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FIRST: Spiritual Direction

Spiritual-DirectionJust over seventy of us sat through a lecture-ish, presentation-ish, but still devotional-ish introduction to the discipline of Spiritual Direction. There are rules, sort of. This is what it is. This is what it is not. This is how individual spiritual direction works… and this is how GROUP spiritual direction works.


She listed off our names, handed out some candles and palm crosses and said a lovely benediction over us all. I didn’t really hear or focus on the benediction part because I was still stuck two things… this mandatory idea of mandatorily sharing my mandatory responses to the mandatory questions on the mandatory half sheet of paper. And I was also stuck on the word “Go.”

Ummmm. I just met that guy. I really don’t know her, or her, or her at all.

Hey, Director-person… Have you read these questions? These are REALLY vulnerable.

Wait! What if I have to go first? I don’t want to go first.


Forget first… I don’t want to go at all.

Four minutes later, I have 4 new friends and we’re sitting in a circle in a small room in the back of the retreat center and it was my turn. Yep, I had to go first…

For a little more info about it, Spiritual Direction is defined 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.” (William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction)

As we first learned about it and then experienced it, it was a profoundly moving experience. There were several things about spiritual direction that struck me as unique to the process.

1. God is the real spiritual director.
2. Spiritual direction is about a deeper relationship with God.
3. There are extended periods of silence that encourage listening.
4. It’s not therapy. The human spiritual director does not give advice or answers.

As it turns out, it’s the sort of thing that we ought to be doing for one another as an intrinsic part of our faith journeys, but it doesn’t always happen the way it should.

…The room was quiet and the candle was lit. We started with a brief prayer and a period of silence, followed by the words, “Come Holy Spirit.” When I looked up, here were four people who were just like me. We all walked into that room with burdens. We all came to this retreat with struggles and with hopes. We sat down together, with regrets and baggage and with grace and patience. We were brought there, for each other. One by one, I looked at these fellow companions and I started to answer the first question.

As it turns out, it’s the sort of thing that we ought to be doing for one another as an intrinsic part of our faith journeys, but it doesn’t always happen the way it should.

Then the second and the third and fourth and soon enough my 6 minutes were up. I had bared my soul to this group. Things I wanted to accomplish and things that held me back. I shared and I was certain I’d be judged, perhaps even condemned. Then we closed our eyes for two minutes of silence.

“Come, Holy Spirit.”

Each member of that group had been led to something as I was sharing. Each member of that group had something to say to me that wasn’t advice, suggestion, or criticism. It was affirming. It was encouraging. Far more than a “buck up, little camper” or “hang in there, buddy” sort of way, each of them urged me to trust in God’s plan, to surrender my will, and to keep reaching for what he has for me.

We went around the circle. Every person answered the questions. Every person had the opportunity to respond in some way. Each segment began and ended in silent prayer, with the words “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Yes, it was terrifying at first. No, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Yes, I thought about inflating or embellishing my answers. No, I didn’t do it. Yes, it’s intimidating to let people in to some of those places. No, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it at all.

I’m glad that group spiritual direction has become a part of my life on a regular basis. I’m thankful for this ancient practice that has taught me so much.