Our spiritual life is one of the most precious gifts God has given us and, our efforts to develop and foster this life can be greatly aided by the practice of spiritual direction. Spiritual direction can be defined as helping a person to be aware of the action of the Spirit in their lives as they are; helping a person with their relationship with God; and helping a person move in a direction toward God.
To live consciously is the first requirement of a real spiritual life. It calls for honesty and attention to the circumstances and choices we make in our day-to-day living. The spiritual life asks for consideration of the following:
the way you pray;
the God you pray to;
who you pray with; and
what you pray about.
Answers to these questions and the consciousness of how God is leading us in our actual life situations make up the substance of direction. Discernment, the weighing of our inner movements in seeking the will of God, often plays a part, especially if serious decisions need to be made.
Some distinctions may be helpful. A conscious spiritual life and religious observance go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing. Religious observance is not spiritual consciousness. Spiritual exercises can help us be spiritually alive and can deepen our attachment to the faith community we belong to but, as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:18, “We are to live by the spirit, not by the law.” In John 4:23, Jesus says, “The true worshipper of my Father worships in spirit and truth.” Integrity and honesty with oneself are necessary to the vitality of the spiritual life.
The greatest danger to our spiritual life is drift. Drift occurs where one just goes thoughtlessly and even carelessly from one thing to another, not being conscious of life’s many varied experiences. While routine and maintaining many habits can be good, it can also be dangerous if it leads to drift.
Cycles of life, rhythms of the universe and seasons of being are all important to spiritual direction. Any individual event or moment is part of the whole process. It is important to be aware of the whole process, that is, the broader cosmic context of one’s life. The journey is as important as the goal. Everything can be grist for the mill. “Everything will prove its value in its time,” says Sirach (39:34). Regular spiritual direction helps keep one in the rhythm and cycles of life itself.
Spiritual direction leads to a discerning life, the effort to place all things into the hand of God. It is a blessing for those who engage direction for any time of their lives.
Sister André studied at St Louis University in St Louis, Missouri and received Certification in Spiritual Direction. She also completed training in direction of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. She held staff positions at Colombiere Center and the Jesuit Retreat House in Cleveland. She has been involved in directed retreats and spiritual direction for 37 years.