Spiritual director as midwife, witness and fellow pilgrim
I have many different ways I describe what spiritual direction is, depending on who is asking and what they might already know. But more than simple definitions or descriptors, it is images and metaphors that best speak to what happens in the sacred relationship that is spiritual direction.
There are many images that draw out some of the richness of the spiritual direction relationship: hostess or guest, teacher, anam cara or soul friend.
These are some that particularly resonate with me.
Spiritual director as midwife.
“We need patient guides, people to hold our hands and remind us to breathe, people who recognize and respect the process, and who don’t try to rush it or make us numb it out. We need spiritual midwives who will help us give birth to something new and help us find life on the other side of a transforming faith.” - Kathy Escobar
I had wonderful midwives present at the births of both my children, one in the hospital and one at home. I relied on them deeply, particularly with my firstborn when everything was so new and (frankly) terrifying. I needed her presence in the room to bring me reassurance, comfort and wisdom about this new painful threshold I was crossing into motherhood. Particularly in the last intense hours, it was making eye contact with her, and her steady, calm, unshakable presence that carried me through until I held my daughter in my eyes.
Of course, I was the one doing the hard work of birthing new life! But she was an important companion, able to trust the process from her years of experience and learning when I was doubting it, knowing what was normal and what needed attention, inviting me to bring my full self - my strength and focus and love - into the process.
This is what it means to me then, when I say the spiritual director is a midwife. I am there as a calm and unshakable companion, trusting the process and the presence of the Spirit, bringing my own experience of companioning others to reassure you of the path you are on and help you pay attention to what is most important. And ultimately delighting with you when new life is birthed within you in ways small and big.
Spiritual director as witness.
“We need people to see us into visibility, and to hear us into speech. We need witnesses. In having someone listen to me, I listen more attentively to myself.” - Juan Reed, Can I get a witness? Spiritual direction with the marginalised.
One of the most powerful parts of my role as a spiritual director is to bear witness to the presence of Spirit in you. To bear witness is to pause and to pay attention, to truly see the person before me, to become curious about the person you are and the unique spark of the divine in you.
I’m struck each Christmas in the nativity readings by how often the word “behold” appears. We are exhorted to behold, to pay attention to this significant thing that is unfolding. I sense the same invitation in every spiritual direction session, an invitation to truly behold the person before me.
By holding witness in this way, we create sacred space together to pay deep attention to your own soul. In that spaciousness, we notice the golden threads that run through your story, we sense the invitations and the blockages, and we hold the whole in Love.
Spiritual director as fellow pilgrim.
“The world cannot be discovered on a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our own feet, and learn to be at home.” – Wendell Berry
Pilgrimage is a central spiritual practice and spiritual metaphor for me. I travel both literally - with hiking boots and rucksack - and spiritually. That spiritual journey is the one I am interested in as I meet my directees. What does the landscape of their soul look like right now? Is the path narrow or wide, steep or flat, gentle or rugged?
Many pilgrims walk alone, and truthfully we are the only ones who can take what Wendell Berry describes as the “arduous, humbling and joyful” journey back to ourselves. But we can companion one another on our journeys, and this is the delight of spiritual direction.
A fellow pilgrim will point out features of the landscape that you might have missed, will help you pay attention to the signposts and turns in the path that only you can see, will encourage you to rest along the way, to look back and see where you have come from, and forward to where you desire to go. Sometimes the fellow pilgrim can help you carry or lay down any heavy burdens you may have. And your travelling companion can delight with you at each point along the way.
If you are interested in exploring spiritual direction with me, you can read about my approach and schedule a free exploratory call together.
Other places and people I can recommend looking as you seek out the right spiritual director for you are: