Once a month Servant Year members have the opportunity to gather for group spiritual direction. The foundation of this experience is the belief that God speaks to us through ordinary experiences that we can help each other to notice and understand.
The term spiritual direction has a long history, but unfortunately it can be misleading for modern people because it seems to suggest that someone else will tell you what to do, or what to believe. It might be more helpful instead to think of it as spiritual companionship, a relationship in which another person listens with you as you sort through the thoughts and feelings that accompany your experiences, looking to identify where God is leading you. While spiritual direction in its traditional form involves working with an individual spiritual director, this process can also take place in a group setting.
Here is how it works in Servant Year: We gather and share a few minutes of silence to help us settle into being present where we are, attentive to each other and to the ever-present God. After a brief check-in, we turn our attention to a reflection question or exercise for the day. Then, speaking out of the silence, those present have the opportunity to share their thoughts – or not. Members of the group listen carefully to each speaker and may ask open, honest questions in response. These questions – which may be answered out loud, or not – are never intended to challenge or elicit information out of idle curiosity, but rather to open the possibility of new or different understanding. The answers are accepted as offered; we own our own experiences, and there is no cross-conversation about them. Later, toward the end of the session, there is time for wrap-up discussion and feedback offered in a general sense. Finally, we end in silence.
Anything that happens in life can be considered in spiritual direction, but some basic questions tend to come up again and again: Who am I? Why am I here? What do I want to become? What do I believe? Who is God to me? What are my values, and how can I make a difference in life? What am I good at? Where do I find deep joy in my life, and what gives me the deepest satisfaction? When do I feel that I am my most authentic self? When do I feel most alive? Where am I experiencing growth?
Although we might experience a jumble of ideas and emotions when we first come up against questions like these, patterns and understanding gradually begin to emerge as we sort through them and talk them out, and the way ahead begins to seem clear. This kind of meaning-making is important at every stage of life, but it is particularly relevant for Servant Year members who are living an experience that will come to an end within a limited period of time. “What's next?” becomes a question that each one will have to find a way to answer.
As an Episcopal priest I feel comfortable using traditional religious language, but I think it’s worth noting that spiritual direction can be a helpful process for those whose beliefs are different, or who aren’t exactly sure what they believe. Our spirituality has to do with the basic driving forces of our lives, our deepest desires and dreams, and as such it is the source of all that gives our lives meaning. Whether you call it “listening for the voice of God” or “listening to your own inner leadings,” or “recognizing your own deepest wanting,” I believe you are describing the same process. Our goal in spiritual direction is to make this awareness an ongoing way of life.
The Reverend Cathy Kerr is Servant Year's Spiritual Director.