I added a new page to my web site this week. It announces my entry into the world of spiritual direction. I’m now a certified spiritual director (as of March 9) and this page describes a bit about spiritual direction. It’s my attempt at hanging out a shingle. I hope people see the page, ask questions and help me edit it so I can shed light on this nurturing and still little-known (but growing) spiritual practice. To see the page, click here.
I chose a photo of two butterflies gathering nectar for my new page. I wanted to emphasize the idea of companionship. Spiritual direction is sometimes called spiritual companionship. A typical spiritual director these days is not very directive, despite the name. Instead, they serve as a companion or “soul friend” to those exploring life, God and their unique self in the world. More than anything else, a good director listens carefully and helps the “directee” go deeper into their story.
Butterflies flit and fly from flower to flower. They are absorbed in the present moment. Spiritual direction is also focused on the present moment. The conversation begins with a question: “What is important to you today?” Or perhaps, “How do you come today?” Unlike in counseling, the director isn’t tracking and solving an ongoing issue. The directee is free to discuss whatever is on their mind.
Directees may use the time to talk about spiritual things—like where they saw God in their life over the last month. Or they may use the time to talk about seemingly unspiritual things—like their frustration with paying taxes and bills. No matter—we make room for every concern and look for meaning where it can be found. Invariably, the conversation is rich and textured. Occasionally the director may introduce a poem or prayer. Or they may observe themes that seem to be important and worth noticing. There may be extended silence. We end with prayer or a blessing.
Butterflies carry a lot of symbolism. They are a sign of hope–of rebirth and resurrection. After five to 21 days in a chrysalis, the lowly caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful winged butterfly. No wonder butterflies are popular around Easter. I believe direction can provide hope too. In the guarded, quiet space of direction, people notice ways that God or grace has been present for them. Even if they aren’t quite sure God authored those moments, they often leave with a more grateful heart and feel a little less alone in the world.
Finding my way into spiritual direction has been a long steady journey for me. I first experienced spiritual direction 20 years ago when my pastor at the time, Helen Cepero, offered individual direction to a group of us at church who were doing the Ignatian Exercises, a 30-week course studying the writings of St. Ignatius. I loved meeting with Helen each week and the freedom she allowed to talk about my spiritual life, my wonderings and my tentative insights. Even though I grew up in the church, I had never experienced this type of open-ended conversation.
After completing the Ignatian Exercises, my time with Helen ended. I was consumed with being a new mother and didn’t have the time to continue direction. But the experience made a deep impression on me. In fact, years later when I lived in Spain for a year I made a point to visit St. Ignatius’ birthplace in a little green valley in the Basque country. (The photo at the end of this post was taken from a window of his family home, which now houses a museum and a church.) I was grateful to this 16-century saint who was responsible for introducing me to spiritual direction and a more contemplative faith.
Fast-forward to 2014. After struggling with depression and searching for meaning in my life, I longed for a way to grow in my faith. I decided to enroll in a year-long contemplative practices class at Mercy Center, a Catholic retreat center south of San Francisco. I didn’t realize it, but this class was the precursor to their spiritual direction training program. One requirement was to meet regularly with a spiritual director. So I began to meet monthly with a kind, older woman who was also a chaplain. I soon realized I was interested in becoming a director myself and, through a few twists and turns, I eventually began my director training at another center, the Journey Center in Santa Rosa, in 2017.
I enjoyed my time at the Journey Center and feel a bit like a butterfly myself as I emerge from that experience, which at times felt a bit like being in a cocoon, as 12 of us learned about spiritual direction in a supportive and encouraging environment. Now we are out in the world, each seeking to bless people with the gift of spiritual direction, in our own unique ways. One of the members of my group feels especially called to minister to clergy; another has ties to the Muslim community and hopes to work amongst them. I am interested in serving people in my church, but also those in other churches or those who aren’t attending a church.
Each person’s spiritual life is a mystery. It’s filled with fertile times and dry times, times of flight and times of cocooning. I’m honored to witness that mystery and the unfolding stories of each person I meet.