One of the most important reasons to regularly read outside your stream of Christianity is that the same words or concepts are treated differently because of the experience of the different stream of faith. That difference can often spark new understanding, or at least fresh perspective on your own stream.
So I have read several books about spiritual direction, but none previous to this from a particularly Catholic perspective. Regular readers of this blog may know that I started seeing a spiritual director early last fall. I am still trying to work through my role in (and the full purpose of) spiritual direction.
Because this book is written particularly to Catholics (as opposed to for Christians but by a Catholic) there are some differences in perspective (no Protestant book on spiritual direction would include a section on Mary as the exemplary pathway to Jesus). But overwhelmingly this book is helpful to both Protestant and Catholics that are interested in spiritual direction if you read it generously.
The basic purpose of spiritual direction, in the perspective of this book, is to see where God is working in our life and take an active response through the power of the Holy Spirit to that work. (Not unlike the basic concept behind Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God.) So Burke believes that all Christians that are interested in spiritual growth, or are spiritually stuck, should seek out a spiritual director. Regardless of other reasons (which there are) getting someone else’s perspective on our spiritual growth can help move us beyond either navel gazing or blind spots.
The sections on why spiritual direction works and why we should seek out spiritual direction were particularly good. It is clear from reading biographies and other books that many do not seek treatment because they are more afraid of the treatment than the disease. This is true of health issues or addiction or spiritual issues. But ignoring problems or pretending problems don’t exist does not make them go away.
So much of the rest of the book is practical. Where to find spiritual directors. How to find a spiritual director. How to first meet and feel out the person to see if this is a relationship that will work. How to prepare for your spiritual direction meeting. What to do between meeting. How often you should meet. There are many practical suggestions that are useful.
Some of the suggestions need some filtering if you are not Catholic. For instance, Burke suggests some shortcut questions when interviewing a spiritual director to see if they are truly orthodox in their theology. Because he is Catholic he suggests asking about the director’s position on abortion and birth control to find out if they subscribe to orthodox catholic teaching. I am not Catholic so those questions are not good shortcuts for me. But Burke is right, there are boundaries that I was not willing to cross when I was seeking out a spiritual director. Personally one of the big lines when I was looking at websites and reading bios of spiritual directors was whether they said anything about being multi-faith. I was seeking a Christian spiritual director that was going to help me seek God as a Christian. I didn’t want general spiritual counsel, I wanted Christian spiritual direction. And frankly it surprised me that so many were actively advertising multi-faith. Some of these probably meant they were open to Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. But even if that was the case, that told me something about what they believed and was enough to prompt me to keep seeking.
Overall, this was a very helpful book, even though much of it seemed very basic. I was reminded that the practice of spiritual direction is about seeking God. And I was reminded of some things I need to put more focus into. If you have not encountered spiritual direction before and are interesting in a brief introduction, this is a good place to start.
If you are Protestant and unfamiliar with Catholic theology you might want to try Abba, Give Me a Word (link below) instead because you will be less distracted by the Catholic theology. For those that want a little more in depth, Spiritual Direction, Sacred Companions is a good overview of the various ways that spiritual direction is thought of both from a giving and receiving side. If you have no understanding of spiritual direction at all, Susan Howatch’s Church of England series (including Glamourous Powers linked to below) is a good fictional portrayal of spiritual direction.
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