WALKING WITH A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
By SARA CORE
What in the World is an Anamcara?
Spiritual direction is a spiritual practice or discipline as old as the church itself. For centuries, Christians from many parts of the church have used the ministry of a spiritual director, who is someone wise and experienced in the study and practice of faith. A spiritual director meets with a person or group of persons usually monthly to listen to the person’s struggles, triumphs, and questions they may have on the Christian journey.
There are many programs for training one to become a spiritual director, which is usually a period of study, learning, and reflection on one’s own faith, to see and understand how one might mentor others in theirs. One such program is given at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It is a three-year program with online elements and three weekends per year on-campus classes. But, there are many people who serve in this role for others without any formal training. They are simply those who love the Lord, are experienced in their faith, and choose to honor God by showing others the way to a deeper relationship with God. You may well know someone in your life who has filled this role for you.
Spiritual direction for me, a Presbyterian, has broadened my view of faith and religious practice. For example, I have learned of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, who was the founder of the Jesuit Order in the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. The Exercises were, and are, a method of examining my faith in light of what Christ has done for me, seeing my life in relation to Jesus’ obedient sacrifice on the cross. If you experience them fully, the Exercises can take weeks to months to complete. But, one practice from within the Exercises, is easy to complete in a day, and in fact is recommended to be done daily. It is called the Examen. In this, usually at the end of the day, one looks back on the day and asks the following questions:
- For what, today, am I most grateful?
- For what, today, am I least grateful?
It may seem unusual in daily reflection and prayer to assess what one is least grateful for. But looking at this can be very informative. It may indicate a need for further prayer in this area, or an area of life that could use some confession and repentance, or it may be your heart’s way of telling you that it’s time to move on from a person or activity. Ignatius, in his time, called the area of most gratitude “consolation” and the area of least gratitude “desolation.” While we may use these words somewhat differently now, they illustrate the feelings that may be present.
A spiritual director can help one discern what God may be saying or where God may be leading. Marjorie Thompson , in her book “Soul Feast,” describes what spiritual directors usually do:
- A spiritual director listens to us. They provide a hospitable place for us to speak and be heard.
- Spiritual directors help us notice things; they help us pay attention to the signs of grace.
- Spiritual directors help us respond to God with greater freedom, even when that can prove difficult.
- Pointing us to practical disciplines for spiritual growth is provided by spiritual directors.
- Most of all, spiritual directors love us and pray for us.
Spiritual directors are simultaneously learners and teachers of discernment, who will show love and compassion, and who ultimately put their trust in the grace of God.
So, what is an anamcara? An anamcara is a soul friend, another name for a spiritual director, someone who will walk alongside us in our spiritual journey, showing us Christ through their caring words and prayers.
Sara Core is a member of First Central Presbyterian Church, retired veterinarian, and a spiritual director.