Editor’s note: Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and we marked the occasion by celebrating the Eucharist, an official blessing of our new premises at Croydon as well as 45 Years of Siloam

Siloam is a program of ministry formation, formation for the ministry of spiritual direction.   Participants are expected to minister as spiritual directors while in the program – sometimes in their home environments, sometimes at Heart of Life, sometimes in small groups ministering to one another.  And participants write regular verbatim reports of their ministry, and receive regular individual and group supervision.    

At the same time, we recognise that ministry cannot stand alone: we cannot minister to others somehow separate from or independent of our own spiritual, emotional, and psychological dynamics.  Fruitful ministry, honest prayer, and growth in self-awareness are intimately inter-related.  Any one of the three may be the starting point for supervision; invariably, all three will come into play.  Hence Siloam’s emphasis on personal formation, prayer and discernment. 

Siloam’s virtue is its emphasis on experiential learning in contrast to academic learning.  Learning from experience is an adult approach to education, involving the students along the way. In seminars, we would ask questions to help participants reflect on their own experience of the area in question and work from there.  I was especially committed to this approach in teaching discernment of spirits – we do not learn how the spirits work from books, but from our experience of how the spirits have been working in our own lives.  I strongly believe that all good writing in spirituality is based on the author’s personal experience of God, even when unstated.  Some do state this: Francis de Sales prefaced his Treatise on the Love of God with ‘I write only what I have learned (from his spiritual direction of Jane Frances de Chantal).  Teresa of Avila’s autobiography began with ‘Sisters, this is how God has been for me.’  Ignatius Loyola wrote ‘God taught me how to pray.’ 

Moreover in Siloam this reflection on one’s experience is done contemplatively.  It seems critical to listen to God’s word, God’s invitation in our experience – not so much our own analysis of what is going on inside us or in our prayer.  An excellent help to such reflection and self-awareness is the prayer called the Awareness Examen, strongly recommended by the Heart of Life Centre.  

Siloam is personal, relational, experiential, and contemplative.  In all of these ways, the program seeks to form spiritual directors who are not only competent, but caring and compassionate, supervisors encouraging their students to be similarly concerned for other people and for the world’s needs.