Jan. 7, 2019 – by Henry Frank
from JESUITS Winter 2019 issue
Ask ten people about their experiences receiving spiritual direction, and you will hear ten very different responses. Why? Because God moves uniquely in each of our lives, and spiritual direction is all about paying attention to that movement.
Interest in spiritual direction is growing. For example, the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse, NY, has nearly doubled in the past four years the number of people its staff directs each month, according to founder and director Jim Krisher.
But what exactly is spiritual direction? Who is it for, and how do you find a director?
In their classic text for training spiritual directors, The Practice of Spiritual Direction, William A. Barry, S.J., and William J. Connolly, S.J., define spiritual direction as “help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”
There is no curriculum for what you “should” experience in spiritual direction. “I try not to set expectations for what’s going to come out of it,” said Fr. Joe Lacey, S.J., priest and spiritual director at St. Alphonsus Parish in Woodstock, MD. Spiritual directors are not therapists. They are trained in theology, pastoral ministry, and spiritual direction to accompany you on your spiritual journey by listening and sharing their insights.
So, who is spiritual direction for, and why seek direction?
Simply put, spiritual direction can be helpful to just about anyone seeking to deepen their faith and their prayer life. “Sometimes it’s a personal crisis that leads a person to direction,” said Jim Krisher (who has been in direction himself since he was 19 years old). “But more often than not they are looking for something in their prayer life. They are looking for something deeper. Sometimes it’s people who have been totally alienated from the church. Maybe they are among those who call themselves ‘spiritual-but-not-religious.’”
Over time, spiritual direction often becomes essential to people’s spiritual lives. “One of the biggest benefits for me is that it’s a monthly check in,” said Lara Ericson, director of faith formation at the Jesuit Parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill, MA, who has received direction off and on for nearly a decade. “You don’t have to show up with an impressive list of your prayer for the past month. It’s not about if you have succeeded or failed.” Directors are there to listen and share their perspective, not to grade you.
So, how do you find a director?
To support the growth in the ministry of spiritual direction, the Office of Ignatian Spirituality (OIS), a ministry of the Jesuits on the East Coast, created its Catalog of Spiritual Directors. The Catalog is an online resource that connects those seeking spiritual direction with trained directors in their area. Complete a short form, and OIS will send you the name and contact information of an available director. The Catalog contains more than 400 directors on the East Coast, and, since it launched in 2017, nearly 500 people have inquired about finding a director.
All of us have aspects of our spiritual lives that we would like to explore more deeply. Spiritual direction saves us from having to proceed alone. If you feel drawn, give it a try.
To find a spiritual director near you, visit www.IgnatianSpiritualDirection.org. (Please note that this service is currently limited to the Maryland and USA Northeast Jesuit provinces, which include the East Coast and upstate New York.)