Katie Evans reflects on her experience of spiritual direction ahead of the online course ‘Nurturing Our Spiritual Lives through Spiritual Direction’, 8th Feb – 4th April 2021
Spiritual direction, and it’s near sister, spiritual friendship are practices that sustain me, feeding my inner life.
I first sought out one-to-one spiritual accompaniment nearly ten years ago. My faith was changing, it felt like the ground was shifting under my feet. Seeking help, I asked a friend to try a spiritual friendship practice. We met roughly once a month to talk about what was going on in our spiritual lives and to listen to each other.
This brought home to me how powerful it is to be really listened to. Here was a space where I could talk about spirituality without fear of ridicule; where I could tentatively articulate things that were on the edge of my grasp, that I didn’t understand yet; where it was okay not to talk in coherent sentences; where I could bring what I was grappling with and also share those moments of grace and insight that are nothing original in the grand scheme of things but are personally deeply moving and meaningful.
The feminist theologian Nelle Morton coined the phrase ‘hearing into speech’ to describe women experiencing being deeply listened to as a form of empowerment, bringing forth new possibilities. This resonates for me. In spiritual friendship I was heard into a grounded, quiet confidence in my faith; drawn to pray again even though I had thought that giving up my childhood image of God had rendered prayer untenable; and heard into a growing sense of purpose in life – of what in Quaker jargon we might call ministry or being led.
Enthused by my experience with spiritual friendship, I trained as a spiritual director and began seeing a spiritual director myself. Spiritual direction is a lot like spiritual friendship, having a conversation every couple of months about my spiritual life with someone who listens deeply. But unlike spiritual friendship, it’s one-way rather than mutual. The focus is on what’s going on for me, on my spiritual journey. My spiritual director will in turn have her own director that she talks with about her spiritual life.
The phase ‘spiritual director’ is troublesome. It sounds hierarchical, as if your director will tell you what to do, which isn’t the case. Like in spiritual friendship, a spiritual director offers their presence and deep, prayerful listening, to support the person they’re accompanying to discern their own path.
I find having a spiritual direction appointment in the calendar means that I make the time to attend to the heart of life. Often I take to spiritual direction something I’m stuck with or puzzling over. It’s cathartic to acknowledge whatever it is, to be witnessed, even if I don’t immediately see a way of getting unstuck. Sometimes a question or an observation from my spiritual director gives me a new perspective, liberating me in some way.
The spiritual life has its own rhythms, and for me they’re usually slow! I can see what, for want of a better word, we might call ‘growth’, but it’s over a span of years, with lots of looping round again and again over the same ground. Having these conversations with a spiritual friend or director regularly helps me to recognise the narrative that is unfolding slowly conversation to conversation. Being heard by someone else helps me keep faith in the times when I wonder if it’s all nonsense.
We live in a culture that doesn’t make it easy to talk about spirituality or faith, but we don’t have to go it alone. Sharing the journey with others can be encouraging, affirming, even liberating. I hope to offer a taste of these possibilities in the online course ‘Nurturing Our Spiritual Lives through Spiritual Direction’.