Tag Archives: spiritual direction

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review


Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author and teacher.  Offering spiritual direction was a regular part of his life.  In this posthumous book, two of his students use notes from his course in spiritual direction as well as some of his unpublished writing to outline Nouwen’s thoughts on the spiritual life.  At the end of each chapter, you will find questions and exercises for journaling and reflection.

Spiritual Direction by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

Spiritual direction is full of questions:

  • Where do I begin?
  • Where have I been and where am I going?
  • What is prayer?
  • Who is God for me?

According to Nouwen, we must develop “ears to hear” God.  This is difficult because it requires leaving empty spaces in our lives so that God can come in.  That can be frightening and unsettling to most of us who are accustomed to filling every moment up with something “useful.”  Nouwen goes on to say:

“But even stronger than our fear of the empty space is our fear of actually hearing the voice of God!  We know that our God is a jealous God who knows there is no other cure for our restlessness and deafness but finding our home in God.  We know that God’s mercy is a severe mercy that does not coddle or spoil but cuts to the heart of where truth resides.  And although we are unsatisfied and unfulfilled, we are not so sure that we want to go in the direction God might call us to go…”

This book is a wonderful introduction to the idea of spiritual direction, and the exercises, suggestions and questions it offers are a good starting point for anyone interested in going deeper.

PS. You can purchase a Kindle edition from Amazon for only 1.99!


Piety and Direction


On a Via de Cristo weekend, one of the talks is called Piety. I didn’t think very much of this word when I first heard it because, probably like you, I thought of a Bible thumping, scripture quoting person that gets on your nerves really fast. You really don’t want to be around this person who always has a scripture answer to every question that you ask. You might just shake your head and wonder what is wrong with this person because they always seem angry. Then there is the opposite of that person, you know, the one that just smiles, goes to church a lot and doesn’t interact with the world around them. They should have a permanent halo over their heads. For both of these “types” you think, “They’re so Heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”. And so you should.

True, or Authentic Piety, is neither of these things. Authentic Piety is an intimate, revitalizing, deepening relationship with God. If you’re not actively working on your relationship with God, to deepen it, make it better, then you are not “Pious”. The examples that I give above are examples of False Piety. False Piety is a superficial, inaccurate or deceptive practice that appears to be Christian. It’s all on the outside, nothing on the inside.

We’ve all done the false piety thing, even in little stuff. Acting a different way in church than you do at home or just going to church because that’s what you’ve always done because that’s the way you were raised. Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.

With true Piety, you want to get closer to God and start to do things in your life to make that happen. Going to church regularly is a good start, but when you sing that hymn or praise song, listen to the words. If you go to a traditional church like me, when you go through the Liturgy, really mean the words when you say them. Pay attention to the sermon or even take notes!!

Start small with that and then build to reading the Bible, going to a Bible study or prayer group. Listen to Christian Music on the radio. Build small actions around you that grow your knowledge. As your knowledge of God increases, so will your true piety.

Do I have this this Piety thing down? I don’t. But everyday I try a little harder; try to do a bit more. I’m working on my piety everyday. This is a journey, not something that just comes to you and you have it. Working on getting closer with God does give me a direction in my life. By reading Scripture I hear the voice of the Lord, directing me everyday and that gives me peace.

Individual Spiritual Direction


After I returned from my Via de Cristo weekend, I met with my Pastor for a number of years for individual spiritual direction.  This was a time which started with prayer, a time when I could talk about anything that was going on in my walk with God.  For me, it was a holy time, time set apart to focus on God.  I would often bring my journal, so that I could look back over the past month and see where my prayers, thoughts, dreams and study had been leading me.  It was always amazing to me to see how God brought the right combination of people, scripture, and opportunity into my life at the same time.  My Pastor would give me his insights on my life, ask me questions to guide me in the right direction, and sometimes suggest readings or other spiritual disciplines.  He was the person who suggested I take a course in spiritual direction myself.  There I learned more about all sorts of prayer (contemplation, praying with icons, praying with Scripture, etc..)  I read many of the Christian classics dealing with spiritual growth, as well as modern writers addressing the same topics.  I met Christians from other denominations  and saw that though we might disagree on many theological matters,  we could come together in prayer and listen to one another when it came to growing closer to God.

Since my husband became a Pastor and we moved, I have not found a personal director.  I content myself with mutual direction with friends, and group direction in my accountability (reunion) group.  However, I am always on the look out for someone who may serve in that capacity in my life again.  As the seasons of our lives change, we move on to different ways to grow spiritually.  All are valuable.

