1. Spiritual direction is a New Age concept.
It's not new at all! Even though it may be for some Protestants, it's a lot older than the New Age label that emerged in the 1970s & 1980s! John Cassian formalized the practice of spiritual direction used in monasteries in the 4th-5th century and based it on Biblical "spiritual directors" such as Eli & Samuel, Jesus & the Disciples, Ananias & Saul, Paul & Timothy/Titus. The early church continued the practice with John the Evangelist (apostle), Polycarp of Smyrna (2nd c. Bishop), Saint Benedict (late 5th/early 6th c.), Saint Patrick (5th c.), Saint Igantius in the 16th century and more.
Unfortunately, spiritual direction was lost for Protestants during the 16th century's Protestant Reformation (as things often are in any kind of divorce). Years of suspicion and fear of anything Catholic combined with the tendency toward self-sufficiency kept Protestants from engaging spiritual direction. With the growing need for this kind of spiritual companionship, improved relations between Catholics and Protestants, and the admission that healthy spiritual practices were discarded in the divorce of the Reformation, recovery has begun in the past 40 years. Ancient practices like spiritual direction and Lectio Divina have emerged once more to be offered as a gift to the whole Church.
Spiritual directors are found in all religions. There are even interfaith spiritual directors! What sets apart Christian spiritual directors is that our practice rests on over 2000 years of Christian discernment and 3500-3600 years of Jewish discernment. So the Bible and Jesus-followers beyond the Bible shape our listening, questions and discernment.
2. A spiritual director is a guru who has all the answers or a mind-reader.
While spiritual directors may have gifts of discernment, wisdom, teaching and even prophecy, we neither have all the answers nor are we mind-readers. We come alongside others, bringing our gifts and presence to listen and discern the voice and action of the One who is the true Director, the Holy Spirit (symbolized by the third chair in the above photo). My friend and colleague, Scott Spradley, likes to say that we [spiritual directors] are "one of the two or three gathered to listen to the Spirit who is in our midst." Matthew 18:20
By the way, we, too, need spiritual direction. A healthy spiritual director meets regularly with a spiritual director!
3. Spiritual direction is the same thing as Christian counseling.
Although there is some overlap, we make it very clear to those who come to direction that it is not counseling. We are specifically looking at a person's spiritual life and growth. While we look at God's presence and invitations in all of life, direction doesn't focus on specific relational issues or problem-solving. So it is quite normal that during spiritual direction we may discern the Holy Spirit's "tap on the shoulder" saying, “It's time now, you have everything you need to deal with this specific issue in counseling.” Spiritual directors are trained to know when to refer directees to therapy.
4. Becoming a spiritual director and coming to spiritual direction is easy.
My supervisor says spiritual direction is "a sheer gift from God." However, while people are gifted for the work of spiritual direction, if a director hasn't at least gone through a two year process of certification from a reputable, accredited school (Seattle School, Perkins, Garrett, Shalem), I'd be a little wary. Besides being schooled in spiritual growth, formation, disciplines and practices, most of us have additional schooling in theology and psychology which broadens and deepens discernment.
As to whether or not being a spiritual director or coming to spiritual direction is easy...helping people befriend silence and other ways of recognizing the still, small voice can be a challenge for the director and the directee! Being fully present to a person can often be hard work! And spiritual growth can be painful even as it leads to freedom & life. There are some sessions we've got to allow directees to leave with things being messy or not feeling very good!
5. Spiritual direction is only for clergy, creatives, contemplatives, or older adults.
It's for everyone who desires companionship on their spiritual journey...I've met with church-goers, unchurched, those who've left the church, Southern Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Nazarenes, AME, stay-at-home moms, professors of psychology, engineers, chemists, men and women, high school students, LGBTQ, pastors and para-church workers, and I've worked in conjunction with a therapist with those who have mental illness. People of all ages and from all walks of life may want to deepen their spiritual life and discernment, a spiritual director is a good companion along this journey.
6. There is one way of offering formal spiritual direction and that is seated across from one another in a quiet room.
While I offer traditional spiritual direction as well as Skype spiritual direction, there are other directors who offer different formats. Scott Spradley offers spiritual direction in coffee shops and walking on a trail. Whitney Simpson combines spiritual direction with yoga for creating greater space to listen to the ways God is speaking in and through the body.
7. Spiritual direction is a fad.
As the response to the first myth states, spiritual direction has been around for a long time! However, anything of value can be in danger of becoming a fad when it is cheapened. It may become faddish to a certain individual who comes out of curiosity and leaves when the work of the spiritual life gets too vulnerable. Or in rare instances, a spiritual director may have become certified because it was something to add to their "spiritual collection" and not because of giftedness or calling. While the way of offering spiritual direction (like Skype) may change, spiritual direction offers "wisdom for the long walk of faith" as Henri Nouwen put it. Fads are here today and gone tomorrow.
A poem written several years ago with II Corinthians 4:7-8 and II Corinthians 12:9-10 in mind.
I'm thinking of Easter and eggs.
Not the bunny bearing baskets of rainbow treasure boxes brimming with jelly beans
hidden in tall grasses and behind euonymus bushes
But of resurrection and of fragility,
But we are the resurrection people already!
