Spiritual Direction: Who do you talk to about your soul?

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

Ask certified spiritual director Sr. Mary Dingman, OSF, what spiritual direction is and she’ll tell you a story.

    “It’s the Emmaus story from Luke 14,” she says. “Jesus walks along with the apostles after he has risen from the dead. They don’t recognize him. He asks them, ‘What has happened? What have you seen and heard?’  

    “Jesus helps them interpret their experiences, reveals himself and leaves. The apostles say, ‘We should have known all along it was Jesus, because weren’t our hearts buring within us?’ That’s what spiritual direction does. It helps you recognize what you’ve known all along. It helps you know God’s will for you, which is deep in your own heart.”

    Spiritual direction is a dialogue about life and God that involves three people, says Sr. Catherine Cleary, OSB, also a certified spiritual director. “Spiritual direction includes the director, the directee and God. We usually begin with a prayer, then talk about life and Go?d. We look for some unity between what happens in your inner life of prayer and your outer activities.

    “It differs from counseling in that there is no diagnosis and no treatment plan,” Sr. Catherine says. “The purpose is to promote increased awareness of God’s activity in your heart and life. Ideally, you will experience a greater sense of self worth and peace.”

    Although inner peace may not occur immediately. Father Mark DeSutter, Morton, Ill., says spiritual direction may create a bit of emotional havoc at first.

    “People are often surprised at what can happen during direction,” Fr. Mark, who both receives and provides direction at St. Mary Monastery, says. “More prayerfulness promotes more introspection, which can churn things up. One parishioner who began direction with me started exploring how her family relationships were affecting her adversely. I suggested she see a psychologist, and she did. The whole experience has been very healing for her.”

    Trained spiritual directors are not psychologists, but do take psychology classes as part of their certification process. Fr. Mark received his certification from Creighton University in Omaha.

    “It helps to be able to recognize when someone needs expert help,” he says. “Sometimes people come in with personal problems and have no intention of entering into a deeper prayer life. They just want the director to fix everything!

    “But spiritual direction is about spiritual growth. It’s about being vibrant, interesting and enlivening both for ourselves and for others. It’s about asking, ‘What do I need to do to grow closer to Christ and fulfill my spiritual destiny?’”

    Spiritual destiny is something Ollie Finn, Bettendorf, Iowa, tries to be mindful of every day.

    “Spiritual direction helps keep me on my faith journey,” she says. “My current focus is to get back to a set time for prayer in the morning - and throughout the day, too - but to allow for flexibility because no two days are the same anymore.”

    That’s partly because Ollie and husband Bert watch their grandchild several days a week now. As wonderful as that is, it makes it difficult to attend daily Eucharist which Ollie misses.

    “Sr. Catherine helps keep me on track,” Ollie says. “She helps me recognize that the Spirit tells us through providential everyday things what God wants of us. To respond to a neighbor in need, or to care for my grandchild. To not take God’s blessings for granted.”

    Finding a spiritual director who is right for you may take time, Ollie notes. “You need a rapport with him or her,” she says. “I’ve had several directors, and most will say, ‘Let’s give this a couple of sessions before we commit. You have to be able to really connect.”

    Sr. Catherine says a good place to look for a director is in your church. “A certified director must be a person of faith, aware of the Spirit in his or her own life. He or she must be warm and loving, caring and reverent.”

    A director must also be filled with hope, Sr. Mary, who directs several sisters at St. Mary Monastery, says.

    “Sometimes people come in fearing that they have lost their faith,” Sr. Mary says. “Sometimes they have lost a desire to pray. They say they have no feeling for God anymore. We can help them see the old ways simply don’t work anymore - maybe they’ve outgrown them. God is moving them toward a new way of relating, a new way of praying. That change often is simultaneous with a period of dryness, or numbness. Spiritual directors function as hope for their directees during those times. We help them trust that they haven’t lost faith, but that something is going on deep inside, where God is still in charge.

    “Spiritual directors don’t hand out solutions,” Sr. Mary continues. “They help you see how the word is being made flesh in you. They help you see your prayer flow into your daily life. It’s very practical, and very incarnational. The purpose of Spiritual Direction is to help you recognize how God comes to you in your daily life. Life becomes much more enriched and meaningful.”

    To find a certified spiritual director near you, contact your parish or nearby religious community.