Q: I am in the process of trying to find a spiritual director. I am wondering is it usually a good idea to have a director who is more experienced or further along on the spiritual journey than you are?
If I have experienced the night of sense would it be a good idea to find someone who has been through the night of the spirit and may know more of what to expect and how to help a person progress by God’s grace through the next possible steps of the journey?
Or is the night of spirit more rare that there aren’t as many people that have been through it, and one should find someone who is in a similar stage of the journey like a proficient?
I’m guessing it’s probably good to find someone who is probably in a similar stage of the journey or further along than you are, or is that not as important as one might think?
Joy: How wonderful that you are looking for a spiritual director! A companion, someone who can help you listen for God in your heart and in your life, can be a true blessing on the spiritual journey.
In a spiritual direction relationship, God is the true director, leading both of you through the process. As you seek a spiritual director, the best way to begin is to pray for God’s help, to find a person who can walk with you in the way best suited for you right now. As you meet with potential directors, listen for hints that this is a person who can help you listen deeply for God’s movements. Also notice whether you feel a sense that you might be able to grow to trust this person to honor the work of the divine in your life, in all its areas and in all your mistakes; the moments of desolation as well as the moments where you feel consolation. As your journey in spiritual direction unfolds you will want to be able to share not just the parts of you that feel holy, on the path, but the parts that are diverging, that keep you from consenting to God’s embrace. Even after the night of sense our emotional programs continue to rear up – it’s a cyclical process. A good spiritual director can help you lovingly look at what comes up, from the lens of God’s deep love for you, the love that has called you to this journey in the first place. After an initial meeting the prayer continues: both director and potential directee may take as long as a week to pray and discern whether this is a relationship they feel called to, in which God’s work may bear fruit.
In relationship with any other person, it is impossible to assess where they might be on a path. From their actions we might be able to tell whether they are attuned to God’s action in their lives, or we might not: God’s action in their lives may be entirely subtle. They themselves may not even be aware of the depth of God’s grace permeating their lives. Only God knows where we stand, and God moves outside of time, and outside of any of our limitations. Even the smallest of our actions can be done in a way that reaches away from God’s presence; or in a way that embraces it, in which any action can become holy. We all move in and out of these moments.
And so it is with any “plan” we might foresee for our spiritual unfolding. As Thomas Keating wrote, discussing the night of the spirit in Invitation to Love:
While we may talk of the divine “plan” and outline the stages of the spiritual journey as presented by the great teachers of our tradition, the only thing we can be absolutely sure of in the spiritual journey is that whatever we are expecting to happen will not happen. God is not bound by our ideas. Sometimes the night of sense begins at once, sometimes the night of sense and the night of spirit are reversed, and sometimes they take place at the same time. If we have read widely and expect that things are going to proceed according to our understanding, God will reverse the normal order for our benefit. One way or another, we will have to take the leap of trust into the unknown.
So, we can really have no idea about where anyone might be on a path, including ourselves. I think it is helpful to have a spiritual director who is familiar with these terms and with what is involved in them, but much more important is how willing they are to open, with you, to God’s presence and action in anything you may bring up. In Centering Prayer, in Welcoming Prayer, and in our lives, every time we trust and consent to God’s presence and action we fall out of ordinary time, into God’s time. It is not at all linear, and in God all things are possible.
It is beautiful that you are open to God’s grace on your journey. Trust that God will lead you. God is never far, at any point on any path; always as close as our breath.
Blessings on your journey.