At a time when there is so much upheaval in our world – climate crises, drought and famine, wars between neighbouring countries – to sit quietly with a spiritual direction talking about one’s relationship with God seems unjustifiable luxury. 

How can we say that spiritual direction matters in our day? 

Speaking with numbers of graduates of Heart of Life’s program for the formation of spiritual directors, then editing the book to commemorate Heart of Life’s forty years, and re-reading the outcome several times, I was struck by the writers’ recurring comment that their participation in that formation program, Siloam (now 45 years old) changed their life and their way of ministry. Even ‘a turning point in my life.’ 

Graduates of Siloam now minister in fields as broad as religious leadership, pastoral care, politics, education and soup kitchens. They say that listening to the work of God’s Spirit, as they learned as spiritual directors, makes a difference to the way they minister in their chosen field. At the same time, the hundreds of people who have come for spiritual direction are found in fields even more widely spread — family life, health care, sport, social justice, even monastic life. That they have been helped to be attentive to God’s presence and God’s inspiration in their lives makes a difference to their inner well-being and their relationships. 

I set myself to talk with more of these people, as I had with the spiritual directors themselves. Again, I heard recurring themes. After a time of spiritual direction, women and men, lay and religious, report deeper contentment in their lives and more self-confidence. They notice that they worry less and are more able to move with the flow of life, even facing unexpected sickness and hard times. They are more interested in other people, more attentive to others and more compassionate when confronted by others’ struggles. Many say that their emotions seem closer to the surface these days, they can be quite emotionally moved by reports of the world’s disasters and injustice inflicted on some people. All in all, they seem more in touch with themselves – and with God’s care for them and for all people. Clearly, the time they have given to their personal prayer and their meeting with their spiritual director is not unconnected with what is going on in the wider world. 

As one person said: ‘spirituality that does not lead to concern for and work for others is inhuman; whereas an active life working for the justice issues that surround us will collapse without a solid personal foundation.’ The two are not separate. This man, in fact, was quite an inspiration in his helping at the Salvos refuge for homeless men every weekend. I met others who volunteer in community projects, a couple who visit asylum seekers in a detention centre and someone who gives a half day a week to prison ministry. All of these people are committed to their monthly spiritual direction. 

I recall the words that great charismatic figure, Martin Luther King, often spoke: ‘I cannot be who I am meant to be unless you are who you are meant to be (and vice versa) – this is the interrelated structure of reality.’ God’s gifts to any one of us are given for the good of all us. 

Spiritual direction is still relevant, even vital, today. But what do we mean by the term ‘spiritual direction’? 

Stay tuned.