ON SPIRITUAL DIRECTION by Eugene Peterson

In looking for spiritual direction, I wanted someone who would take my life of prayer and my pilgrimage with Christ as seriously (or more seriously) than I did, who was able to hear the distinct uniqueness of my spirituality, and who had enough disciplined restraint not to impose an outside form on me.

The first thing that I noticed after I began meeting with my spiritual director was a marked increase in spontaneity. Since this person has agreed to pay attention to my spiritual condition with me, I no longer feel solely responsible for watching over it.

The problem in the past was that I was always the disciplinarian of my inner life, the one being disciplined, and the supervisor of my disciplinarian; a lot of roles to be shifting in and out of through the day. I was immediately able to give up being the supervisor, and was soon able to share the role of being the ‘disciplinarian’ with my director.

I found I trusted my intuitions more, confident that my self-deceit would be called to account sooner or later by my director.

Another thing that I became aware of is that there are subject matters that I rarely, if ever, talk about with other people in my life that I regularly bring to my director.
The line that divided my structured times of prayer and meditation from the rest of my life also became more blurred. I no longer had the entire responsibility for deciding how to shape and monitor the disciplines in my life. I found myself more spontaneous, more free to innovate, more at ease in being nonproductive and playful.

By expressing interest in who I am (not what I do) and directing attention to what is (not what ought to be), my director makes reflection possible in any conversation.

Another thing that struck me was that I was now much more in touch with an oral tradition as compared to a written one. There is a radical difference between a book and a person. A book that tells me about the soul, and a person who comments on my soul, even though the words are the same, are different.

I can read with detachment but I cannot listen as easily with detachment. And it is this immediacy and intimacy of conversation that turns knowledge into wisdom

Spiritual direction is not a subject that you learn about, it is an organic life that you enter into.

In meeting with my spiritual director I am drawn into a living, oral tradition. I am in touch with a pool of historical and experienced wisdom and insight into the life of faith and the practice of prayer in a way that is very different than when I am alone in my study.

Out of the scores of writers on prayer, the hundreds of truths about faith and the spiritual life, which one is true for me, right now? Searching through indexes to find the page where a certain subject is presented is not the same as having a person notice and name the truth that I am grappling with right now in my life.

In spiritual direction I am guided to attend to my uniqueness in the large context of spirituality, and to discern more precisely where my faith development fits into it.

Our primary task is to be a pilgrim. Only a life committed to spiritual adventure, personal integrity, honest and alert searching prayer is adequate for the task of spiritual direction. Our best preparation for the work of spiritual direction is an honest life.

Prayer and the developing capacity for adoration and joy authenticate our growing Christian experience.

To proceed in spiritual direction I must cultivate an attitude of awe. I must be prepared to marvel.

The primary orientation of spiritual direction is towards God, looking for grace. As we cultivate the practice of spiritual direction we find ourselves working in a field where the Spirit is inventive and the endless forms of grace are never repeated.

Spiritual direction is conducted in a growing awareness that it takes place in God’s active presence, that our conversation with our director is therefore always conditioned by God’s own speaking and listening, His being there.

A Christian’s need for personal spiritual direction cannot be delegated to books or tapes or videos. The very nature of the life of faith requires the personal and the immediate. If we are going to mature we need not only the wisdom of truth, but someone to understand us in relation to this truth.

In the first century St. Paul observed, “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers” (1Cor. 4:15). It is easier to find guides, someone to tell you what to do, than someone to be with you in a discerning, prayerful companionship as you work it out yourself. This is what spiritual direction is.

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