Yes, and not yet.
We are as fragile as a newly laid chicken egg.
Even the turquoise Easter eggs of the Ameraucana.
We choose to dress up our fragility in Faberge
or harden ourselves slowly
in a boiling cauldron of anger and jealousy.
Both crack when dropped or mishandled
revealing nothing or hardness.
But what if we admitted that we are still not yet
even as we are already?
Exposed our ordinary fragility that leaks life
when dropped or mishandled—by life.
What if we proclaimed that we all are broken,
the dozen cast aside by those seeking candy, elegance
or the sunny-side up?
What if we trusted
that our Creator chooses what is rejected?
Knowing that inside new life is already being formed
and the cracks will be a blessing when it's time
for it to be born.
During my first semester of college I was taught the "4 Spiritual Laws" at a nearby church and campus ministry. I couldn't believe how much sense it made! Why hadn't I seen this before?! It was so logical.
Being a Jesus-follower AND rule-follower, here were 4 spiritual rules about salvation that someone had culled from the Bible that I could not only believe in but easily explain to others. And I did for years, until...
My internal dissonance grew louder. This was experienced as confusion, anger, and not wanting to go to church or sing which led to guilt for feeling that way at all. Of course being a rule-follower and "good girl," I forced myself to go (although I no longer sang or shared this "Good News" with anyone). At the time I had no answer as to "why," but I started noticing something else.
My body kept trying to tell my mind something. Gone was the excitement my rational mind had that first year of college and the following eight years. Whenever singing, explaining or hearing this theology, I felt a growing tension in my chest, pit in my stomach, and increase in headaches. Unbeknownst to me, the "Good News" wasn't being recognized as good by other parts of me (this is important since we're to love God with not only mind, but heart and body as well).
It took me a long time to discern what was going on for there were several issues related to church and Christianity that God was intent on bringing to the surface to heal. Parts of me are still in this healing process.
Knowing my kids will be presented with this same theology at some point, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to get my young daughter's response to the 4 Spiritual Laws and the bridge drawing that goes along with it (seen above). I also tend to ask my kids their point-of-view when it comes to difficult theological concepts because they don't have the theological/church baggage I do and they know they have permission to offer an honest opinion.
After school one day I said to her, "Hey, I want to show you something that I was taught and get your opinion on it." After looking and listening to me talk about sinful humanity, a perfect God, sin separating us from this perfect God, and the cross as the bridge, here's what she said:
"That's a clever drawing! BUT, here's the problem (she pointed to the sides), the starting place is all wrong."
I asked her to say more.
"Well, that's only the starting place through a human's eyes, it's not the starting place through God's. It's like when I'm all anxious, I think no one understands me and I'm completely alone, but the reality is, I'm not. Same with God."
Wow. And there you have it folks.
That's why Jesus said to become like a child if you want to enter (or even recognize) the Kingdom! Leave it to a child to cut through all the theological, rational laws and offer a simple but profound apologetic. God is with us...period. And as my 10-year-old daughter went onto tell me, "Not seeing this is the beginning of 'missing the mark.'"
It's taken me years to get back to this starting point! Her intuitive theology resonates with that of King David in Psalm 139 (who needed no bridge for he knew God to be everywhere he was and went, inescapable within and without!). Whether we see it or not, God, the Ever-Present Love, is with us. Jesus the Christ and "the old rugged cross" is this message in vivid color!
May God give us the eyes of a child.
The following poem was spontaneously written in 2012. God knew I was exhausted by two young children and years of wrestling with atonement theology (unable to put into words my growing inner dissonance with the popular view of the cross). Not being a poet, I was shocked when out-of-the-blue, poetry began flowing. I literally had a pen in one hand barely able to keep up with the free-flow of words and a spoon in the other stirring the kids' macaroni & cheese! A couple of notes about this poem: Philosopher Girard refers to Rene Girard who said the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice in all cultures and the Bible both reveals and denounces it. The last word of the poem brings together both John 14:6 and Psalm 119:105.
They speak of You
paying the price for
our sins, of this Ultimate
As if Your
were not enough
Our Creator, the Creator of all,
coming to this land a crying
baby boy and leaving
a bleeding and broken man
What more sacrifice
do we want?
What is left to be
In pain we look for
a purpose, the greater
the reason the more our
You say You delight
not in burnt offerings,
and You neither require
nor drink the blood of goats
But how can we trust
such words to be true?
Sacrifice and religion,
dare we separate the two,
even if it be a marriage of
and not of love?
We give such reasons
so scared for them to fail,
but what if we sacrifice reason
and find our scapegoating revealed?
I tell you philosopher Girard
was never so happy
as when he put to Western words
such ancient discovery!
To step outside sacrifice,
to see her for who she is,
tis like naming a covenant new
You indeed paid a price
Man of Sorrows, and told us
to follow You
Find life and eternal joy
by being well-acquainted
You died because of
in the manner of
It was not Your blood
that was needed in order
to make us right,
but it was Your blood
that showed You to be
and the Light.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.