“…it is to be expected that spiritual direction will give primary attention to such things as the directee’s inclinations in relation to personal prayer life and other ascetical practices like fasting and simplification in life; to senses of God’s presence, absence, or callings; to experience of fundamental meaning; to personal longings for God; and to the multiplicity of factors that seem most to help or hinder freedom for fullness of living in God’s reality. (Gerald G. May. Care of Mind/Care of Spirit. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1982, 1992, p. 17)
What would a ministry that is carried out in the spirit of classical spiritual direction look like?
As Gerald May describes it, such a ministry would be intentional about fostering the spiritual lives of each member of the group. There would be attention given the spiritual disciplines to which each one was being drawn. It would be common for discussions and teachings about the sense of God’s felt presence or felt absence to take place in gatherings. People would feel freedom to share places and feeling of what is deeply meaningful in their journey.
This would be the rule, rather than the unexpected exception. Hunger for God would be a theme running throughout the community and it would be part of the group culture to share these longings with one another and pursue them together. There would be grace to honestly share places of trouble, stress, barriers to living as freely and fully as God invites us to live. Father, raise up communities of faith with such a spirit.
“…the real importance of spiritual experiences can be considered only in terms of how they change and affect our lives in relation to God, ourselves, and each other. In part, these changes depend upon how we integrate and respond to the experience. In spiritual direction it is necessary to examine such effects and responses carefully, rather than focusing simply on the content of an experience. This can be facilitated by asking questions like Where did this experience seem to come from? What was going on in your mind at the time? What relationship did it seem to have with your prayer? Has your attitude changed as a result of this experience; is there anything different in your daily life? Has your prayer life changed? What does this experience say to you about your relationship to God and to other people? Has it in any way helped you be less selfish and more loving? Where do you see grace in what you have been through? (May, p. 51)
The focus of our spiritual experiences, whether they feel like positive or negative ones, is on our own relationship with God (and not on just what happens to us). The questions May asks here are the kinds of questions I want to become more of my natural vocabulary of interaction with others when they share their own experiences with me.
- Where did this experience seem to come from? (perceived source)
- What was going on in your mind at the time? (inner context)
- What relationship did it seem to have with your prayer? (relationship to prayer)
- Has your attitude changed as a result of this experience; is there anything different in your daily life? (impact on attitude or behavior)
- Has your prayer life changed? (impact on prayer life)
- What does this experience say to you about your relationship to God and to other people? (relating to God and others)
- Has it in any way helped you be less selfish and more loving? (impact on selfishness / selflessness)
- Where do you see grace in what you have been through? (evidences of God’s grace)