Spiritual direction: Awakening more deeply to the presence of God
Definitions of “spiritual direction” vary.
For Dr. Teresa Hawes, a vowed member of Our Lady of Life Institute and director of religious education at St. Monica Parish in Barre, spiritual direction is guidance for a person who is sincerely seeking a deeper relationship with God.
Father James Dodson, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Northfield and St. Edward the Confessor Church in Williamstown, from whom some people seek spiritual direction, described it as helping someone discern, understand and appreciate the ways in which God is at work in the world and in his/her life.
And Sister of Mercy Ann Duhaime of Burlington, a spiritual director, defined it as “awakening more deeply to the presence of God within the experiences of our everyday lives.”
However it’s defined, spiritual direction is about drawing closer to God.
As a spiritual director herself, Hawes said she is “a listener, begging the Holy Spirit to guide my words and help the person find God’s will in their journey.” And as one who has received spiritual direction, she has found it to be helpful and even necessary at certain turning points in her life of prayer and action.
At times, when confronted with life’s challenges, a person may seek to find deeper meaning and purpose in life. “In spiritual direction, a person can be awakened more deeply to a compassionate, loving God who walks with us on our journey,” Sister Duhaime said
Her goal as a spiritual director is to provide a listening, supportive and responsive presence. “When I am with another in spiritual direction … God is at work within both of us. This is truly God’s work,” she said. “Essentially, God is the director moving within the person’s life in God’s desire to come closer and/or heal what needs healing.”
In “I Want to See God,” Blessed Marie-Eugene de L’Enfant-Jésus offers a chapter of spiritual direction in which he writes that a spiritual director must instruct, console and encourage: “It is incumbent on him to discern the particular grace of the soul, to withdraw it from false attractions, to preserve it from all dangers especially at times of spiritual darkness and to make it triumph by using all its energies.
Those who seek spiritual direction should make known to the spiritual director their aspirations, temptations, weaknesses and acts of virtue, the working of God in their soul and their response, Blessed Marie-Eugene advises.
A spiritual director, Hawes said, is ideally one who is faithful to Church teaching, wise, experienced in prayer and a person of God.
Some persons may need other help in addition to spiritual direction — medical assistance or psychological counseling, for example.
Spiritual direction is different from counseling in that the focus of the former is on one’s relationship with God not problem solving, Sister Duhaime explained. “Spiritual direction is not so much about being directed but about being encouraged to come closer to God in one’s life experiences. … [It] helps people to discover God’s presence there and God’s response as one shares one’s experiences and struggles with God in prayer.”
Father Dodson, the Catholic chaplain at Norwich University in Northfield and assistant vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington, explained that counseling revolves around what should be done by a person to improve a particular situation. “Spiritual direction seeks to ascertain what God is already doing in a particular situation and how the person may ‘enter into’ that divine reality so as to experience the goodness of God and grow in holiness.”
The goal of spiritual direction, he said is to help the individual “tap into their true identity as a child of God, and encourage the person to live out of that reality constantly, for then the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
People desiring a deeper spiritual life or seeking a deeper connection with God in their life can benefit from spiritual direction as well as those experiencing various kinds of losses and grief, those discerning important life choices and those who want to integrate spirituality into their daily life. It also can be beneficial for those striving to do God’s will, those who desire to grow in holiness and those who want to live as a faithful, intentional, authentic, disciple of Jesus.
Individuals who are interested in seeking spiritual direction should ask their pastors for recommendations for qualified spiritual directors in their area.
—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.