Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Spiritual education

I may be a ‘slow learner’ but I still ponder on the advice and the teaching of previous spiritual directors who helped me in the past. Some of these remembered ‘sayings’ go well past thirty years. Most of them were in the context of confession but in every instance they were statements about life in Christ and how I should approach it. They were not opening gambits in a conversation, they were ‘something to take away and think and pray about.’ This is the way of the Holy Spirit.

‘You do not understand now,’ says Jesus to Peter at the Last Supper, ‘but one day you will.’ Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit ‘will remind you’ and ‘lead you into all truth.’ Lest we forget, educere, meaning ‘to lead out’, is the Latin root of ‘education’. The Holy Spirit as a comforter and an encourager draws us into new understandings and new ways of living in Christ.

Thankfully I have enough experience in life to know that it does not matter if what I think or feel does not make sense; I know that one day it will. I know that when ‘the penny drops’ in the hidden depths of the psyche, a spiritual illumination or resolution has taken place.

From the perspective of being a confessor and as one who gives spiritual counsel, I also have ceased to be anxious if what I find myself saying does not make sense or is a ‘conversation-stopper’. It seems to me that the contemporary school of the ‘soul friend’ or the ‘prayer guide’ or the ‘companion on the way’ is so focused on listening techniques, personality types, traditions of spirituality, and a fear of exercising ‘authority’ in ‘direction’ that the Holy Spirit does not get much of a look in. The Holy Spirit does not always work ‘through’ one, but often ‘despite’ one. The New Testament is full of messengers who do not understand the message.

This is not to say that there cannot be a ‘professional’ approach to spiritual direction, but there must be the ‘charism,’ the spiritual gifting and the vocation alive and at work in an individual before any ‘training’ or ‘accreditation’ is worth the time and money spent on it. When someone says to me, ‘I am a trained spiritual director’, I think to myself, ‘Oh dear, I’m not.’

Which brings me back to being a ‘slow learner’; the wisdom of the priests and lay people who where a source of Ghostly Counsel to me was never second-hand. They spoke out of the depths of their own wrestling with God and with man. The only quotations they gave were from Scripture and Jesus was the way, truth and life. I was always given a sense that we were partakers in a wonderful mystery – living in the birth pangs of a new creation. A meeting for spiritual direction (even now after all these years) is an experience of prayer and pilgrimage. It is an event of disclosure – it is a reminder in the normal course of things that God is alive and that he desires me to live with him in love for ever.