What is Spiritual Direction – A Student View

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Guest blogger, Ruth McDonald

Ruth McDonald, recently completed her Ontario Jubilee training as a spiritual director and is developing her ministry in Barrie, Ontario. At any given time you might find her listening for the spirit with a directee, writing a story, supporting a refugee family as they settle in Canada,  or singing with friends. The perspective she gained with the Ontario Jubilee Program is an ongoing gift as she engages with life in all its fullness.  Here is part one of a recent reflection she wrote about spiritual direction.

Having remained outside pastoral ministry within the church since May 2013, I have found myself at loose ends trying to explain to people what I am doing as I develop my ministry of spiritual direction.

Neighbours, fellow choir members, people who are genuinely interested, people who are just being polite have been asking, “What exactly do you do as a spiritual director?” I have been floundering for an answer.

At first, the answers I came up with seemed to bore most people to tears.

  • “I have conversations with people and as we talk we listen for God’s presence in their life”… ho hum
  • “I meet with individuals and help them listen deeply for where the Spirit is moving in their life”… hmm.
  • “Spiritual direction is a time where myself and another person explore how they can nurture their connection with the Divine or with God”… yawn.

Most people’s eyes glazed over and they stopped listening by my third word, or so I thought. Perhaps it was my eyes that were glazed! “God” language turned a lot of people off. I could see they just didn’t want to go there.

I brought this challenge up with my own spiritual director.

She said, “Why do you come for spiritual direction?”

“Ahh! That’s hard,” I thought. “Now I have to be real. I can’t use someone else’s words now and so here is what I came up with for my “why” of spiritual direction…

  • helps me listen to and honour myself and the holy within me
  • helps me engage with the world in ways that are life-giving, healthy and whole.
  • helps me be kind, gentle and merciful toward myself.
  • enables me to be fully alive and engaged in life
  • helps me pay attention so I don’t miss out on life
  • helps me take responsibility for my life in a way that brings joy
  • helps me sort out who I am and what I am about in the world
  • helps me be free of the “have to’s” “

One of the things that came out of that spiritual direction session for me was the word “God” doesn’t have to enter the description of the role of spiritual director. God or the Spirit or the Holy is implicit in each of my “why’s”. I am honouring the Spirit when I figure out how to be kind toward myself.  When I sort out what I am about in the world I am honouring the Holy.

For me, the best answer to “What do you do as a Spiritual Director?” is something like, “I have conversations with people to help them be fully alive in the world.” It flows most easily from my lips. It is the truest answer I can give. The reason that answer works for me is because it comes from my heart. It is full of integrity from my experience.