One resource for personal development that grows straight out of Ignatian spirituality is spiritual direction. A spiritual director walks alongside a person as a spiritual companion and, somewhat, as a guide. “Director” is a bit misleading, because a true spiritual director does not give much direction in terms of suggesting what a person should do or telling her if she is right or wrong or otherwise. A spiritual director is not a teacher, not a drill sergeant of the soul. He or she offers presence and a listening ear. When called for, a spiritual director offers wisdom as well, and sometimes will help the directee imagine and dream and pray.
St. Ignatius was quite clear about God’s ability to work directly with the person, and in fairly strong terms he encouraged spiritual directors to stay out of God’s way and allow “the Creator to deal directly with the creature.” This doesn’t mean that the spiritual director sits there silently like the stereotypical analyst. He or she enters conversation with you, and your topic of conversation is generally about your relationship with God—although there is much flexibility in what vocabulary you use or what concepts about the interior life you explore.
Generally speaking, this is what you can expect in spiritual direction:
- A person willing to walk alongside you on your spiritual journey. This person can walk with you in silence or in dialogue, in peaceful times or terrible times. The point is presence.
- A companion who will listen attentively and reflect back to you what you are experiencing and discovering.
- Confidentiality—what you talk about in your time with the spiritual director will go no further.
- Encouragement and hope; an effective spiritual director always carries hope for you and gently nudges you toward the wisdom and grace God is already pouring into your life.
- Reverence and respect for the spiritual movement in your life. A wise spiritual director recognizes that God speaks to people in many different ways. The spiritual companion listens to you describe your experience as it makes sense to you, in words and phrases that are meaningful to you. Although he or she may help you connect your experience with spiritual concepts such as grace or the movement of the Holy Spirit, there’s no attempt to rewrite your experience to be anything other than what it is.
- A person wise enough to understand when you need help that is different from spiritual direction. An attentive spiritual director will notice if you appear to be physically, emotionally, or mentally ill and will encourage you to get the support you need. In other words, a spiritual director recognizes that she is not your social worker or psychiatrist and will not try to fill those roles.
- A person with whom you are safe to talk about your interior life in all its complexity and unfolding beauty.