SOULFRIENDING / SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE
In every religious tradition, there is the practice, in some form, of spiritual guidance being offered by those who have been on the spiritual path for some time to those starting out at a later time. Another way to put this is to say that a spiritual guide, or soulfriend (anamchara, to use the beautiful Celtic term), accompanies the spiritual seeker or pilgrim on her or his path, a path with which the soulfriend is already to some extent familiar.
And where is the path going or leading? Very simply, the following of the path takes journeyers home: home to themselves, home to the body, home to their place in the world, home to God. Home and exile are recurrent themes in the spiritual journey, which is often better understood as the following of a spiral or labyrinthine path rather than a linear one. God, of course, is always present with us, whether we are in some form of exile or “at home.” But the longterm following of the path, in the experience of countless seekers through the ages, leads in a more conscious sense to God, “who is our home,” as William Wordsworth says in “Intimations of Immortality.” A beautiful book by Fiona Gardner, Journeying Home (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004), explores the spiritual journey using this metaphor of home as its lead image.
Spiritual guidance, often also called spiritual direction or spiritual accompaniment, is neither counselling (which is crisis-oriented: crisis resolved, counselling ends), nor psychotherapy (most often oriented to pathology, at least in the first instance). Rather, it is a form of spiritual practice in which guide and guided together seek the unity of past, future and present in the life of the one guided. The term “direction” doesn’t mean that the director issues directives or gives directions on how to live; it means that together, director and directee seek the ongoing direction of the directee’s life before God.
Here’s another way of thinking about soulfriending. In the Sufi tradition, there is a ritual (the “three rakus”) which includes the following affirmations:
I bow to my own work.
I bow to the work of others.
I bow to the Great Work.
On one occasion, in the process of sharing this with a directee, it came to me that to do one’s own work and to honour the work of others is to do the Great Work–it’s all one thing. The Great Work of Thomas Merton, for example, is to *become* Thomas Merton; my own Great Work is to become myself in the fullest possible sense; your Great Work is to become yourself. As each of us becomes oneself (cf. the great poem by May Sarton, “Now I become myself”), we move the Great Work forward.
Beyond this, in becoming ourselves we equip ourselves to take our part in the Great Work in the larger sense of the term–the work of redemption, the work of healing, the work of sustaining, the work of reconciliation. The Jewish term, tikkun olam–the healing of the world—covers all of this; as does the Greek New Testament term anakephalaiosis, which you can find in Ephesians 1:10, variously translated as bringing all things into unity in Christ (NEB), gathering together all things in Christ (KJV) or gathering up “all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (NRSV).
It’s not simply that all things are collected together in one cosmic location, so to speak, but that all things are brought to their fullness: “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” as Henry Francis Lyte puts it in his great hymn, “Praise, my soul, the king of heaven.” I’ve been doing soulfriending now for more than 25 years, and continue to see it as a magnificent human activity. However, in 2012 I came to the conclusion that for health reasons it was time for me to cut back, and to help my directees find new and competent soulfriends/spiritual directors, and so am no longer taking on new directees.
I am still willing, of course, to refer enquirers to other spiritual directors. If you wish to discuss this with me, phone me or send me an email. I am always ready to hear from you and to refer you to another spiritual director/soulfriend whom I respect. A blessing to all who read these words!
“You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, [God], will I seek” (Psalm 27.11).