Roxane B. Salonen, Published October 18 2013
Living Faith: Spiritual direction a path to clarityThe soul – as much a living, growing thing as the body – requires regular tune-ups to function well.
It’s easy to ignore or miss altogether. Maybe it’s because we can’t see the soul or quickly measure its progress. We can step on a scale and say, “Oops, time to go on a diet,” but short-changing our soul can have eternal consequences.
It took me a while to catch on, but about five years ago I finally committed myself to seeking out a spiritual director.
We meet monthly, and I’ve found this regular visit invaluable to living a more vigorous, meaningful faith life.
I’ve come to this place in my spiritual walk not because I’m spiritually superior but because I’ve recognized I cannot have a fully functioning soul without some kind of solid guidance. Life is too complex.
Spiritual direction isn’t counseling, though it can help clear out some of the psychological muck getting in the way of living freely. It’s also not simply sharing one’s thoughts with another. A friend can offer an ear to suit that purpose.
Rather, spiritual direction is a process that advances the soul.
More specifically, spiritual direction is assistance given by one faith-seeker to another to help that person better tune into God’s personal communication to him or her, as mentioned in “The Practice of Spiritual Direction,” by William A. Barry and William J. Connolly.
Through this, the person receiving direction can grow in deeper intimacy with God and more ably “live out the consequences of the relationship.”
The book describes four realities of spiritual direction.
First, it is concerned with an actual experience of a relationship with God rather than just the idea of an experience.
In addition, spiritual direction focuses on that relationship. “The religious experience is not isolated, nor does it consist of extraordinary events. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God.”
Third, the relationship involves movement. “God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service.”
Finally, it’s important to remember the real spiritual director is God. “God touches the human heart directly.” The spiritual director doesn’t give advice or solve problems but “helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship.”
Though it took a while for me to find my spiritual director, I’ve come to greatly value this person’s insights and approach.
The match seems ideal to me. Since my responses to life bend toward the emotional, my spiritual director’s more logic-leaning brain offers an important balance to how I process my experiences.
In this relationship, I’ve never felt forced down one particular path or way of thinking about a situation. If my director’s response doesn’t resonate with my soul, we’ll have a conversation about that. The discord becomes part of the lesson and insight.
We always begin and end our sessions in prayer, inviting God to guide us, assuring us both that the session will be divinely lit, and that in our lack, God will fill in the gaps.
Through spiritual direction, I have found clarity in confusing situations, had teachings of my faith tradition illuminated and felt both challenged by and affirmed in where I’m heading. I’ve been given insights that could not have happened if I’d stayed strictly in my own head.
In short, I’ve been able to better see my vocation, family and other relationships through the eyes of God – an immeasurable gift.
It can be challenging finding someone qualified to take on the very tender and important task of soul-guiding. While the right match can be eternally edifying, a mismatch could actually be harmful.
Trusted friends, pastors or local churches or retreat centers can be a starting point, along with online resources. A quick Internet search brought me to Spiritual Directors International, which posts spiritual directors of varying faiths and denominations worldwide, and options for spiritual direction by phone.
With these tools available, excuses for seeking spiritual direction diminish. If you’re feeling a nudge, there’s no better time. Life is short, and your soul will thank you for the extra TLC.
Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email firstname.lastname@example.org