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What's in a Word? Defining Spiritual Direction

christianity today sdi spiritual direction thomas merton wisdom tree wednesday Feb 08, 2023


I don’t know about you, but I get this question quite often: “What is spiritual direction?” If I’m honest—and I try to be—my answer can change. It’s taken me a while to work out my “elevator pitch,” what I might say if I have merely a minute or two with someone. Thinking about this made me want to see how others define it. Here are several resources I consulted.

From Rev. Seifu Anil Singh-Molares at Spiritual Directors International’s website, regardless of which religious or faith tradition it emeges from, “The common approach that they share is that in all of them, the spiritual director is a spiritual companion who looks to engage with seekers in an open and nonjudgmental way, steeped in contemplative practice and deep listening, to provide guidance and enable seekers to get closer to God. . . at their roots, spiritual directors are individuals committed to helping others seek and find connection with a higher power, however that power might be defined. This characteristic always holds true, regardless of the particular spiritual configuration or orientation of the directors and seekers.” Read more here.

Over on I found this: “Spiritual direction is an interpersonal relationship in which we learn how to grow, live, and love in the spiritual life. . . Spiritual direction involves a process through which one person helps another person understand what God is doing and saying.” Read more here.

And from a church here in Nashville, Tennessee, where I live, St. Augustine’s Chapel, this: “Spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another about what it means to live with God in mind. Unlike counseling or psychotherapy, spiritual direction is focused not on problem-solving, technique, or intervention but on relationship with God, questions about suffering, the true self, and vocation. As Thomas Merton once said, ‘Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to pay attention to the real Director—the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.’”

As for me, on this day in February 2023, I’d go with something like this: “Spiritual direction is the practice of being, one with another, in such a way as to honor, investigate, and tend a relationship with the Divine.”

How do you define spiritual direction in fifty words or fewer?


Amy-Lyles Wilson is a story coach, spiritual director, and writer. She serves as a teaching assistant and mentor in the Wisdom Tree Collective Spirtiual Direction Training program. The opinions expressed in this blog post are her own.

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