I’ll shortly have the privilege and honour of reflecting on Julian of Norwich with some spiritual directors in the Diocese of Europe.
Spiritual Direction is a particular task, both for the receiver and giver, and I have been both.
Here’s a piece I wrote on the transactions a few years ago. They still feel true.
‘Do you have a spiritual director? Have you been encouraged to find one?
They’re not always called spiritual directors these days, of course. In our democratic times, some prefer to call themselves spiritual companions.
I have no issue, however, with the ‘director’ title… if they know their craft. Why wouldn’t I want to be directed by someone who knows this territory better than I?
So what is spiritual direction?
Spiritual direction is a relationship of two absolutes: absolute support for you and your journey and absolute challenge for you and your journey. (This was Jesus’ approach, affirming and dismantling.)
Both these absolutes are both crucial. So when only one of these is present, there’s an issue.
I have given up direction in the past because it became nothing more than a cosy hour in someone else’s large armchair.
There’s a time for this, as we all know; but if that’s all it is, we need to call it something other than spiritual direction. Perhaps ‘A cosy hour in someone else’s armchair.’
Equally, however, a director who can only find fault or who is endlessly pushy for spiritual self-improvement, (their issue – not yours)… well, this is equally unsatisfactory.
So the spiritual director holds these two absolutes close to their heart, responding to the needs of the moment.
On a spiritual direction course I did a few thousand years ago, the key question we were asked to hold at the centre of all dialogue was this:
‘Where’s God in all this?’
And it’s a decent question, and one we won’t forget…though I prefer ‘Who is God in all this?’
What picture of God do you currently carry? (Some pictures are best put down and kicked into the river.)
And perhaps even better than both those questions, though intimately related, is: ‘Who are you in all this?’
People can spend a lot of time reading about God; but can have very little sense or experience of themselves.
Yet they are the ones having to live this life. And if you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly know anything of God – for you are the lens through which you gaze on the divine.
Spiritual direction may simply be about helping you to experience yourself more joyfully, something God celebrates with gay abandon.
Spiritual direction is an isolated affair – but in a good way. It’s only spiritual direction if you do not meet this individual in any other capacity. As soon as you have another relationship with them –whatever it is – there are too many agendas in the room, honesty will suffer, and you’ll begin to edit what you say.
End of story.
So neither your husband, wife, family friend, best buddy, football coach, hair stylist, vicar, father-in-law nor line manager can be your spiritual director.
They can all be something else that’s helpful; but it’s a different role. As soon as there’s a dual relationship in the room, there’s another agenda in the room, and it ceases to be spiritual direction.
There are no rules about how often you’ll visit your spiritual director; though I wouldn’t imagine it more than once a month or less than four times a year.
The simple question is this: how often is it helpful for you to sit in front of a truth mirror? (This is hard to do alone, though not impossible.)
And you may need more than one director on your journey. Not at the same time, that wouldn’t work; but there may come a time when you feel the need to move on, leave one behind to find another.
We’ve already noted how when only one of the absolutes is on show, something is missing.
It might also be that you have changed, and what was helpful once in your director, is no longer so. Once they seemed ahead of us; now they seem behind us.
Or at least, not understanding of us. We have moved on, we walk different territory and need a different guide.
And note that moving on is always the decision of the one being directed. I’m not comfortable when those I see for direction book up more than one or two meetings ahead.
I won’t end the relationship, unless the circumstances are extreme; but they are always free to.
Let it always be a live decision. I’m committed to this meeting, this moment… not a marriage.
And do remember you are not responsible for your director. This is important. Don’t hang around because you think they might be hurt if you left.
Again, that’s their issue – not yours.
Spiritual direction offers safe space to unload our stuff and insightful space to see our stuff more clearly, see through our stuff, find God in our stuff, live our stuff better.
There are some wonderful spiritual directors out there. If you need one, I hope you find one…and one who suits you. (Just because they suit someone else doesn’t mean they will suit you.)
And all this is so because you’re entirely worth it.’