“Mystery has been edged aside for the many who find themselves defined by too many things, too little time, and a desperate desire for order and control in a world that seems chaotic. In such a time, it becomes ever more important for those of us who do share a sense of the necessity of human engagement with ultimate reality to listen to one another with our hearts, even perhaps especially when our approaches and our ways of speaking differ.” Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions edited by Norvene Vest
Last week I attended a workshop, Congregational-Based Spiritual Direction. You might wonder what Spiritual Direction is and why basing it in a congregation would be of any particular import. Liz Budd Ellmann, M.Div., Executive Director of Spiritual Directors International, writes: “Spiritual Direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, Spiritual Direction is helping people tell their sacred stories.” Spiritual Direction is not therapy, is not about diagnosis, and is certainly not about an expert or anyone else giving you advice. Spiritual Direction is about going deeper within for what is sought, not looking for answers from outside one’s self. Spiritual Direction is present-centered with a focus toward the future. Spiritual Direction is about persevering despite difficulties. With guidance of a trained Spiritual Director, a person chooses to intentionally search within him/herself for direction, wholeness, and/or the holy. The Spiritual Director serves as a mentor, offering support, accountability, and deep listening. Group Spiritual Direction offers an opportunity for seekers to join together, with a Spiritual Director or trained facilitator, in this process of support, accountability, and deep listening.
This workshop (the first of three required to be certified as a Congregational-Based Spiritual Director through the Center for Congregational Spirituality) focused on the use of facilitated small Spiritual Direction groups that would intentionally be short-term (4-6 sessions) and would take place within a congregation. Now this is not to say that Unitarian Universalist churches don’t encourage already spiritual growth (our third Principle: acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations), but this type of group provides individuals the space to stop in their busy lives and look within. As a church, we are called to offer the opportunity for Spiritual Direction to each of our members (at no cost), in the comfort of their own congregations, with a minister or lay-minister whom they already know, in a group of people with whom they are already in community.
How often have you taken a significant amount of time to be silent, to listen to the voice within, and then give voice to your life stories, to your heart felt yearnings, time to attend to where your god is messing with you, or to explore those places within that don’t feel whole? How often have you carved out a chunk of time to reflect on the meaning of your experiences or the purpose of your life? How often have you given yourself the gift time to sit in a group of people with different beliefs who are there to support and help you look within? I strongly believe that offering Spiritual Direction groups is a way of growing our congregations—growing in the depth of what we can offer our members and growing in the sharing we can do with one another. I have talked with many people of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church and other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and time and again I hear a yearning for an opportunity to look within in a safe, accepting, supportive place. Unitarian Universalist churches can be such places for the spiritually diverse to give voice to that within them. In the ancient Christian writing, the Gospel of Thomas, it is written: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” You have a sacred story to discover, to learn, to tell. Come, come, whoever you are, and let us explore a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.