Last week I attended the first session of a course in spiritual direction run by our local diocese (I was going to explain what that word meant but then realised I had no idea, some group of Anglican parishes under a Bishop? Can anyone help me out?). Anyway, peculiarities of the Anglican church aside, it’s a course intended to be an introduction to spiritual direction, with an emphasis on different styles and models of prayer over the centuries and with some skills work involved in the days. Sessions run monthly which feels just about manageable for my, newly starting to be unscrambled, brain.
It’s hard to describe spiritual direction, it’s not counseling, it’s not mentoring, it’s not really discipleship. But it’s more than a chat over a cup of tea and it’s more than just talking about God with someone. Somewhere in-between all those words used to describe our interaction together on this life with God lies spiritual direction. I think I’m getting the sense that it’s a conversation between two people on this journey with God, but there is a real sense of one person as a guide for the other. Someone who has been on this bit of the journey and can be helpful to the other person as they walk on with God.
It’s been going on through the centuries so I join something that feels like it has weight and depth going through the ages, a rare treat in this world of the immediate and the now. We’ll be learning from people who have wrestled with God in many different times and places, no chronological snobbery here (that idea that anything old is out of date and irrelevant summed up my Mr CS Lewis so well in that phrase. hmm, I really should just do footnotes…).
Spiritual direction is probably best summed up with use of metaphor (which as we all know is something I love). There are a load of metaphors around the subject, the image of a midwife is used lots to describe the relationship between someone giving direction and someone receiving it. There is a sense of patient listening, of helping someone work hard and labour, being an observer in that process and being a point of helpful knowledge. It involves the fine art of knowing when to suggest and guide and when to hold back. There is a real sense of the directee (the one receiving direction) doing the hard work with the director there to aid and assist at the right and appropriate moments.
Fundamentally spiritual direction is about helping someone pay attention to what God is up to in their lives. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to help someone work through and clearly has to involve God in the whole process. God showing up is pretty essential to all that goes on. This being the case it seems obvious that we’re going to be encouraged to pray more and in different ways on this course. To help someone else pay attention to God I need to be paying attention myself. I’m looking forward to having to be disciplined in spending more time with God.
One of the books for the course outlines what it’s all about better than I have (but it’s good for me to try so that’s why you’ve got the rambling above…)
In spiritual direction we depend on the Holy Spirit to guide our thinking, warm our compassion, inspire our discernment and help us assist our directees to:
- explore their experience of God, whether in prayer, through traditional vehicles of scripture and creaion, or through daily life events or symbols which attract the directee’s attention;
- grow in their ability to rest in God;
- express their emotions as well as their thoughts;
- begin to believe they are loved and allow more of God into more of their lives;
- let the changes in them become visible in their outer world, i.e. increatsingly behaving in ways that promotes justice, care for creation and encourage reconciliation, and, in Richard Foster’s words, develop a ‘holy habit of contemplative love that leads us forth in partnership with God into creative and redeeming work’. (Sue Pickering, Spiritual Direction)
This course seems to have come just at the right time, sonface was happy to be left with one of his Godmums and she seemed to enjoy him as well, my brain feels ready for some more input, it’s not too expensive and one day a month is very manageable. It was fun hanging out with people older than me and from different backgrounds and traditions. I think that will be challenging for us all as we go through the course but I’m glad that we are encouraged to be true to what we believe, to be honest about the stuff we don’t agree with and ready to examine the reasons why we might disagree on some things. Best of all we felt like a bunch of 26 strangers at the start of the day and like pilgrims together on a journey by the end. I’m looking forward to all God has in store for us together over this year. (and no doubt you’ll be getting the odd blog post or two about it as well)