People often ask me what spiritual direction entails. In my own Presbyterian tradition it's pretty much an unknown -- unheard of, actually -- practice, and people who have heard of it tend to associate it with spiritual disciplines and lists of "must dos," with therapy, with "some kind of wierd medieval Catholic stuff."
Spiritual direction involves helping someone with her prayer life, with her unfolding relationship with God: helping her to see God's self-communication to her in her life, and to grow and respond in that relationship. In the technical books, spiritual direction is identified to as a form or subset of pastoral care. Sounds kind of dry and mechanical. But in reality, there is nothing dry or mechanical about listening to and supporting a person who is engaged in a growing consciousness of her encounter with God. I am constantly in awe of the process, and decidedly aware of the privilege and responsibility of accompanying someone on this particular journey.
This past week, the students who signed up for the college retreat were committing themselves to some time in prayer each day, which I'm sure they managed with varying degrees of success, and to an hour a day with a spiritual director, for which I think all of them did show up. Materials had been prepared for them, and included various readings from scripture and from lives of people who have made a difference in the world, along with questions for them to consider each day. They were free to use the materials or not, to address the prescribed questions or not, and to raise their own questions about their personal challenges and dilemmas. As directors, our tasks were to listen, to help them explore the materials, to listen, to suggest other possible avenues of focus for them, to listen, to suggest ways of praying, to listen ~ all of it with the goal of helping them learn a little more about prayer, about how they themselves might look for and listen to God.
College students are just like the rest of us. They love the discovery that attentiveness to God as they walk across the campus consitutes prayer. They love the substance of prayer that emerges from a leisurely perusal of a text, stopping every few phrases or sentences to ask how what they've just read is reflected in the concrete events and activities of their own ordinary days. They love that another person is willing to listen closely to them and to take seriously the growth of their relationship with God, honoring their struggles and noticing their successes and tailoring suggestions to their needs.
I love all those things, too, especially the part where someone listens to me and takes seriously my own life of prayer. And so it seems to me to be a profound gift, this chance to share and foster, just a little bit, another individual's life with God.