Spiritual Direction

"A spiritual director is one who helps another to recognize and to follow the inspirations of grace in his life, in order to arrive at the end to which God is leading him."

~Thomas Merton

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION

“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of man’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul.”

~ Thomas Merton

Why work with a spiritual director?

People often seek spiritual direction or spiritual companionship at times when life seems challenging and uncertain; when one is discerning critical choices in life; in times of significant transition or loss; when God feels distant or when our imagination for hopeful living seems to have run dry. We all know when we feel stuck and our usual remedies and tools for living just aren’t working. If we are wise, we seek guidance. Sometimes we seek a teacher. Sometimes we seek a listener. Sometimes we seek a companion. A spiritual director embodies all three these qualities.

Spiritual direction is also for people that have a desire to become ‘real’ and serve with more authenticity and integrity. It’s for people seeking a safe space to talk about matters of faith or to deepen an already existing relationship with God.

What is spiritual direction?

Spiritual directors are there to support people on their spiritual journeys, to be an active listener, without being judgmental, to reflect back what was heard and how this seems to be related to your experience of God.

A true spiritual director is someone who can listen and provide spiritual guidance beyond any personal need to defend or uphold any particular tradition or religious institution. God is already at work in your life. Spiritual direction is an opportunity to talk about what is happening in your heart and soul. It is a safe place to explore your questions and concerns about your life with God. You come to your session ready to be still, and together with your director, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, to listen to the truths of your story as God reveals God’s self through the everyday happenings of your life.

God touches the human heart directly. The spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship. Spiritual direction is a compassionate checking in and an ongoing exploration of the spiritual dimension of our human lives. Solutions may arise to current challenges, but they are not the focus of a spiritual direction session.

Once a connection is established with a trained spiritual director, many people continue to keep the dialogue alive. Ongoing spiritual direction is a unique and confidential partnership. It is also a journey and exploration of being human. The relationship between the director and the directee (the person coming for spiritual direction) is based upon a mutual awareness that the true director is God, often symbolized by a lit candle or a third chair during a session. In this way there is no hierarchical relationship placing the spiritual director above the directee.

A spiritual director serves as a humble and compassionate witness and guide. Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion and openhearted kindness, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.

The Third Chair

"You are a spiritual director
I sit in my chair
you in yours.
I have come to see you
with longing
that mystifies me.
You draw my attention 
to the third chair
in the room:
You invite me to see
with the eye of my heart
the Source of my longing:
the Eternal, invisible, loving, 
guiding, challenging, insistent
           Mystery in the third chair."           

~ Jennifer Hoffmann

                                                                                                     

Where does Spiritual Direction come from?

"Throughout human history individuals have sought the counsel of another. Each of the major faith traditions speaks of this relationship. In Buddhism the teacher of Dharma, or mentor, is called acariya or kalyanamitta. In Judaism the spiritual mentor is called Mashpia. In Christianity, spiritual direction emerged out of the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia. In the first century A.D., individuals known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers removed themselves from the chaos of the cities, seeking community with kindred spirits in solitude. They understood the inherent need for the ongoing guidance of God.  We need only to read the words of the Sufi mystic Rumi, to recognize the long tradition in Islam of seeking inspiration, guidance and support. Rumi writes: “whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey.” We cannot do this life alone.”  ~ Sally H. Gentry

Inclusive ~ Authentic ~ Listening ~ Accepting ~ Contemplative ~ Confidential

The difference between spiritual direction and therapy/counseling

The role of the therapist is to help us identify, manage and understand our thoughts and feelings, often created or stirred up by crisis, trauma, and difficult life situations. It is goal oriented. It helps us to see how emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect our lives. Therapy or counseling motivates or facilitates change while helping us to face problems within our personal lives.

“To receive spiritual direction is to recognize that God does not solve our problems or answer all our questions, but leads us closer to the mystery of our existence where all questions cease.”

~ Henri Nouwen

Spiritual direction does not “direct.” It is not counseling or psychotherapy, and directors should not become amateur therapists. While it may be appropriate at times to discuss personal and relational struggles in the context of spiritual direction, a spiritual director does not provide such services. Similarly, you may discuss financial issues in spiritual direction, but a spiritual director does not “tell you what to do”, but rather helps you to discern what God may be calling you to be or to do.

An important distinction is cost. A session of spiritual direction is generally less expensive than therapy. It is usually scheduled once a month, while therapy and counseling generally take place weekly or several times a month in response to more time sensitive crises. Additionally, spiritual direction is not covered by medical insurance. 

Spiritual direction and therapy each take place within a confidential and trusted relationship and each holds the health of the directee as its focus.

