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Describing Spiritual Direction

What is spiritual direction?

The first thing to say about spiritual direction is that it's not about telling people what to do, but rather about helping people find and follow their spiritual direction in life. Sometimes it is called spiritual accompaniment or spiritual companioning, or even spiritual mentoring. Sometimes people refer to themselves as 'soul friends' of another - 'anam cara' in the Christian Celtic tradition.

Below, I have gathered together a wide range of people's thoughts on how they see spiritual direction, which I hope offer a broad and helpful range of views to ponder :

‘’Spiritual direction could be defined as taking place when one person (the director) prayerfully supports and encourages another person (the directee) to attend and respond to God. As a fellow pilgrim, the spiritual director accompanies the directee on this journey of faith."

Sue Pickering


"Spiritual guidance is being present in the moment, seeing and honouring the sacred mystery of the soul of another. It is witnessing this mystery and reflecting it back in word, prayer, thought, presence, and action. Spiritual guidance is modelling a deep relationship with the Divine and standing in faith and love with the other as that relationship unfolds. Spiritual guidance is a journey of deep healing and an affirmation of Holiness (wholeness), the Sacred, and the Mystery of all of life."

Carol A. Fournier


"What exactly do spiritual directors do? The simple and most direct answer I can give is that they help others attend to God's presence and revelation and prepare to respond to him. In other words, they help people attune themselves to God."

David Benner


"Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director — the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul."

Thomas Merton


"We define Christian 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. The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experience, ie. any experience of the mysterious Other whom we call God."

William Barry & William Connolly


“The ministry of Spiritual Direction can be understood as the meeting of two or more people whose desire is to prayerfully listen for the movements of the Holy Spirit in all areas of a person’s life (not just in their formal prayer life). It is a three-way relationship: among the true director who is the Holy Spirit (which in Christian tradition is the Spirit of Christ present in and among us), and the human director (who listens for the directions of the Spirit with the directee), and the directee.”

Tilden Edwards


"Spiritual direction is essentially companioning someone in his or her spiritual life. Other ways of describing spiritual direction include holy listening, spiritual friendship, sacred journeying."

Janna Larson


"The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which one presents to the world, and to bring out one’s inner spiritual freedom, one’s inmost truth, which is what [Christians] call the likeness of Christ in one’s soul. This is an entirely supernatural (spiritual) thing, for the work of rescuing the inner person from automatism belongs first of all to the Holy Spirit."

Thomas Merton


''….giving attention to the roots which are of equal if not more value than the fruits. Attending to hidden places of rootlessness and anxiety in order to seek wholeness.''

Angela Ashwin


''Spiritual companionship reaches to the core of our being in relation to God and all of

life. It asks the questions - Who am I for God? Who is God for me? Whose kingdom am I seeking? – all in the reality of daily living.''

Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham


"Spiritual direction is a time-honoured term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another, more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which God may be touching her or his life, directly or indirectly. In our postmodern age, many people dislike the term 'spiritual direction' because it sounds like one person giving directions, or orders, to another. They prefer 'spiritual companionship,' 'tending the holy,' or some other nomenclature. What we call it doesn't make any real difference. The reality remains conversations about life in the light of faith.

Although spiritual direction has had a burst of new life, it is really quite ancient. Across both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, we find people seeking spiritual counsel. The Queen of Sheba sought out the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus gave us examples in his conversations with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, in the ongoing formation of Peter and the other disciples. In the early church, people flocked to hermits in the desert for spiritual counsel. Across the centuries we find striking examples in some Irish monks, in some German Benedictine nuns, in Charles de Foucault, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and others. Today, spiritual directors come from many traditions.''

Marian Cowan, CSJ


''The greatest teacher is silence. To come out of interior silence and to practice its radiance, its love, its concern for others, its submission to God's will, its trust in God even in tragic situations is the fruit of living from your inmost center, from the contemplative space within. The signs of coming from this space are a peace that is rarely upset by events, other people and our reactions to them, and a calm that is a stabilizing force in whatever environment you may be in. God gives us everything we need to be happy in the present moment, no matter what the evidence to the contrary may be. A good spiritual director helps us to sustain that trust."

Father Thomas Keating


"Spiritual direction, an ancient ministry of the church, is a relationship in which one person assists another, or others, in attending to God’s presence and call. Spiritual direction has been, and remains, particularly strong within Roman Catholic and Orthodox religious orders, and over the past twenty years Anglican and Protestant traditions have begun to recover it more fully. There is also growing interest in spiritual direction among other faith traditions, such as Judaism and Buddhism.

Throughout Christian history, spiritual direction has traditionally been practiced by ordained clergy alone. In recent years, however, this practice has widened to embrace the spiritual gifts of non-ordained persons as well. Today, spiritual direction is regarded as a ministry open to all, not an order or office reserved for the few."

Presbyterian Church, US

Please click on the orange link for more information on spiritual direction work.

Labyrinth image consent & © David Lackey

Arches image by Rev Stan used under Creative Commons licence.

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