I’m in North central Ohio for the week starting a spiritual direction certificate program. When I was ordained as an Anglican priest, I began doing spiritual direction off and on for parishioners and priests from other churches. Others may feel like just another part of a job, I always feel like taking off my shoes as I walk in such tender, holy spaces.
At retreat centers and online I would often glance at brochures of spiritual direction programs but after four tumultuous years in a previous church, I wanted to make sure any program I attended was firmly rooted in the Trinity and Biblical authority. Because of my years of experience with Formational prayer and Healing Care Ministries, I felt completely comfortable getting training from them.
Join me on this journey
As I journey through this program, I’ll be sharing in a bit of a journal here at Anglican Pastor. I’ll give you a taste of my own experiences learning this ministry and why spiritual direction, with its ancient disciplines, is a gift for the modern Anglican church. In fact, I’ll make a case on why I think spiritual direction is one of the essential antidotes for clergy burnout.
Driving to the lodge where the certificate residencies are held feels a bit like coming home. I grew up within an hour of this area. On summer afternoons we would canoe down the nearby Clearfork River and or hike to the waterfall at Mohican State Park. It’s early spring here. Purple lilac bushes are blooming beside the porches of white farmhouses and the trees have only the faintest whisper of green.
This is the first of four residencies I’ll be doing here and I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity of attending this certificate program with my mom. She’s been doing this work informally for years without knowing its name. It’s already been a pleasure to process through the same stack of books. As we haul suitcases and walk into the lodge, there’s a big stone fireplace with wood stacked up the wall promising a roaring fire later in the week when the temperature is supposed to plummet.
When all the students, professors and interns gather in the classroom after dinner, everyone introduces themselves. The late sun pours in from windows on every side as we tell about why we are interested in the program. Represented around the circle is a conglomeration of lay and ordained, some who have been doing spiritual direction for years and others who just want to strengthen their pastoral care skills for their own parish. It’s a diverse group. Seven denominations are present but most have come squarely from an evangelical perspective.
In fact, some are encountering a contemplative spirituality for the first time. The more we talk, the more I can hear a theme. Most come into the program hungering for something deeper. They’re wanting a fresh move of God in their lives. In fact, it’s clear that spiritual hunger is the theme. It’s a famine out there. We have all come with our hands outstretched for more of Jesus.
Everyone here has something very specific in common: Healing Care Ministries’ Formational Prayer model of inner healing. In fact, it was a prerequisite for entrance into this spiritual direction certificate program. Some here have been positioning people in God’s presence for inner healing for many years and Terry Wardle’s extensive work into the Spirit’s transformation of human brokenness can’t help but be an excellent foundation for our present work.
This commonality creates a lovely dynamic within the group. We are all on our own journey of healing, and our previous ministry work has built a trust in God’s willingness to guide. In some ways, spiritual direction seems like a perfect way to continue the maturation process for us, and then later, to guide others into.
Beginning Thoughts on Spiritual Direction
Here are some beginning thoughts on the gift of spiritual direction for the modern Anglican Christian.
Spiritual direction creates a desert space where we can get away from the pressing culture for a moment and encounter a counter-cultural pause button. But what do I mean by a desert space? It’s a historical allusion. After Emperor Constantine institutionalized the church in the early 4th century the dynamics of the Christian life went from persecution to laidback comfort practically overnight. A few saw the danger and ran to the desert to preserve their souls.
These early hermits were called the Desert Fathers and were the very nascent beginnings of the monastic movement. Others from Byzantium would hear whispers of their wisdom and take their own pilgrimage to the desert to visit these desert fathers and mothers, searching for spiritual clarity, an encounter with God, and a life of holiness. They were the first spiritual directors.
Spiritual direction gives us the space for the long pause, for the spiritual tune-up, and for acquiring the tools to live and teach others to live in the presence of God. In a world which is hyperconnected and production based, not transformation based, we need our own countercultural desert experiences.
In fact many of us simply don’t know how to “be still and know that He is God.” The still, small voice gets lost in the beeps and buzzes of our smart phones and every time we have a quiet moment, we check our Facebook or email like the addicts we are. Whenever we long for silence and long draughts of the Presence of God, we think longingly of tomorrow, or next week, or even of retirement. We think life is supposed to be hurried and harried. As a Christian culture, we’ve entirely forgotten how to scoot up to the feast and rest in God’s all-pervasive love. And so we perpetually run on empty. Unfortunately, we’re passing this production-oriented way of doing church to the next generation.
Interesting that so many of our people are running to the yoga studio to find the quiet they crave and missing the Presence of God all together.
Spiritual direction also fulfills a deep need for people in ministry for a safe and confidential place to process. In fact, one of our professors who learned about burnout firsthand on the mission field said that three-quarters of his spiritual direction practice is filled with ministers from the local area. I’m sure they find it an incredible relief listening to the voice of God with another person who doesn’t have any attachment to the outcomes to their ministry.
Sometimes I’ve found that with a spiritual director I just need to voice out loud the roller coaster of toxic thoughts swirling around so that I can see them clearly and then grasp onto the truth. A monthly meeting with a spiritual director can help us navigate the ins and outs of a ministry where we are quick to feed others, forgetting to return to the feast for ourselves. The truth is we were never meant to be an Army of One. We were never meant to do this alone.