What is Spiritual Direction?

Rob Patterson | September 19, 2016

Ever wondered just what is Spiritual Direction? Here are some helpful thoughts from our very own Misa Leonessa Garavaglia, who is herself a trained Spiritual Director.


The phrase “spiritual direction” can be a disquieting one. I don’t want someone else to “direct” my spiritual life! If I go to a spiritual director, does that mean there is something “wrong” with me spiritually? Can’t I pursue God on my own?

These are all very wise questions to ask!! Just what IS spiritual direction and what role does a spiritual director play in one’s life?

Spiritual direction is the process of one person accompanying another on a spiritual journey. Its purpose is to help people explore and deepen their spirituality. James Keegan writes that it is the “contemplative practice of helping another person or group to awaken to…God, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment.” According to Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, it is, “in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director — the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.” The directee is encouraged to “find their own unique relationship with God,” rather than being pressured “to conform to a director’s ideas of God and the spiritual life,” says Gerald M. Fagin from the Loyola Institute for Ministry. It is one means by which to seek the quenching of one’s deep spiritual thirst.

“It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants” of God, says Liz Budd, the Executive Director of Spiritual Directors International. Simply put, spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation between two people in which one person consults another, more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which God may be touching her or his life.

Anne Winchell Silver, in her book “Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction” gives further clarification on the subject. “Spiritual direction is an ancient ministry, a unique one-to-one relationship in which a trained person assists another person in the search for an ever-closer union of love with God… Directors do not impose their own wills or agendas on others; rather they listen carefully to the unfolding of the directees’ lives, so as to help them discern the ways in which God is leading them.”

The term “director” has its limitations. “The controlling-sounding title ‘director’ is often misunderstood. Most contemporary spiritual directors are NOT very directive,” says Silver. A director is not a person who gives orders but one who points directions, and the directee discerns whether they are ultimately helpful for him or her. Do not expect the director to tell you what your relationship with God should look like. Unlike counseling and even much spiritual mentoring and some pastoral counseling the director does not claim to be an expert. Spiritual direction is a relationship between THREE individuals, with the focus on the directee’s relationship with God being primary. In essence, we are coming to talk with another person about how we relate to God in a non-authoritarian relationship with the director. God is the first and primary director.

All directors are also directees and are under supervision by a mentor or colleague, as well. Thus, the director is sensitive to the position of the directee and is yielded to God in the process of his/her own spiritual development.

You might picture the relationship between director and directee like that of a navigator on an airplane. God is the pilot, the directee is the co-pilot, and the director is the navigator. The navigator has no control over the airplane…it is not her job to fly it! Instead, the navigator advises the copilot about visibility, wind, and weather conditions. Then the copilot (directee) talks with the pilot (God) and the decisions are made between those two about where to take the airplane.

One of the goals of a spiritual director is to model God’s unconditional love for the directee, albeit in an imperfect human container. Many people have seen little of God’s love expressed in human form in their lives, making it difficult to imagine God’s heart for them. The perspective that a director grows for her directees is not one of a disconnected bystander. While not crossing the line into mutual friendship, the director holds her directee in a place of value and preciousness that reflect God’s perspective of His cherished creation. Of course, all directors are far from perfect…and this should be evident in the authentic type of relationship that develops between director and directee. It is the director’s job to maintain the posture of being only the water pot out of which the Living Water can pour Himself. It is to the Water that the attention of both parties is continually trained upon.

Participating in a spiritual direction relationship can be a transformational experience in which one is drawn into deeper intimacy with God and ever increasing levels of freedom to live out of the precious, authentic identity God created in us. If you have a thirst for more of God, spiritual direction just might be the place for you!


If you’re interested in talking with Misa about spiritual direction call 831 335-1265 or email her at inspire@misacoach.com.