Lord, can you hear me? — On Spiritual Direction
Our faith teaches us that we were created through love and that we were created for love. We are sons and daughters of God. We are the subjects of his affection and he is in constant communication with us. Sadly, too often the daily grind can distract us from God’s communication to us and we can overlook his attempts at grasping our attention. Each of us is called to live a life of holiness and to that which Carmelite Spirituality calls the transformational union of souls. The transformational union of souls is that insatiable pursuit of the lover for the Beloved until that point of union where the lover is transformed into the Beloved (from the poem The Dark Night of the Soul).
As our soul enters and progresses in the pursuit of our Beloved, it can often benefit from an outside voice who accompanies us in our journey. The role of spiritual direction and of the spiritual director is to assist the directee in listening to what God is communicating to him or her. The focus of spiritual direction is the communication between the directee and God. I have personally benefited from spiritual direction. In my youth, spiritual direction assisted my vocational discernment which led me to six amazing years of formation. Now, my spiritual director is walking beside me as my wife and I discern the vocation to the permanent diaconate. The most basic and hardest challenge my spiritual director has given me was to enter the interior cell in my soul for a minimum of fifteen minutes and there engage in a conversation with Christ.
Through my work with my spiritual director I was able to recognize the distinction between vocal prayer and mental prayer. The distinction I considered was based off the work of St. Teresa of Avila. Vocal prayer included the recitation of the rosary, spiritual reading, lectio divina, the liturgy of the hours and things along those lines. Mental prayer was that basic heart to heart conversation between two people who love each other. It is the conversation that is aided by vocal prayer but goes beyond vocal prayer. Through spiritual direction I was able to realize that most of my prayer was vocal and that I seldom ventured into mental prayer. I recognized not only that I found it difficulty to schedule and set aside fifteen minutes of prayer but when I did I would default to vocal prayer.
Now I know the challenge: enter into mental prayer. My spiritual director continually challenges me to speak directly with God as opposed to speaking to God. I am challenged to listen and respond. Sometimes it frightens me; other times it leaves me overjoyed to the point of tears. I believe that we can all benefit from spiritual direction. Finding a director can be a challenge. Being ordained does not immediately qualify a priest to be a good spiritual director. I equally believe that if one wants to truly progress in the spiritual life seeking out a spiritual director is a great way to hold oneself accountable.
Recommendations for seeking a spiritual director
First and foremost...pray. Pray and ask God to help you find a priest, deacon, or religious who can walk with you on your spiritual journey. Ask trusted friends and fellow Catholics if they have any recommendations. Be aware that the ideal spiritual director may not be your pastor. It could be a priest on the other side of the city. Set an appointment with a potential director. In that initial appointment discuss with the potential director what you are looking for in spiritual director. Enter spiritual direction understanding that the director does not create the relationship between God and you. Spiritual direction points out places where the director can see God’s action in your life. Do not be afraid to move on from a spiritual direction relationship you discern is not leading you where you feel led to go.
The Beloved is here. He is communicating with each of us. Take a deep breath, shut all other earthly cares out, and listen. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46)