Hugh Stradling, volunteer lay chaplain to CMS Oxford pioneer students, reflects on the value of spiritual direction, or accompaniment, and shares some tips on how to go about finding a spiritual director.
A simple definition of spiritual direction might be ‘not about giving answers but about helping each other to hear the voice of God in life’s experience and to discover God’s plan as it unfolds.’
The term ‘director’ is misleading. It has overtones of a spiritual traffic policeman popping up at the crossroads of our lives and directing us left then right. This is simply wrong. A better name would be ‘Soul Friend’ also known by the Celtic name ‘Anam Cara’. God is the real director and the spiritual director assists the seeker in uncovering and discovering the direction of God in the person’s life.
Spiritual direction is a conscious and deliberate attempt to accompany another on the ongoing journey of faith as a fellow traveller. It follows that spiritual direction needs an ongoing commitment to the development of a spiritual friendship, so as to help another to interpret life’s experiences in the context of prayer and seeking God.
The best spiritual companions are those prepared to listen to our personal story, who encourage and affirm us in our faltering steps towards Jesus and who, when we are unsure or indecisive, help us to discern what God wants of us in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. And someone who accepts us as we are, and who, through their own vulnerability, is honest enough yet gentle enough to help us discern our motives and actions. It is an exploration, with suggestions and minimal advice, of the person’s prayer life, their self-awareness, and their sense of vocation and whether they have a pattern to their days that encourages spiritual formation.
I was fortunate enough to find such a person when faced with a life challenge some years ago. His patience and non-judgmental, quiet approach over a couple of years, enabled me to find what God was trying to say to me to allow my growth through a painful time. My hope is that I can provide such a nurturing environment for others.
To find a director needs time, an openness to God in prayer, asking that the Lord will reveal someone to you whose spiritual walk you respect. You then ask them if they would explore the possibility of walking with you on your journey.
Thomas Green in his book, The Friend of the Bridegroom (Ave Maria Press 2000), lists six criteria for choosing a spiritual director. They are:
- compatibility – someone you feel comfortable with and who is on the same wavelength
- shared vision – someone who believes in the value of prayer and discernment
- objectivity – someone who can maintain a healthy detachment without being emotionally distant
- a good listener – someone who can listen to the heart and the movement of God beneath the externals
- confidentiality – someone who can respect the trust placed in them
- the sixth criterion, Green states, is an ideal but not essential – that the person be someone who is ahead of you on the journey
Depending on your location, you should be able to find a list of Spiritual directors through your local diocesan office. Alternatively through word of mouth. In the Oxford diocese there is a webpage that can lead you through to finding who is available (spidirnetwork.org.uk).