Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Spiritual directors help focus prayer, growth
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Prayer is an essential component of a healthy Christian life. Yet, for many, it is also very confusing.
Prayer takes many different forms and very few people experience God in the same way. Those who are able to discover how to pray often struggle to find the time. The busyness of family, work, school and social engagements take up so much time, and when the day is over and commitments completed, all most people want to do is fall into bed. Who has time to pray?
A spiritual director may be just the person to help work through these very difficult challenges to developing a vibrant and prayerful spiritual life. Spiritual directors come from all walks of life. They may be a member of the clergy or diaconate, a Religious order or a member of the laity – male or female. Regardless of their association or career, a spiritual director with a healthy detachment from the directee can offer an objective view of the spiritual journey. Spiritual directors can help clarify questions, affirm spirituality, and challenge seekers to greater depth in their own spiritual journey. Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.
At one time, access to spiritual direction was limited to clergy, Religious, or those for those states in life. In more recent years, the value of spiritual direction for all people, including the laity, has been recognized. Now it is not at all unusual for men and women from a wide variety walks of life and stages of faith to seek spiritual direction.
Locating a spiritual director is not difficult. Most parish priests can make recommendations. But before sitting down with a spiritual director and following that individual’s advice, it is necessary to ensure their credibility.
Sister Joy Milos, a Sister of St. Joseph, offers a two-year training program in spiritual direction at Gonzaga University. She said that while anyone can “put up a sign and start offering spiritual direction,” a real spiritual director experiences a calling from God.
Certain qualities characterize good spiritual directors, she said: a sense of God and ministry; life experience; knowledge of their faith; the ability to listen and communicate; knowledge and understanding of themselves; and “of course, they have to pray themselves.”
“People who come through the training program often have been sought out by many other people for spiritual guidance, and then they realize that God is calling them to this type of ministry,” said Sister Joy. “Once they discern that, they usually find that they’d like some training, so they come through the program.”
Sister Joy said that spiritual directors should also be receiving spiritual direction or “some kind of supervision” themselves.
Deacon John Ruscheinsky is the Director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center. Offering spiritual direction to a wide range of individuals and groups is a large part of his job, and one of the parts he enjoys the most.
“This (spiritual direction) is so needed,” he said. “It’s how people come to learn what God has called them to be. There are so many distractions in the world that keep us from finding our resting place in God.”
Deacon Ruscheinsky said that he usually begins a spiritual direction meeting with a series of questions that get the directee thinking about their life, their faith, their spirituality and what brought them to seek spiritual direction.
“Spiritual direction is not about giving all the answers,” said Deacon Ruscheinsky. “It’s about letting a person find their own way.”
That’s a sentiment most spiritual directors agree with. Each individual has different spiritual needs and a different way of coming to God. Spiritual direction cannot be limited to a list of inflexible rules, because nearly everyone’s experience of God is different.
Dominican Sister Alice Ann Byrne offers “spiritual companionship” to those who seek her out. She said that the first thing she tries to help her companions do is experience and appreciate solitude and silence. She said that it is “only in solitude that deep prayer can occur.”
Sister Joy said that it is important for spiritual directors to ensure on first meeting with a directee that the two are compatible. “It’s similar in a lot of ways to finding a counselor,” she said. “Not everyone meets on a spiritual or intellectual level and it’s not a reflection on either party. Sometimes they’re just not compatible.”
Sister Joy, Deacon Ruscheinsky and Sister Alice Ann all stressed that the role of a spiritual director is not to be a counselor or therapist. If spiritual directors sense a need for that sort of guidance, they can offer recommendations, but they themselves might not be qualified to provide counseling or therapy.
Though spiritual direction on a wide scale is relatively new, more and more people are discovering how helpful it can be in drawing closer to God. And that, say spiritual directors, is the goal: to help people develop their relationship with God, to help people learn the value of taking time out of their busy lives each day to pray, reflect and appreciate the grandeur of God.