From Pillars, published by The Community of St. Gabriel
My Search for Spiritual Direction
The term spiritual direction is sort of a misnomer, since there’s really no “directing” in spiritual direction, in the sense we normally use the word. No one tells another person what to do. It’s called spiritual direction because it’s an opportunity to learn to see the direction of the spirit of God as it moves through someone’s life.
I’d like to explain a little more about spiritual direction by talking about the role it has played in my own life.
When I was in my twenties I moved with my husband and two kids from my birthplace in the Hudson Valley to a suburb of Hartford, CT. During our first few years there, our family increased to four youngsters under the age of eight and my mother, back in New York, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There were complications during the last birth and the doctors advised that our youngest child be my last. It was a sad and sobering time for me, and I found myself turning to prayer. The problem was that, although I was a cradle Catholic and had sixteen years of Catholic education, I was lost when it came to finding that relationship that I had heard of – one that would support me and help me find meaning in a life that suddenly seemed adrift in a frightening world where change was the only constant.
I read books and attended programs. I got involved in parish activities and made friends with other Catholic moms. I had private meetings with religious people and always found them to be uplifting, but when, weeks later, I’d find the spiritual malaise was still with me, I’d be embarrassed to go back, feeling I had somehow failed the other in not being “fixed.”
Some of my friends attended a retreat where the presenter had a ministry called “spiritual direction.” One in particular told me she thought this woman was offering something that might be exactly what I needed, and encouraged me to seek her out. I found out that spiritual direction is an ongoing relationship with a spiritual friend, one who has been specially trained to listen and ask questions that can guide a person to tune into God’s presence in his or her life. Spiritual direction isn’t psychological counseling and it isn’t an attempt to fix anything. It’s just an invitation to allow someone else to share one’s sacred story. Our sacred stories include the moments when God’s presence is close and comforting as well as the moments of estrangement from God. But often it’s only in telling the story to someone else that we truly hear it ourselves.
Spiritual direction provided me to with a safe environment to talk about things I had not even shared with my husband. There were thoughts and fears that didn’t fit in with the perfect mother and friend persona I wanted so much to foster. There were dreams I figured would never come true, so why share them and disappoint myself? There were moments when the light shining on a golden autumnal tree struck me with such intense joy and longing that I knew, or thought, maybe, God was right there, or when the sudden awareness of the passage of time as I watched my children gleefully open their Christmas gifts sucked the life out of me with indescribable cruelty. Spiritual direction helped me to see these things as valid spiritual experiences, gifts to be savored and pondered and acknowledged. I began to develop an inner life, and with it the certainty that God was there at every moment.
My spiritual director suggested scripture passages or other reading that she thought might help me. She suggested that I journal about my experiences and even use writing as a tool to communicate with God when distractions made “mental prayer” too difficult. I often returned a month later having done not one thing she had suggested, but instead of judgment I found someone willing to meet me where I was that day and walk with God and me right there.
This is the ministry of spiritual direction. Once I had experience its benefits, I developed a deep desire to share this gift with others.
I was trained and certified as a minister of spiritual director through John Carroll University’s Institute of Ignatian Studies. I currently offer individual spiritual direction, which usually takes place on a monthly basis, as well as Ignatian retreats in the 8 Week and 32 Week formats. These retreats in everyday life allow retreatants to experience the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, while maintaining their regular family and work lives.