My first experience with formal spiritual direction happened more than 20 years ago. I was in my first charge and decided I should experience a silent retreat. The place where I went provided a spiritual director as part of the package.
I was looking forward to the silence but was very leery of being ‘directed’ by someone I didn’t know, someone from a different denomination (a Roman Catholic priest), using a method I wasn’t sure I could trust (Ignatian), and potentially suggesting I do things that might not fit with my own theological perspective. So I went in with my guard up.
When I met my spiritual director, I was pleasantly (i.e. ‘greatly’) relieved to discover that he was the former president of Concordia University (before that, Loyola College) in Montreal and very theologically and historically aware of my tradition. And he smiled at my possible concerns. Once we cleared that hurdle, I was able to be open to what he was offering. I discovered that his leadership was far less about directing me than it was about an invitation to quietly read and reflect on Scripture over my three days there, and in that time wonder what it is that God is doing in my life and where I was in my walk with Jesus.
I recognize, of course, that spiritual direction in my life has not just been of this more formal type. I think of my parents and my grandparents, a youth elder, a friend, a seminary professor, and an elder colleague. People who didn’t just teach me about the content and practice of faith but invited me to consider what it is that God is doing in my life, and how I am responding.
But that first formal experience with spiritual direction led me to appreciate the value of seeking that direction intentionally for my life. It also led me to wonder about how I might play a spiritually directing role in the life of my children, or office bearers for whom I was pastor, or mentees, or those to whom I am a regional pastor. A role not so much about ‘directing’ but about guiding the question as put at our recent Regional Pastors conference: Who are you and what is God doing in your life right now that you could cooperate with?
Following our move to Edmonton, AB, I have more recently become connected to a Spiritual Director. The one I chose is from the Anglican tradition, attends a Missionary Alliance church, and teaches Spiritual Direction at a local seminary. My desire was twofold: I knew it would be helpful after a significant move to have someone walk with me and guide me in asking and seeking what God is doing in my life; ministry and the dynamics of adjusting to a new community can make it hard to do justice to that question. Secondly, I wanted to learn by experience so that I could consider how I might in preaching, in visits, in mentoring, and in collegial support be a bit of a guide in the journey of others as well.
What I’ve learned along the way is that spiritual direction, when done well, is not about someone leading me down a path to experiences and conclusions that are about them and not me. It’s about assisting me to reflect more intentionally and prayerfully on God’s place in my life and my place with God. When it is done ‘spiritually’ it becomes a journey of seeing God, knowing God is not far from any one of us. It’s what I need and why I hope to be of that kind of encouragement for others as well.