By the Rev. Lara Bolger
I recently went through the process of finding a new spiritual director. It took me a year to finally listen to the still, small voice inside urging me to go to the Spiritual Director’s International website and do the same thing I did nine years ago when I found my previous director. So in June of this year, I went to the interactive map page and looked for someone with the only criteria that mattered to me at the time—someone that lived close enough that I didn’t have to sit in traffic.
And I found someone that met my criteria! I went to her website and read it over and over and over. Every single word on her website spoke to me. But even after deeply resonating with what I read, I didn’t act on it right away. I waited. I waited until way past the time I knew I needed to do something for myself. (Perhaps many of you can relate.) When I finally reached out, she responded quickly, and we set up a time to talk by phone. We spoke for over an hour and in that time she asked me what spiritual direction meant to me. That’s when I said these words: “spiritual direction is a spiritual practice.” And right after I said it, I suddenly knew it was true. I felt it somewhere deep within my soul. I remember saying something like this back to her, “Wow, I didn’t know I thought that, but I really do.”
This was the first time I realized that speaking to someone on a regular basis about my faith journey helps me discern and listen to the still, small voice within, and even to trust it. My favorite description of spiritual direction is “the art of listening someone into existence.” I couldn’t even tell you where I heard that, but I know I’ve experienced it. People have often said spiritual direction is not a good description of what really happens, there is less directing and an abundance of listening. I would agree. I believe it’s more like spiritual companionship.
The first spiritual director I worked with on a consistent basis was in seminary. Before receiving me as a client, she asked me to respond in writing to some basic questions about what I was seeking and about my faith journey. In fact I’ve never met a spiritual director that hasn’t asked some basic questions so that we can have a conversation to determine if we would work together well. It’s important to remember that not every spiritual director is a good fit.
After establishing by phone that we could work together, I remember the first visit because I sat in the most comfortable chair I’ve ever known! But what I appreciated most about my first spiritual director, more than the chair, was the silence. She’s actually been the only one who has ever invited me into a time of silence to begin our time together. Yes, she did have some Quaker roots. It never felt forced and certainly if I needed to speak first, I knew I could. I remember how much I looked forward to that time of silence, sometimes 5, 10 or even 20 minutes. When I was ready, I would begin to speak. Each session lasted about one hour.
Just to give you a sense of the variety that is out there, my previous spiritual director, who I worked with for eight years was trained in Progoff’s Intensive Journaling. Before moving to Washington, I had heard about Intensive Journaling and was curious about it. Then I moved to Seattle and met a spiritual director who practiced it. Working with her gave me a whole new set of tools. Sometimes, during our session, we would spend time journaling and then sharing from that experience. That was often helpful when I needed to sort a lot of things out. Each spiritual director has been very different, with differing styles and coming from different faith traditions, and all of them have opened me to a variety of ways to experience prayer. My current director is inviting me to listen deeply to my body and what it has to teach me. She has an Integral theory background.
To recognize spiritual direction as a practice has helped me to talk about it more freely with others. That is why I wanted to write this article. Maybe you feel the same way I do about spiritual direction. I know we encourage clergy to find spiritual directors, and made MEF funds available for that purpose. If you are thinking about trying spiritual direction for the first time, there is a list of Spiritual Directors on the Helping Professionals Directory on the Board of Ordained Ministry page of the conference website to help you get started or you can also go to sdiworld.org. If you’d like to add someone to that list, please contact Sue Magrath at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome more conversation about spiritual direction as a spiritual practice.
Rev. Lara Bolger serves as pastor for Redmond United Methodist Church in Redmond, Washington. She is also the current chairperson for the PNW Board of Ordained Ministry.