Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spiritual Direction

Sometimes great ideas come already packaged with dreadful names, and "Spiritual Direction" and "Spiritual Director" are near the top of my list. The great idea under the dreadful names is that our spiritual life is often confusing, our spiritual growth is often so subtle that we don't see it, and our spirituality is not something most of us talk about with just anybody. Therefore it is a good thing to have a special relationship with someone who will act as our sounding board, guide, and cheering section, and perhaps offer an occasional caution if we're about take off on that well paved road to hell.

Most religions have a name for this kind of one-on-one relationship. Guru, teacher, and soul friend are three, but the most common in this Christian world is Spiritual Director. This is a well established role in the Catholic and Anglican worlds. The rest of Protestantism is slowly catching on, and the secular world has just discovered Spiritual Direction with the best seller status of a book called, Father Joe, The man who saved my soul, by Tony Hedra. Tony is an agnostic who has a life-long relationship with an extraordinary spiritual director. It's a true story.

But soul saving isn't really what spiritual directors do, any more than they direct anyone. They are at most guides, and generally listeners, suggesters, and fellow companions on the spiritual journey.

UU's are beginning to be interested in Spiritual Direction and a directory has just been published of UU's who have ministerial or specialized training in spiritual direction. It's not a licensed or certified area of practice, and very few people make their living at it. Fees are usually considerably less than, say, therapy, and sometimes are a matter of gifts rather than fees.

I came into this field through the novels of Susan Howatch, myself, which are even more intense than Father Joe, and are about spiritual direction of the old school (authoritarian and touched with psychic powers) in the Church of England. It took some time to realize that this kind of relationship might do me good (new school style), find such a mentor for myself, and then realize that I was sometimes being called on to be a mentor for others or to guide situations in which groups were mentoring each other. One of these days, I'll probably get some real training. One of my sabbatical treats was to go with a friend to the conference of Spiritual Directors International and hang out for three days with 500 Spiritual Directors. It was remarkably comfortable. The Spiritual Directors who belong to this group are a warm, inclusive, and spiritually adventurous bunch, no strangers to doubt, ambiguity, atheism, or syncretistic spiritual journeys such as UU's tend to take. If one thing that keeps you from finding a Spiritual Director is fear that you will be dreadfully mis-matched with a rigid religionist, than getting a referral through Spiritual DIrectors International might ease the process. Of if you're lucky, one of the 50 UU's offering spiritual direction will be in your locale.

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