Spiritual direction was invented in and for intentional Christian community. Sometimes we forget that spiritual direction began in monastic communities, was designed for members of those communities, and had the goal of helping both the individuals and the communities flourish.
Ask anyone who has lived in Christian community for an extended period of time and they will tell you it isn’t easy. It is an intensely relational life, with ups and downs, twists and turns. And since you are sharing your life intimately with others, you not only face your own challenges, but the health and struggles of your brothers and sisters affect you deeply as well.
In Christian community, if we are not going deep in the Lord, to abide, to be nourished, loved and renewed, we are lost. Individually and corporately we must go deep in the Lord, or we will not survive or more importantly flourish. We cannot soldier on without the Lord. A community built by us has no chance. Only a community built by, led by and in the Lord will be a blessing.
If nothing else, Christian community should be fertile ground to discover our desperate need for God.
Sometimes we believe a lie, both individually and corporately, that community will save us. Consciously or unconsciously we sense our lack, our need for something more, and so we join a community, never realizing the idolatry that has seized us. We become idolators because only the Lord can save us, and we have looked to a different savior.
But God is gracious to us and eventually strips us of our false illusions, and we face a crisis of disillusionment. Our community has not saved us. This crisis may end our days in community or even end the community itself, but this crisis is also an opportunity to discover that we need the Lord and be found by him.
And now we see the need for a spiritual director. We need the Lord to survive in community, to flourish in community. We must abide in the vine, seek living water, find ourselves befriended by God, know God’s mercy, forgiveness, favor, and blessing. Sometimes we can do this on our own, but we greatly benefit from having someone walk close to us in our spiritual lives, listening, encouraging, naming, praying, reminding, calling forth our deepest desires to love and serve the Lord.
A therapist serves their client, a person, as they seek healing and wholeness, but a spiritual director does not focus on the healing and wholeness of the individual. Instead, a spiritual director seeks the healing and wholeness of the person’s relationship with the Lord. As the person connects with God, as that love relationship grows, the Lord becomes the healer and restorer. The spiritual director is only there to facilitate that relationship, to help the person overcome blocks in that relationship, and celebrate the goodness of God that flows from the relationship.
So intentional Christian communities that have survived and flourished over the centuries have been ones that have sought to nurture each member’s spiritual lives and have trained those gifted and called, to become soul shepherds, spiritual directors, helpers along the way.
Spiritual direction will not save us, but it’s a gift given by the Lord to communities if we will receive it. For the Lord loves us and desires deep relationship with us and blesses anything that will aid us as we seek to be found by him.
Dale Gish is a spiritual director and long-time member of Church of the Sojourners (currently on sabbatical) You can read more of his reflections and poems on his blog, or learn more about spiritual direction at his website, www.deeplybeloved.com