What Is Spiritual Direction?


What Is Spiritual Direction?

[Jesus says,] “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NIV)

Shortly after I first began to long for spiritual direction, an imaginary picture temporarily dampened my soul’s deep longing. It was the image of a symphony orchestra. In my imagination I saw many musicians together with their instruments arrayed in sections—strings, brass, percussion, and so forth. Each musician sat in a chair with an instrument, a music stand, and a sheaf of musical scores to be played in concert. The conductor stood facing the musicians, baton in hand, looking through a copy of the same music, which was perched on the maestro’s music stand. The conductor tapped the baton; suddenly all the orchestra members snapped to attention.

The picture troubled me, because I imagined spiritual direction to be something like that. My spiritual director, if and when I located one, would act something like a symphony orchestra conductor, and I would perform something like one of the musicians, jerking to attention at the sound of the baton, scanning my copy of the music, readying my instrument, and hoping I would be able to follow direction. With this very directive image of spiritual direction I hesitantly entered spiritual direction and spiritual direction training.

Thankfully, a gifted teacher shared a different picture, symbolizing the ministry of spiritual direction. In this picture a weathervane was mounted atop a big red barn, standing at the corner of a grassy pasture. A gusty wind swept across the field, jiggling the tall grasses, wildflowers, and weeds to and fro. The leaves on a nearby stand of trees wiggled and waved. At the peak of the tin-roofed barn the arrow of the weathervane swung slowly from west to southwest. Today, I enjoy a relationship with my spiritual director who acts something like that weathervane.

When I sense the Holy Spirit astir in my life he watches together with me, he listens, and he helps me discern God’s direction.

What is spiritual direction? William Barry and William Connolly define spiritual direction in their book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction: “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.” Spiritual direction may be provided by spiritual friends, spiritual guides, or soul companions. Some have received spiritual direction from “midwives of the soul.” Spiritual direction is offered by those who have been taught and certified as well as by some who have received no formal training. Authentic spiritual direction defers to the Holy Spirit, the ultimate source of all godly prompting.

Are you curious about spiritual direction ministries? Do you long for a relationship with a called, gifted, and equipped spiritual director? If so, then go to the source: Pray! Since God the Holy Spirit is humanity’s ultimate spiritual director, prayer is the most direct and effective way to begin one’s search for a “flesh and blood” spiritual companion. While continuing to pray, inquire of others. Do they know of trustworthy, spiritually mature persons who might be willing to offer spiritual direction? Use your own powers of observation. Whom do you respect as a faithful follower of Christ? Through prayer and this kind of reflection you may feel led to the spiritual director who is “just right” for you.

As the North Alabama Conference Spiritual Formation Team’s chairperson, I maintain a list of spiritual directors. Call me at 205-478- 8214 to inquire.




Rev. Roger Short

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