I’d like to respond to Autumn’s comment to my earlier post about living the “examen”ed life. She asks about what to do when it is difficult to find a spiritual director. Since she raises an important question I thought it more helpful to dedicate a new post to it, rather than bury my response below hers.
So, Autumn, thanks for your question. I hope many people have the same problem you do. I don’t mean that in a negative way; I mean it, rather, as a way of recognizing that when God moves our hearts with desire for a deeper relationship, it is good to seek spiritual direction. And I hope that many people become aware of that same desire.
First, a practical point. I too lived in a small town (Indiana, Pennsylvania) for eight years and still was able to find a great spiritual director, a Carmelite sister, by asking around. Ask local pastors; call the diocesan office; call the local college campus ministry offices.
Second, though, a broader point. Spiritual direction, for Ignatius, is a place for sacred conversation. Primarily the role of the “one who is giving the exercises” (Ignatius never uses the word “director”—it’s really a misnomer) is to help a person see through the distractions in order that God might deal directly with the person. When Ignatius was first giving the exercises, he was a lay person; and many of his exercitants were also lay people.
Following that logic, one might observe that spiritual conversation between two people serious about trying to know God more deeply is a good thing. They need not be experts. Perhaps for the short term, it is possible for a couple to engage in spiritual conversation as a way of coming to greater understanding about the movements of the spiritual life.
For the longer term, though, it is good to keep in mind Teresa of Ívila’s advice that in seeking a spiritual director it is better to find one who is learned than one who is pious. Consider, then, that the desire to know God is itself a gift of God’s grace; bring that desire into prayer and ask that God might help you to find someone with whom you might grow further in knowledge and love of God. Allow the experience of longing for spiritual growth to be in itself a way of praising God. Recall the words of Paul in Romans 8:26: “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” If we are allowing the Holy Spirit to pray in us, then we might trust that this same Spirit will guide us toward greater growth in prayer.