Spiritual Direction

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Today’s use of popular phrases in the English language is surely a paradoxical experience for everyone. Words do not mean what they used to, as the youngest of us in American culture demonstrate when saying “down” to mean “willing”(as in “I’m down with that.”) and “sick” to mean “great” (“That band is sick!”)


Spiritual language changes too, and Spiritual Direction does not always mean what it used to. “Spiritual Direction” is a term born in the ancient Catholic monastic relationship between the head of a spiritual community and each vowed monk or nun in obedience to his or her directives in prayer and practice. Protestantism, in its search for individual freedom to interpret Scripture and “hear” God’s inward stirrings, chafed at the notion of “direction” and preferred to call this relationship “Pastoral Counseling.”

Pastoral counseling has shifted its emphasis toward solving psychological problems in living with the help of Biblical and religious wisdom. Now pastoral counseling serves Catholics, Protestants (including Evangelical Protestants), and Jews: priests, pastors and rabbis routinely offer this ministry to their congregants.

Those desiring a simple relationship in which to notice God moving in their lives, choose the prayerful, contemplative rhythm of monthly spiritual direction. Protestant and Jewish directors, along with their Catholic colleagues, attend two-year training institutes established around the United States to become trained to offer this work of Spirit.

Spiritual Companions

Jews in Reform, Conservative and Renewal traditions are flocking to spiritual direction, called hash pa’ah, derived from the Hebrew term shefa, “the infinite flow of Spirit” and developed in the affectively rich Chabad Hasidic Jewish tradition. Most spiritual directors today call themselves spiritual companions.

All spiritual companioning relationships between director and seeker emphasize contemplative silence, devotional use of Scripture, the spiritual markers of the tradition of the seeker, and other pathways to deepen into one’s quiet and spacious soul, where God speaks without the ego’s editing. There the soul can sense God’s love for the whole person to draw near, and discern God’s desire and will for his or her action in the world.

Discernment is literally “sorting” facts, feelings, and values to make a decision. Spiritual discernment is defined by A.J. Crampsey in his article “Jesus and Discernment” as:

…the process by which one tries to stay attuned to the sense of self which God gives us.”

Once or twice a month you sit down together, starting with silence or a prayer for the purpose of stilling and opening oneself to awareness of the One. We all yearn to know God. But more deeply, as the Jewish sage Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in the classic book “Man’s Quest for God:

“what we want…is to be known to Him.”

Whether or not we’ve ever needed or had psychotherapy, most of us would agree that even if our lives are going well, we can sense a yearning for more…Life. Or we need help discerning our truest sense of self in order to make life-changing decisions. At the core of our being, we sense the Presence of the underground stream that has sustained us throughout our days. Once a month, we meet with our Spiritual Director to enter into a practice of finding and drinking from this deeper well.

Dr. Thor began receiving spiritual direction when she was 23 years old: “Just in the nick of time I found a spiritual director, for little did I know that something major was ‘in the mail’ of a spiritual nature that I could not have made a fruitful meaning of with just my own resources.” She is trained in the Jewish Hash pa’ah tradition, and her teachers were trained at the ecumenical Shalem Institute in Washington, D.C. She receives supervision with Catholic and Jewish directors.

Click here: www.sdiworld.org for more information about Spiritual Direction.