Why work with a spiritual director?

  • They offer deep listening which helps people find and follow their own spiritual path
  • They ask insightful, open-ended questions that help people connect with their authentic selves.
  • They allow space for stillness and silence (contemplation) to help people become aware of what is deep within them
  • They build trust and openness by being authentic, kind and open themselves
  • They do not council, seek to influence or convince, but instead walk alongside people as they make their individual and unique spiritual journeys
  • They honor the free will and discernment of each human being, especially in spiritual matters
  • They invite the people they accompany to create a stronger relationship with self and others and God, or however they refer to the Ground of all Being

“God gives us everything we need to
be happy in the present moment,
no matter what the evidence
to the contrary may be.
A good spiritual director helps us
to sustain that trust."

~ Father Thomas Keating

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

~ Thomas Merton

Setting up an Appointment

You can meet with a spiritual director either in person, or via Skype

  • It is advisable to meet every second week during the first two months and then depending on each individual's needs, once a month
  • An one-of-one session lasts for 60 – 90 minutes
  • Every meeting is confidential, and the spiritual director will guide the dialogue through attentive listening, enough space to pause and thoughtful questions

Visit the Centrum of Spirituality, Christian Meditation and Prayer (www.sentrumvirspiritualiteit.co.za) to find the name and contact details of a spiritual director in South Africa. 

Suzette Fischer has been a spiritual director since 2013.  She welcomes a diversity of directees:  Christian and non-Christian; those who belong to mainline churches and those who do not; the young, middle-aged and young at heart; those from differing life styles – all are welcome.

BECOME A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR

This 15-month course is in the Christian Tradition. It is facilitated in Afrikaans, but open to anyone above the age of 34 that can follow. Sharing can be done in Afrikaans or English.

This course is divided in 6 blocks + one guided silent-retreat.

  • Block 1 and Block 6, both 5 days, are onsite at Origins Retreat Centre, outside Krugersdorp.  Accommodation and meals are provided.
  • Block 2, Block 3, Block 4 and Block 5 are 3 days, and facilitated at Stella Dutch Reformed Church, Waterkloof, Pretoria. The group provide the shared meals.
  • One guided 5 – 6 day silent-retreat is arranged by die directee themselves, at a retreat center of their choice.

This course is open to anyone who finds him/herself in a position of people coming for guidance, help and support. Pastors receive 150 CPD-points.

SPIRITUAL RETREATS

What is a retreat?

Spiritual retreats may be individual or involve a group. In its simplest form ‘Retreat’, means ‘to withdraw or to draw back’. For generations, people have gone on spiritual retreats to encounter God, to seek God’s healing grace and experience a degree of spiritual renewal.

The meaning of a spiritual retreat can be different for different religious communities. Spiritual retreats are an integral part of many Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi (Islamic) communities. The Christian retreat can be defined most simply as a definite time, from a few hours in length to a month, spent away from one's normal life for the purpose of reconnecting with God. That is, time consciously set aside for God, a change of focus, a deliberate act of stepping outside of normal routine by withdrawing (not running away) from the noise and pressures.

Although the practice of leaving one's everyday life to connect on a deeper level with God is as old as Christianity itself, the practice of spending a specific time away with God, on a retreat, is a more modern phenomenon.

Meditation can be practiced during these retreats, daily meetings with a spiritual director, spiritual disciplines such as lectio divina and contemplative prayer. Retreats remove us from noise and distraction, into a place of spiritual refreshing and renewing, with typically overnight accommodations. One thing you can definitely expect from any retreat is silence. It is a way of entering into the presence of God, and allowing him to nourish our soul. As we settle into the stillness, we notice the stirrings of our soul, our deeper longings, and God’s quiet whisper to us.

Why go on a spiritual retreat?

A spiritual retreat is a breathing space in a setting that inspires inner reflection. The setting, silence and pace of the retreat give the participants the freedom to open up to themselves and to God.

Spiritual retreats help us get away from the constant noise that runs through our head. It creates a breathing space for:

  • Relaxing, resting and finding comfort in the middle of our very busy lives;
  • Meeting with God in silence, reading his Word and rekindling the fire of our faith;
  • Reflecting on the meaning of our existence, taking a step back before making important choices;
  • Exploring the key questions of life and gaining a better understanding of the foundations of the Christian faith.

RETREAT CENTERS
SOUTH AFRICA

iDwala Retreat Centre: Belfast, South Africa

Origins Retreat Centre: Krugersdorp, South Africa        

Sentrum vir Geloofsvorming: Greyton, Suid-Afrika

Shama Retreat Centre: Steytlerville, South Africa

Namibia

Be-Still Retreat, Swakopmund, Namibia

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