Simply put, we are focusing on knowing and loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength which empowers our loving our neighbors. Because it is based on the trust that God loves us, and that love is bringing us to life and wholeness through the Holy Spirit dwelling within, spiritual direction is Christian.
However, those raised in American Christianity, especially Protestantism and Evangelicalism in particular, sometimes have a concern that spiritual direction is “out there” or “woo-woo” because it is not based on study, particularly of the Bible, and is vaguely seen as “mystical.” We wonder if we are opening ourselves to other spirits, endangering our souls.
Spiritual direction seems too mystical.
To understand these concerns, we first must hear the desires and assumptions underneath the objections.
Those who are wary of things that smack of mysticism are usually sincerely concerned with being true to Christ and not partaking of the “flesh” or “world”—those things that are identified as fallen and broken and tempting us away from our Lord. We have been taught that to do so we must suspect in particular, emotion and subjective experience, resting our faith on what the Bible says is true and what our minds have discerned. Usually there is a fear that we, sinful humans, will trust our own foolishness rather than Christ—that we will usurp Christ’s authority in our lives.
The desire under the objection to anything deemed mystical is to be loyal, right, true, and pure. The well-ingrained assumptions are that our minds and moral rigor must be trusted over and above other sources, that somehow these particular faculties of ours are better than the rest God has given us. The tendency then is to supersede logic or rationality over emotion, intuition and experience.
But what relationship doesn’t incorporate experiences laden with emotion, intuition and logic? God’s relationship with us is not a cerebral one only, but one that is with our entire being—an entire being that he created. We American Christians are uncomfortable with the mystery of God and with the mystery of our selves, so we cling to word and rationality, avoiding the mysteries of emotion, intuition, and even experience. Thus spiritual direction seems “out there” because it relies on our experience of God, our felt beliefs, our deepest, mysterious selves meeting our deep, mysterious God. It is deeply personal and opens vulnerable places we instinctively hide, but it is here that God touches and heals us, and the person who emerges from her or his regular meeting in these deep places is an enlivened, empowered, resurrected, whole person, living into the riches of life with Christ.
Spiritual direction creates a safe space to be vulnerable and “discover the difference between the God of their experience and the God someone else told them to believe in.”Theresa Blythe
This might feel mystical to some because it is a new space, a new way of engaging with God, enigmatic and different. But paradoxically, those who persist in trust that God is in this discover a deeper, more present, more embodied and personal experience of God in them and with them. Faith becomes faith-ing, relationship becomes relating, life becomes living.
This practice is so deeply rooted in faith in the love and presence of God, that the fear of the demonic and influence of “other” spirits, however they are classified, dissipates. The practice holds a sacred space only for you and God—a safe space.
What is the Biblical and historical precedent for spiritual direction?
If you are concerned with the precedent for spiritual direction, we have only to look at Jesus. He was a man of good questions—questions that cut to the heart; deep, soul-seeking questions; ones that stunned and healed and silenced as people grappled with the breathtaking way their very being was seen, heard, and understood. These are questions born of God, born of his love and knowledge of us. They are different from the kinds of questions we usually ask. Most often we are seeking information and answers, whereas Jesus asks them to bring people into awareness and transformation. For example, Jesus asks:
- “Why do you call me good?” (Luke 18:19).
- “What do you want me to do for you?…Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:35-38)
- “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:35-41)
- “What do you want?” (John 1:35-37)
- “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7)
- “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)
In spiritual direction, the director is listening deeply to the Holy Spirit and to you, saying little, but asking some questions that are born of the Spirit to bring you into awareness and transformation.
God knows everything, so why does he ask us questions?
He asks not for information, but for connection and for our benefit!
Historically, in the third century CE, the Christian desert fathers and mothers withdrew from society, which had become (in their view) too allied with Roman power. Anthony of Egypt is considered one of the earliest directors as people pilgrimed to him for spiritual guidance. Out of these desert hermitages grew monastic traditions which proliferated across Europe for centuries. Catholic clergy, monks and nuns received direction, but it didn’t spread into ecumenical and general practice until the latter half of the 20th century when psychology and theology began to work together in some pockets of the Church.
I believe it is a movement of God, enlivening and releasing his Church into authentic living.
I hope these words speak to your heart, clarifying and supporting you and Jesus. I welcome you and your questions, thoughts, and feelings. Feel free to comment, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the contact form on the front page of my website. I have written two other posts on the topic of spiritual direction that might interest you, click below to read those!
Peace to you,