Many, many years ago, people who wanted to live more fully for God — to know Him more intimately in their daily lives and see themselves in His more truthful light — would often seek guidance from an Ascetic who was, more than likely, living in the desert.
I find Asceticism fascinating. It was almost as if their restlessness to know God was so overwhelming that it was painful to live a secular existence.
I am sure that some people may judge that the Ascetics were wrong to abandon the everyday world which God created; but I would suggest that the seeking that drew them to the desert was actually placed upon their heart by God. I would even go so far as to say that God knew that people such and you and I would always be in need of the direction that could come from someone who was able to separate him or herself from the material world. After all, it makes sense that in the absence of all else, an Ascetic’s clarity of seeing things would certainly be different than that of a person living a more secular existence.
In many ways, those Ascetics were the first spiritual directors.
Thousands of years later, those of us who seek spiritual direction have it much easier: no desert experience required (at least not physically).
Indeed, times have changed and the ways in which we seek, find, and experience spiritual direction has changed as well; but the need for it has remained the same.
So what is spiritual direction?
I’ve asked Mary Schulte, a certified spiritual director here in the beautiful state of Michigan, to help answer some basic questions about spiritual direction. My hope is that Mary’s answers will help anyone interested in pursuing spiritual direction get started.
Cheryl: In general, what is spiritual direction?
Mary: [Here, paraphrasing what Mary has shared as well as using a pamphlet she has given me.] Spiritual direction has as its purpose the goal of becoming more aware of God’s presence and how He works in our lives. It is making decisions based upon that awareness — this is called discernment. It is the sharing of your journey with someone of your choice with whom you are comfortable with and whose own premise is that God is the only director. The spiritual director helps you — the directee — to see and obey the real director of your life: God.
Cheryl: Is spiritual direction for anyone? Everyone?
Mary: It is for anyone seeking a deeper relationship with God.
Cheryl: What should a potential directee look for in a spiritual director?
Mary: A director who is formally trained and commissioned and who can listen for the movements of God. You want someone who is grounded in Scripture and is sustained by a deep prayer life. It would be important to feel a connection with your director. Also it is important to know if your director continues with his or her own formation and spiritual direction.
Cheryl: Is there a “main directory” of spiritual directors? How does one go about finding a spiritual director?
Mary: [Here Mary speaks of Michigan organizations but this information can still be useful to anyone in any state.] Any institution or organization that trains and certifies and commissions Spiritual Directors maintains a list of directors who have gone through their program. To find a Spiritual Director one should first begin by praying about it, then call one of the institutions to obtain a list of Spiritual Directors. In Michigan we have:
- Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in West Bloomfield
- Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit
- Maryknoll Dominican Retreat Center in Grand Rapids
Cheryl: Once you begin spiritual direction, what can you expect in terms of length of time for sessions and session frequency and also secrecy of sessions?
Mary: Sessions tend to be between 30-60 minutes and are approximately once a month — although a number of factors play into this: certain life circumstances and movement of the Spirit to name just a couple. It is also important to be committed and not stop seeing your Spiritual Director because “life is going well” and you don’t feel the need! This is all part of learning about consolations and desolations in your journey.
Spiritual Direction is always confidential in regards to what is shared in the sessions.
Cheryl: Are there particular things that spiritual direction is not?
Mary: Spiritual Direction is not counseling or therapy. Although the two do share some similar techniques like active listening and self-disclosure, the main goal of spiritual direction is the directee’s relationship with God and the process of spiritual growth.
Cheryl: Do you have any final thoughts or suggestions?
Mary: [Here Mary shares her favorite quote on spiritual direction. It is taken from Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God  by William Barry S.J. and seems especially fitting to use as a conclusion to this article on spiritual direction.]
“Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek; for unless You instruct me I cannot seek You, and unless You reveal Yourself I cannot find You. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You. Let me find You in loving You, let me love You in finding You.”