Are there others out there with experience in individual spiritual direction?  I’d be interested in hearing from you.


Informal Spiritual Direction


In my experience, spiritual direction often occurs informally.  For many years my friend, Nancy, has been a spiritual companion.  Nancy and I were college roommates.  When we first met, she was a firm Christian and I was claiming to be an atheist!  Actually, I think this was a way of daring God to show up in my life, which He did.  Over the years Nancy and I have remained friends and grown in faith together.  We don’t get together in person very often, so we correspond by letter and email.  Nancy is someone to whom I can pour out my heart and know she will listen without judging.  Sometimes she asks hard questions I don’t really want to think about or answer.  Although we have never “decided” to become spiritual guides to one another, the spiritual dimension of life is always an important part of our “conversations.”  We discuss family and congregational life, important transitions, insights from our study, our prayer life and struggles and more, always from the perspective of discerning God’s presence and will for our lives.  We also pray for one another.  I did an earlier post about every Christian needing a Paul, a Barnabas and a Timothy in their lives …Nancy has been my Barnabas, walking alongside, encouraging and sharing.  I hope I have been a Barnabas friend to her as well.

Nancy was the person who sponsored me on my Via de Cristo weekend, certainly one of the milestones in my faith journey.  Via de Cristo encourages participants to form “reunion groups” and when this is done properly, these groups also become a form of  spiritual direction.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post about mutual spiritual direction in my reunion group…


What is Spiritual Direction?


I first heard the term “spiritual direction” when I attended  a Via de Cristo retreat weekend in 1990.  Spiritual direction was mentioned in a list of disciplines that could be helpful in increasing piety, but we received little information to explain what this discipline entailed, or how to go about doing it.  Being the curious person I am, I went back to my home congregation and asked my Pastor, “what is spiritual direction and are you my spiritual director?”  Turns out he didn’t really know either.  That started me on a journey that led to lots of reading and research, 5+ years of being a spiritual directee, and finally a two year program through Oasis Ministries called, “Spiritual Direction for Spiritual Guides” during which I had several directees of my own.  After all of this, I still found myself asking, “Exactly what is this thing called spiritual direction?”

Most Lutherans, like me, are unfamiliar with the idea of spiritual direction.  The closest concept in our tradition is probably “seelsorge,” or care of souls, which is regarded as part of the pastoral office.

Like other Christians, however, we Lutherans do want to explore and deepen our faith lives and we know that certain relationships with others help us do that. Even those who have not heard of “spiritual direction” are comfortable with the idea of having a spiritual friend or mentor.  Luther himself spoke of “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together,  says:

“God has willed that we should seek and find His living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man.  Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself …”

Simply put, spiritual direction is pointing another person toward God.  I believe the ability to do this is a charism, or spiritual gift and it often occurs naturally in the Christian community, sometimes without the individuals involved being fully aware of it.

Stay tuned for my next post about my own experiences in spiritual direction …..

Joan’s (Jumbled) Journal


In an earlier post, Beth Ann talked about having a journal.  Many people do.  They keep lists of people they are praying for, prayer requests, and answers to pray.  That’s a fine thing to do.  However, just as there are many ways to pray, there are many ways to journal.

Although I like to write, for many years I could not seem to succeed in keeping a journal.  Why?  I guess I had the idea that my journal should be full of my “best” writing. Or my journal had to be a way to organize my prayer life.  Then in a class on spiritual direction, I was told, “remember, your journal is just for you.  Nobody else has to read it.”  That was freeing … now, as the post title indicates, my journal is a jumble.  I write down Bible verses that strike me, quotes from books, or ideas that pop into my mind.  I save newspaper articles, Sunday bulletins, movie tickets, notes from friends  and other things that I like or that remind me of what I was doing, feeling and thinking.  It usually takes me over a year to finish a journal and I now have about ten.  It’s enlightening to look back and see where I was spiritually and how far I’ve come.  It reminds me of how God has cared for me through all sorts of problems, always providing the insight, people and activities to move me along in my journey.My journal is truly “just for me.”  I doubt if it would make sense to anyone else.

Here are some ideas I’ve heard about journal keeping:

  1. Draw in your journal
  2. One friend I knew wrote her prayers in blue ink, and the answers she felt she was hearing from God in red
  3. Write prayers instead of speaking them
  4. When you find a bible verse, quote, song lyric, picture, bit of nature that speaks to you, put it in your journal
  5. Write down ideas and spiritual insights as they occur to you
  6. Take sermon notes, your Pastor will love you!

Your journal can become your personal way of speaking to God.  Make it a prayer.  Happy Journaling!