Siloam is a program for the formation of spiritual directors.  But what do we mean by the term ‘spiritual direction’?  I find it easier to talk about what it is not!  In what follows. I describe that it is not really ‘spiritual’ in the sense that most people use that word, and it is not ‘direction’ in the sense of being directed, being told what to do.

One misunderstanding is that spiritual direction is irrelevant to ‘real life’, as though taking time to attend to one’s personal life belonged only in some small compartment of a person’s life, separate from one’s everyday joys and sorrows, work and play.  The extreme of this misunderstanding is that there are much more important areas in life that need to be attended to: people are suffering in our world, hundreds of people are homeless, the seas are rising due to warming of the planet.  Numbers of people insist that we need to put our energies into these areas, not in concern for our personal spirituality, which they imagine is to be thinking only of ourselves.  I have talked at length about this in earlier writing.  In no way are our spiritual lives and our involvement with others and with world affairs separate.

I believe that the basic experience underpinning both our spiritual lives and our active life, is conversion of heart. When some inner conversion happens, coming to see ourselves and the world differently, as many report does happen for them in spiritual direction, it shows itself in both a deeper inner life and a more committed active life. Worthwhile spirituality (and spiritual direction) necessarily overflows into our relationships and our care for others.

Another misunderstanding is that spiritual direction is for the elite, the sisters and the monks, ‘holy people’.  As if a person has to talk about ‘spiritual things’ all the time!  As an example, I remember one fellow telling me how he valued the opportunity to talk about his struggles with some of his workmates and that he found the support of his spiritual director most helpful, as together they gradually found the best way for him to go.  He said that it took some time before he realised that spirituality happens in our everyday ups and downs, no longer remote.  He believed that even God was interested and supportive in his struggles.  

And the word ‘direction’.  Spiritual directors do well to clarify that they are not about to give direction, telling people what they should be doing, even how best to pray or find God in their lives.  Someone told me of her delight to find that her spiritual director was more like an accompanier, someone who listened with her as she shared her experience.  Spiritual directors do not give advice, they listen and prompt and help their directees to hear God’s word in their experience. 

Spiritual direction gives us the time and the space to attend to the unique ways God acts and cares for each of us.  That is the core of spiritual direction: in that sacred space, we grow in self-awareness (aided by our spiritual director’s promptings) and we listen (with another’s support) to the ways of God’s presence, action and invitation in the everyday comings and goings of our lives.