Heart of Life calls itself a Centre for Spiritual and Pastoral Formation. Pastoral formation is about preparing people for their pastoral ministry. But what is spiritual formation? Something to do with preparing people inwardly, preparing one’s heart and soul, one’s spirit.
How do we prepare ourselves spiritually? The words ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual’ can be confusing, as if referring to some extra-terrestrial reality. A big strength of the ministry at Heart of Life has been its programs of formation of spiritual directors and their offering spiritual direction. Again, confusing for some – even the word ‘direction’ is inaccurate, if implying people are told what to do, given direction for their lives. The term is used, I imagine, because it is the traditional term for a ministry that focuses on the faith dimension of people’s lives – where God features in people’s lives, how God is inviting each one to deeper relationship – for the sake of their wellbeing and their relationships with other people.
For this reason, when someone comes for spiritual direction, the starting point of the conversation can be whatever is uppermost in the person’s life at the time – which may be anything from some struggle in their life to some good news they have received. The conversation will focus on what this experience has been like for them, how it has affected them, till invariably the question becomes where is God in this experience, what is God’s invitation here? This is where faith comes into play. Often the conversation leads to the suggestion that it might be worth taking the experience to prayer to listen more closely to God’s word.
Any ongoing process of spiritual direction has the benefit of deeper awareness of one’s inner life, clearer sense of God’s presence and call, and more healthy relationships with other people. Teresa of Avila once said that ‘the point of prayer is good works.’ So, too, for spiritual direction: the gifts overflow to others.