Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Most people involved in Spiritual Direction will admit that they find themselves, from time to time, completely out of their depth! They find themselves confronted with the experience of another person that they have no knowledge or understanding of. It is quite possible not to have the faintest idea of what might be offered by way of a response. But, out of the grace of God, a response does come. It is the same kind of `gift of words’ that Jesus prophesies for those who are persecuted and forced to defend themselves: `words are given at the right time.’
It is this openness to the insights of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes Spiritual Direction from counselling or psychotherapy and any other discipline. Spiritual Direction is in essence an aspect of prayer — of being open and vulnerable to the working of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be taught or bought. There is not a body of knowledge or a set of skills that can be acquired. Either one has the gift of discernment or one doesn’t.
This might sound rarefied or even elitist but it is nothing of the sort. It is my own view that this gift of discernment is distributed generously among the Body of Christ but it is not recognized. Among every group of Christians there will be individuals who have this intuitive awareness of what God is doing in the life of others. These are the people who can `say the right things’ or `understand what l mean.’ These will often be hidden, quiet members of a church. They will be trusted and trustworthy.
l am involved in training and supervising others in Spiritual Direction and it is often the case that individuals on the course have been `doing it for years’ without ever realizing that it might be termed `spiritual direction.’ These are people that have relationships that are centred on the life of the Spirit. It may be the case that they might have other interests that overlap with another person, but the key note of the relationship is that there is a liberty within it that places God at the centre. This is the essential focus for Spiritual Direction. Some people are very gifted at putting God at the centre of things and are able to talk about the things of God in an accessible way. Again, most church communities have people like this —their membership is essential to the vitality of the Body of Christ.
There has been a lively debate for some time as to whether it is necessary to have training and accreditation to be a Spiritual Director. My own view is that for some involved in the ministry an opportunity to reflect on their experience and to review it with others is very helpful. It also helpful for Spiritual Directors to gather a `vocabulary’ out of the Christian tradition to enable them to express and interpret the experience of those they serve. There are indeed techniques in listening and some sound lessons about the practicalities of the ministry that can be learned. But, having said all that, if someone thinks that Spiritual Direction is about knowledge and technique, they are barking up the wrong tree. The Spirit is the source of our life, and it is the Spirit that must direct our course.