Legend has it that camels walk alongside each other in the desert so they can blow the dust from each other’s eyes. As the hot sands twirling in the desert winds swirl in their faces, camels gently blow puffs of breath into each other’s eyes dislodging the dust so they can see the path ahead of them.
In many ways, spiritual direction (also referred to as spiritual mentoring) is similar. Spiritual direction—sitting one-on-one with a trained mentor to reflect on how one’s life is unfolding—allows us to sit with another person and blow the dust of life’s events from our eyes so we can see our journey with deeper clarity, understanding, and wisdom—so we can find our True Self.
Some twenty years ago, I found myself at a point in life where I wanted to grow beyond an intellectual awareness of God and really experience him. If God was real, I pondered, I must be able to have a relationship with him, to hear his voice, and discover his love and guidance in practical, concrete ways. I wanted to experience God-with-flesh.
So, I asked the director of religious education at our church how to grow deeper in my faith journey. She introduced me to my first spiritual director.
Ever since then, I’ve gone to spiritual direction monthly. I’ve found it to be amazing and life-giving. By reflecting with my director over what’s happening in my life I’ve been able to see the fingerprints of God and his subtle guidance. As my director reminds me: “God is always inviting us to grow into deeper wholeness, our job is to listen to his invitations as best we can and follow his loving nudges.”
I found the experience of spiritual direction so inspiring, that eventually I went through Dominican Center’s three-year formation program and became certified as a spiritual director myself. For the past fifteen years, I’ve been meeting one-on-one with individuals as their spiritual mentor as we walk alongside each other on their spiritual journey.
I also discovered that spiritual direction is not something new. In fact, it’s rooted in ancient Christian tradition.
In the third century, the desert fathers and mothers who left their villages to live in secluded caves so they could find spiritual enlightenment were often sought out by city dwellers seeking a word of wisdom from them so they could grow spiritually.
St. Benedict continued the tradition in the sixth century at the monasteries he established where he required each of his monks to meet regularly with a spiritual director as part of their on-going formation.
In the 1960’s, Vatican II jumpstarted the current resurgence of spiritual direction practice by encouraging every adult (lay and ordained) to seek out and meet with a spiritual guide on a regular basis as part of their personal growth.
Spiritual direction can be defined as the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality.
The person seeking direction shares stories of his or her daily life and their encounters of the divine, or how they’re cultivating a life attuned to spiritual things. The director listens and asks questions to assist the directee in their process of reflection and spiritual growth.
Spiritual direction develops a deeper awareness with the spiritual aspect of being human. It cracks open the gift of “discernment” —teaching our souls how to hear the voice of God.
Typically, one meets with a spiritual mentor for one hour a month. In Grand Rapids, I typically meet with spiritual direction clients at Dominican Center at Marywood. There are usually three chairs in the room: one for the directee and one for the mentor. I like to think the third chair is for the Holy Spirit who is the true Director inviting and guiding the person.
The meeting begins with a short time of quiet to become aware of God’s Presence. After a few short minutes, I usually begin the session with a simple question to the directee: “Where have you been experiencing God’s presence over the last few weeks?” The directee then reflects back on the practical events that have occurred in their life through the lens of their relationship with God. The goal is to help the client deepen their relationship with God and experience his love and guidance in simple, concrete ways.
Just like camels, we’ve been equipped with the practical tools to experience God’s presence in our daily lives by seeking out and finding mentors who can walk alongside us to help blow the dust from our eyes. The gift of spiritual mentoring is a simple, yet powerful tool that helps us grow and find wholeness.
If you desire to deepen your life spiritually, if you feel the nudge to grow, or are just curious about how this ancient practice might benefit you, check out spiritual mentoring page at brianplachta.net or contact me and we can set up an initial meeting. Listen to the inner nudge.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.