As I was starting to tell others that I was considering becoming a spiritual director, a friend suggested Sacred Companions by David Benner. I’d read, and valued, Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, so I didn’t waste much time getting Sacred Companions into my reading queue.
The subtitle of the book — The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction — helps frame how Sacred Companions serves as a helpful introduction to the practice of Spiritual Direction. Benner frames it within a continuum of sacred friendships — the kind of companions we have in life where our soul, our inner life, is able to be made known to another:
A soul friendship is therefore a relationship to which I bring my whole self, especially my inner self. And the care that I offer for the other person in a soul friendship is a care for his or her whole self, especially the inner self.
I’d never heard of spiritual direction until about 15 years ago, and it was even somewhat mysterious to me about 5 years ago. I think there is a growing need for it, and thankful to see awareness of it has grown in many of the Christian streams where it wasn’t very well know before.
But, of course, many people still just see it was somewhat mysterious, like I did a few years ago. Here are a couple of Benner’s quotes that help fill out my own understanding of the work of spiritual direction, along with some thoughts about each:
I use the term spirituality to refer to a person’s awareness of and response to the Divine. On the basis of this I would argue that to be human is to be spiritual.
This is core to spiritual direction, as the heart of the practice is to come alongside another and help them to hear and respond to the “Divine”. It’s not mentoring or coaching, so much as helping to create space and awareness.
While counselors and therapists have an important role to play in restoring wholeness that has been lost, spiritual friends and directors have an equally important role in helping others become all they were intended to be.
I think would have triple underlined this if that was a feature on my Kindle. I’ve benefited from therapy. I have therapist friends and deeply respect the work they do. It is necessary. But I appreciated this comparison. Much of my own journey and teaching has been around the theme of vocation…learning to recognize who we were created to be and how we can partner with God. I see Benner saying here that therapy can help restore our wholeness, while direction can help move us toward our vocation. There is room for both and they often can complement each other.
My own focus on spiritual direction aside, this is a book that those who want to be followers of Jesus in community with others would benefit from. While he does focus on spiritual direction as a particular expression, overall the focus is what the title implies: being a sacred companion to others. It is a book about being in relationship that invites souls to shared. We are as isolated as ever, and as we find ways to be physically present with others again in the coming months, there is an invitation, and a need, to also be spiritually present with others.