearning to share our stories with each other. One woman in spiritual direction said of her experience, “What a wonderful luxury, to spend time each month just on my journey, my issues, examining my relationship with God.” Another observed “I never had a safe place to talk like that – to be affirmed in my relationship with God.”

If you are interested in learning more about individual spiritual direction, feel free to be in touch with me by e-mail at sjstabile@stthomas.edu. You can also leave a message for me at the [Lourdes] parish office, where I usually can be found during the day on Fridays. And if you are interested in finding a spiritual director, although I have only some limited availability to take on new directees at this time, I can recommend other spiritual directors in the Twin Cities.


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