What comes to mind when you hear someone say they’re a Spiritual Director? Some think of a Christian Counselor. Others recoil at the title, thinking of earlier experiences with the ‘Shepherding Movement’ that tarnished the church in the 20th century. For others, the title conjures a type of New Age hippy guru. Still others envision a suspect form of ‘Christianized’ psychotherapy. All wrong. And as a Spiritual Director myself, I’ve heard all the above.

The trouble is that the title itself, while centuries old, is misleading. It is a practice which neither directs nor gives direction.  It might be more accurately defined as ‘a Holy Spirit-led listening with.’ Yes. I know. That isn’t much clearer, and certainly doesn’t work in acronym – AHSLLW! And yet, that is the activity involved.

Maybe this will help. Here’s what may happen when a directee comes to a 60-minute session with a director. After a few minutes of general catching up, the Director may choose to light a candle as a reminder that the Holy Spirit is present. Then a few minutes of silence to slow breathing and to center scattered senses on God’s presence. That may be followed by a brief prayer and/or a few verses of Scripture. The Director may then invite the directee to wait quietly to hear what the Holy Spirit is prompting them to share – a starting point for this session. When the directee feels ready, he/she begins, with the Director listening attentively, waiting to discern what the Holy Spirit is ‘speaking,’ how he is at work in the moment.

The remainder of the session has the Director asking questions to clarify, asking what the directee thinks the Lord’s invitation is from what has been shared. If the directee is unsure of how to answer, there may be a time of quiet to wait for discernment. Maybe the sweetest part of a session is knowing that this 60-minutes is all for the directee. There is no other agenda than listening, with the directee, for Holy Spirit nudges. To know that there is no wrong thing to talk about, that this is non-judgmental, one-on-one time, that everything shared is kept between the two, is deeply healing and freeing. And no homework assignments!

BTW, Every Spiritual Director is ‘directed’ by another Spiritual Director, so the experience of being the directee is kept fresh and rewarding. My next meeting (on Zoom) is this afternoon.

Y’all have been ‘privileged’ to listen to my wordy essay because this is uppermost on my mind right now. I leave next Monday for the annual retreat of the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association (of which I’m a member) in Phoenix, Arizona. Our theme this year: The Stories We Believe: Uncovering Shame in Spiritual Direction. We’ll learn from one another (we’ll be about 200), pray, listen in silence for Holy Spirit promptings, be renewed. And there’ll be really sweet fellowship, too. (And, of course, a week in Phoenix at this time of year isn’t bad either).

Thanks for listening.  PD

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