“I am the Bread of Life” or “I am the living bread . . .” John 6 repeats these statements of Jesus about who He is as He instructs the multitude gathered after he has fed them with five barley loaves and two fish. What a miracle. The people want more. Jesus sees their physical hunger but knows there in a deeper hunger, a hunger that only God can fill. He uses language that scares them because they do not understand what He means.
We often have times of hunger or confusion about who God is or where to find God. We may desire to find someone with whom to explore these questions. A growing number of seekers are discovering Spiritual Direction. This ancient practice began early in the Christian era. In the third and fourth centuries, men and women who were seeking a fuller relationship with God began go to out into the desert to be alone with God. Gradually small communities grew up. Often one of these desert fathers or mothers became widely known for his or her listening presence, wisdom, and holiness. People who were seeking answers to their questions about who God is and how God works in their life, heard about these people of wisdom and came out into the desert to receive direction from them. Through the centuries this practice has flourished and been refined. A spiritual director of today is trained in the social sciences and theology.
In today’s practice of spiritual direction, spiritual guidance may give confidential help, assistance, attention, or facilitation in the process of a seeker’s spiritual formation. Spiritual direction or companioning is guidance that occurs in a formal, one-to-one relationship with another person. The spiritual director aids the seeker in choosing prayerful direction to felt callings, leadings, and inclinations. A spiritual companion gives compassionate, prayerful listening to the seeker.
A seeker is anyone who wishes to deepen their relationship with God and to explore how God is working in his or her daily life. This journey of life can be confusing and filled with questions. One may have joyful experiences of God or difficulties with situations in life that they wish to share with a trustworthy, confidential companion. A seeker may attend worship services regularly or may simply be prayerful, or may be trying to find a way to pray. A seeker may be looking for an understanding listener as he or she searches for direction for their soul.
Spiritual Companioning consists of three beings in conversation with one another: you, the directee; the very human and trained spiritual director, and the Holy Spirit, the true director of the process. It is less direction and more, Holy Listening, that is, prayerful, attentive, and confidential listening, by the director.
I have been walking the journey towards a Certificate in Spiritual Direction since February 2011. My previous 17 years visiting regularly with my spiritual companion helped to lead me to the decision to go back to school — again. This has been a journey that has brought much insight into my life, my faith and my community. As I move into my last course, in preparation for a supervised internship as a spiritual director, I look forward to walking a faith journey with others in this very privileged way of Holy Listening.
“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
— Teilhard de Chardin
Carole Zempel is chaplain with the St. Croix Chaplaincy Association, assigned to Croixdale, and director of children’s ministry at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Oakdale.