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Spiritual Direction: Entering the Battle That’s Already Been Won

In December 1985, 7,000 therapists gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, to hear more than twenty of the leading theorists and practitioners of psychotherapy in the world come together in a serious attempt at dialogue, clarity, and crossfertilization. Recognized experts such as Bruno Bettelheim, Carl Rogers, Virginia Satir, and Aaron Beck represented fourteen of the more than three hundred distinguishable schools of therapy: Behavioral, Cognitive, Ericksonian, Existential, Family (including six distinct approaches to family therapy), Gestalt, Humanistic, Jungian, Multimodal, Psychoanalytic, Rational-Emotive, Psychodrama, Rogerian, and Transactional Analysis. Most would agree these were the most prominent of the modern approaches to therapy in the 1980s.

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I Have a Dream and a Hope . . . for the Maturing of the Spiritual Formation Movement

Dear Readers of Conversations,

In two recent Renovaré publications I shared some of my hopes and dreams for the modern spiritual formation movement. At times I was quite candid—you might even say blunt. But always I was writing from my heart about a vision for the future that I believe God will bring to pass as we embrace more and more the mystery of Christ within.

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Surprised by God

Several years ago, a woman came to me after I finished teaching a series of writing workshops. She took a deep breath and explained that she had wanted to come to the first workshop, but refrained because she’d attended one I led ten years earlier. She had sensed back then that I was angry with the students (and with the world), and this upset her.

As soon as she began talking, I felt my mind and body slip into spiritual direction mode. I turned directly toward her, let my arms hang to my side, and fixed an attentive, steady gaze on her. I didn’t try to do this—my body automatically moved into this space when I heard the intensity of her words. It did not occur to me to ask questions or defend myself. Her words and feelings poured forth in the midst of a crowd that quietly gathered. She then said that she’d decided to come the second day and sensed that I had changed a great deal. I knew I was to remain quiet.

She continued, “Now I realize that I resented you before because I was as angry as you were. I saw myself in you. I hated you. I hated me.” At this point she started crying, and people began handing her tissues. But I stayed with her gaze as she went on to say more: “I see that your anger is gone now—I want that too.” Finally, she became quiet, and I waited a little longer to make sure she was done. She fell into my arms and I held her for a while.

Tornadoes, TV Preachers, and Bad Spiritual Direction

I’ve been flipping through the channels at night, late. I haven’t been sleeping too well lately. I guess it’s the tornado that came through. You know, changing perceptions of what’s nailed down.

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A Place along the Way


Michael sat quietly, clutching the papers that were a flimsy excuse for yet one more visit to the insurance office in which I worked. We had met several months before, after the heartrending death of his daughter in a car accident in which he had been the driver. I had arranged for a physiotherapist for his injuries and a grief counselor for his guilt and anguish, and organized a myriad of other details. In the course of our conversations, I asked if I might make a referral to a clergyperson. That suggestion was politely but flatly refused: he did not believe in God, thank you very much. He was a scientist, and he was convinced that science and faith were incompatible. We did not speak of religious matters again, although many of our conversations had spiritual undertones, and I prayed for him often.

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Spiritual Formation and the Pastor: A Vision for Shortening the Distance between the Pulpit and the Pew

It was 8 p.m. on Friday, after a long week of ministry, when our phone rang. Fran, an 87-year old friend from church, had called because she needed a listening ear, some pastoral encouragement, and prayer. Fran is the mother of four grown children, all of whom are facing traumatic health issues, including spinal fusion surgery, lupus, breast cancer, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and cataracts. Spending most of her days ministering to others, she now took her turn to receive some support at a crucial time of need. She admitted she was weary from her days spent cooking laundering, visiting, and caring for her extended family.

In the midst of our phone call, she mentioned that one of the hardest parts of living alone was that no one was there to sing with. After chatting about her favorite hymn, “Be Still, My Soul,” I suggested we sing it together before we prayed. The excitement was palpable through the phone lines as I heard the sound of her feet briskly walking to another room to grab her hymnal.

We sang all the verses with passion, she leading the way, and I following along. Thankfully, I didn’t stumble too much on the words, knowing that she had them in front of her. We prayed and hung up the phone, both fully satisfied that our souls had been refreshed and our weary bodies renewed by the Spirit’s obvious presence and power.

From Tourists to Pilgrims: Using Group Spiritual Direction to Change Your Journey

I write this sitting in the convent retreat house at the Mount of the Beatitudes in Galilee. This morning at breakfast, we celebrated a sense of global communion with the Italian nuns on retreat by clapping after prayers for their country’s win of the World Cup. An icon on my desk of the Last Supper, from St. Catherine’s in the Sinai, is filling in for the many people with whom I am trying to have a conversation by way of writing an article. The disciples seem real enough as one is leaning over to sniff the wine; another, his face leaning on one hand, appears bored, while others look up, perhaps to see angels who appear to have gathered over the scene. I am trusting in the larger communion of saints over miles and years and denominations to make a conversation come alive in this space. Although I had intended to write this article earlier, I have discovered that trying to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the midst of Gaza warfare (and, days later, full-scale war) offers a great vantage point from which to share the gem of group spiritual direction. The same process I have used in groups back home works wonderfully well with travelers who want to make holy connections during a journey together.

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Gifts of the Journey

It is often hard to hear God’s voice in the midst of the competing voices that fill our lives. Sometimes, like Samuel, I hear God’s voice without recognizing who speaks. At other times, I mistake the voice of others for God’s voice and respond to the wrong person. What a gift spiritual direction has been for me, as both director and directee, as I have sought to learn to discern God’s voice!

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Nouwen on the Porch

It was a quiet moment with deafening implications. I was sitting on the enclosed porch of a 100-year-old home in a farming community near Salinas, California. Outside was a neighborhood park. The only noise was the laughter of children on playground swings and puffs of afternoon breeze off the Pacific. In my lap was Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now. From this devotional classic I was reading short sections bundled under the heading “compassion.” I hadn’t intended to plumb the depths of spiritual life on this Saturday afternoon. My time on the porch was pure opportunism. The girls were at a movie with my wife. All computers and cell phones were off. The buzz of things clamoring for my attention was nearly absent. All that remained was park noises, the breeze, and my thoughts.

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Got to God Like a Cigarette: Unconventional Spiritual Advice From a Surprised

Damon was a sharply dressed man in his late twenties with a look of desperation. I noticed him fidget as he stood waiting in a line of people who had just heard me speak. He asked me for prayer and an appointment to meet to talk about his life and the message I gave, “Slowing Down Enough to Go at God’s Speed—the Speed of Love.”

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