From Marjorie Thompson, Companions in Christ Spiritual Director
For the last two months, we have been looking more closely at aspects of spiritual guidance or direction. In particular, we have discussed key elements of spiritual direction, the quality of a spiritual guidance conversation, and what to look for generally in a spiritual guide. But "generally" and "specifically" can make a world of difference!
Each person is unique and brings varying needs and expectations to a relationship of spiritual direction. What you are looking for may be quite different from what your best friend or spouse might seek. You may want help in "befriending the Bible." Maybe scripture was forced down your throat as a child, or interpreted in ways that deeply perplexed or frightened you. You may seek help in sorting out a sense of vocational change that better fits your growing relationship with God. You may want guidance in how to interpret your dreams. Dreams have been called "God’s forgotten language," one of the ways God continues to communicate with us today; yet dreams are always strange and we rarely know what to make of their symbolic images and meandering sequences.
Depending on what you are seeking, you will want to find a spiritual guide with gifts for such guidance. Not everyone knows how to help you with your dreams, for example. So don’t be afraid to ask direct, open questions about or to a prospective spiritual director. If you think you have found someone you’d like to work with, set up a time for an initial meeting. Get acquainted. Ask the person about his or her "style" of direction and how s/he perceives his or her own gifts. Be as specific as you can about what you hope for in the relationship. A good spiritual guide knows his/her gifts and limits and won’t be offended if you decide it’s not the best match.
If you decide, after prayerful discernment and frank conversation, to go ahead with a particular director, remember that the relationship might last for many fruitful years or might be a matter of months. It is wise to evaluate how things are going after about 6-8 meetings. Most people I know who meet regularly with spiritual guides do so monthly for about an hour. But some directors suggest meeting twice a month at the beginning, or even weekly if there is an urgent sense of spiritual need. It can help to establish both the relationship and the direction of the guidance process to meet more frequently at the start.
The most important dynamic of spiritual guidance is that both parties trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in their midst each time they meet. Listening lies at the heart of spiritual direction. A good spiritual guide will attend to the "footprints of grace" in what you say, and help you listen more deeply to the voice of the Spirit in your own words.
You can learn to be attentive with others in this way even if you don’t think of yourself as a spiritual guide. You can be a spiritual friend by listening deeply for where God is manifest in the life of another Christian, and affirming where you perceive such grace. This is part of what you are learning to do in your Companions small groups at each weekly meeting, especially during the "Sharing of Insights" time. Learning to "listen for God in the other person" is central in discovering what it means to be spiritual friends.