February 19, 2018
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ImageThe very best description of Spiritual Direction that I have found comes from a book by David Hansen.  In this book he describes the role and attitude of a person that gives spiritual direction to another.  Following is an excerpt from The Art of Pastoring:

In my pastoral friendships I do spiritual direction.  Spiritual direction is a friendship around spiritual matters which is mutual in love but single-directional in its focus upon the spiritual walk of one of the parties. As a spiritual director, I am the one who listens, paying attention for the work of God in that person's life, and then I point to it.

 Taken from The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen.  © 1994 by David Hansen.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426

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The difference between spiritual direction and evangelism is that in evangelism my goal is to give a testimony, while in spiritual direction my goal is to bear a testimony. In evangelism I pray for the opportunity to share the good news, while in spiritual direction I try to help the person understand what happened when he or she received the good news, and what the good news means in his or her life now. Spiritual direction is not an attempt to find faith or create faith; it is an attempt to understand faith. Spiritual direction is faith seeking understanding.

But it is faith seeking understanding in the most specific and personal sense. Spiritual direction is not jawing about theology. It is not a discussion about a theological object of faith. It is an intense search in a specific person’s life for the Living Subject of faith already at work – looking for that work, pointing to that work so that the directee can participate in God's work, so that he or she can live in active covenant with God in everyday life.

Spiritual direction is like a fishing guide

More Christians like to theologize. Almost any Christian will be happy to give an opinion of what Jesus meant when He said, “Enter through the narrow gate.” Far fewer will come and ask what it means specifically for them to enter through the narrow gate.

The difference between an abstract theological discussion with a parishioner and spiritual direction is like the difference between talking about fishing and going fishing. I hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with talking about fishing! But it sure doesn’t take long to sort out the people who just like to talk about fishing from those who really fish. Some people don’t like getting wet. Nor does it take long in a theological discussion to discern if people just like to talk theology or if they desperately wish to live theologically.

In any case, the best possible analogy to a spiritual director is a fishing guide. The best fishing guides and the best spiritual directors have a lot in common.

It goes without saying that a fishing guide needs to know the skills of fly fishing and needs to know how to teach the skills of fly fishing. A client may know a lot about fly choice, casting, line mending and reading water; the client may well be another fishing guide! In fact, I’ve learned that the best fishing guides allow themselves to be guided by another fishing guide on occasion, to learn new skills and new water and to break out of ruts. Or the client may know almost nothing about fly fishing. In either case, all through the process of guiding, the fishing guide is teaching.

Likewise, it goes without saying that spiritual directors need to know the basic skills of prayer, meditation and listening to God, and they need to be ale to teach these skills.

The fishing guide needs to be able to focus simultaneously on two objects: the client and the water. Clients don’t know where the fish are on the stream (or they wouldn’t need a guide), and they almost always have a hard time seeing the fish, even if the trout are rising. The fishing guide looks for the fish and points the fish out to the client, all the while giving close attention to the client’s manner of fishing. The guide watches the client’s casting, making comments here and there, reading the client as he reads the water. That is the only way he makes the two connect: the strike, the fight, the catch! Because of this, the cardinal rule of guiding is that the fishing guide does not fish during the trip. The guide gives absolute, undivided attention to the client and the water.

In the same way, the spiritual director must stay focused on the directee and God. The director is not there to learn in conjunction with the directee. The spiritual director does not fish for personal Leviathans while directing. The spiritual director listens to the directee and listens for God. When the director spots God's work, he or she bids the directee cast to the side o the boat where God is. The haul is usually quite great.

The problem at the beginning of direction is the empty net, while the problem by the end of direction is having the strength to pull the net-busting fish on board.

I've fished with a number of guides over the years, and I've had a number of spiritual directors. The very best quality of the very best fishing guides is the very best quality of the very best spiritual directors. The very best fishing guides, the top of the heap of that profession, all love to watch clients catch fish as much as they like catching themselves. It gets to the point of silliness sometimes the way a truly great fishing guide starts to laugh, even giggle like a grade-school girl, when a client starts catching fish. Likewise, the characteristic that sets the great spiritual directors apart is childlike joy. Out of pure love they give you their undivided attention, and when you catch your fish, when your net is full, there's always that smile, that glint in their eye that tells you they've just spent the best hour of their day with you.

Make no mistake, this is the joy of the Lord. Parabolically, in the director's joy Jesus becomes present. After the two of you have spent an hour or two searching for Jesus, Jesus shows up in full glory, full joy, full love.

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