February 19, 2021

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Teresa Venatta

Spiritual direction: A blessing throughout the ages

Teresa VenattaViewing the ministry of spiritual direction as a blessing throughout the ages has a dual meaning. It is not only timeless in the sense that it has been beneficial for souls of every tradition throughout history, but also a blessing for every season of adult life—from vibrant young adults to those facing their mortality.

Spiritual direction has deep roots in Christian communities. The perennial three “person” encounter between the spiritual director, the directee and the Lord has enabled directees to grow in their relationship with God since the early Church.

Unlike counseling, there isn’t necessarily a problem to be solved but something to be discovered, deepened and celebrated in the spiritual life of the directee. God’s call to greater awareness and holiness in the midst of our life is explored in spiritual direction. Though the blessings are universal and timeless, there are common spiritual opportunities and challenges in each seasons of life.

“Adulting” in today’s world is particularly challenging. Marian University in Indianapolis recognizes this and has offered spiritual direction to their San Damiano Program for Church Leadership scholars for several years now—and more recently to the broader student population.

For young university-age students—often living away from home for the first time—spiritual direction has provided a safe space to “feel at home” and unafraid to talk about their new challenges and joys in light of God’s loving presence.

The spiritual director in this setting offers hospitality (a safe space for their inner self to emerge and grow with integrity), challenge (sometimes a gentle nudge), support in discernments and encouragement in greater self-awareness.

In the early generative years (beyond the student years), spiritual direction can be helpful in discerning a vocation, navigating relationships, career choices, family, etc.

For most, this is the busiest and most pressure-filled time of life. The Christian call to give our life away (to live more for others than ourself) surfaces in the midst of this busyness.

A spiritual director can be the loving companion who provides a safe space to slow down and explore where God is calling us and how to find spiritual substance, balance and integrity in this preoccupied season of life.

In later generative years, the question becomes: how do I continue to live for others now that my life is slowing down? This is often around the time of empty-nesting, retirement and grandparenting. A Swedish proverb states that “afternoon knows what the morning never suspected,” and often thoughts turn toward reflecting on the timeline of life and what we “know” now in hindsight. This can be a paradoxical time of deep gratitude and regret, awareness and disillusionment. Sometimes unresolved wounds surface.

Spiritual direction in this season provides a place to speak out loud these holy tensions and reflect on where God continues the call to give our life away.

In the most mature time of life (or in times of grave illness), spirituality moves toward reflecting on increasing limitations and mortality. The challenge becomes how to live in hope and purpose with the more immanent awareness of limited time and shifting abilities. This space of stillness and reflection can mellow the soul.

Spiritual direction in this season can help us stay rooted and grounded in the love that will receive us in the end as we navigate how to “give our death away.” Henri Nouwen explains this as letting go of life with a freedom and peace that offers hope to those around us.

Something deep, mysterious and sacred is happening in all our lives right now, regardless of where you are on the timeline of life. God always invites us to prosper in every season of our journey. Spiritual direction provides the space to notice and speak about God’s loving presence in the present of our lives.

(Teresa Venatta is a spiritual director and discernment companion within the Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. She can be reached at spiritualdirection@archindy.org.)

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