The Spiritual Direction Session
Taken together all the elements of a spiritual direction session become facets of a dynamic model in which one phase moves organically into the next phase. The following process of such a session corresponds with listening models developed by human-relations practitioners and with those used at centres of spiritual growth.
Phase 1 Welcome
This is a phase of settling in and establishing rapport in a comfortable setting conducive to a trustworthy atmosphere.(2)
Phase 2 Basic Listening
Basic or first-level listening with a faith-filled heart. The guide adds nothing to what is being expressed but simply remains with what the directee is attempting to express. She(3) decodes the immediate message by reflecting back his key words, feelings and spontaneous thoughts, and by clarifying what he is trying to express. This helps the directee begin to notice his own interior facts.(4)
Phase 3 Exploration
Explorative listening in a faith context. Here the guide goes more deeply into what the directee expresses by attending to the implications, feelings, and meanings that are behind what was being expressed.(5) Often this is done by "additive responses" which encourage a directee to notice his own interior facts more deeply and to broaden his horizon concerning these facts. Besides these additive responses, other explorative instruments can be employed which are available through many spiritual traditions, through our own psychologically literate culture, etc.(6)
Phase 4 Interpretation And Discernment
Prior to this point in the process, the guide has appreciated her directee's experience on both affective and cognitive levels. Her reflective and explorative responses have harmonized with the directee's expressed experience -- as a tuning fork harmonizes with the note from a piano string. In this phase, the guide helps her directee interpret what he expressed in terms of a variety of matrixes which have bearing on the spiritual journey.(7)
Phase 5 Forward Movement
In this phase, the spiritual guide and her directee mutually determine where to go next; that is, what grace to seek in the coming week(s) and the next step in disposing himself for that grace:
When the other phases are done well, spiritual guides soon discover that the process itself knows where to go.(8)
- In the Exercises journey, this is the focusing of the prayer material.
- In the setting of ongoing spiritual direction, this forward movement might take many different forms.
Parallels In Models Of Listening .....
This Manual Model From Human-
Model From A
Centre Of Spirituality
---- ---- a) Experience 1) Welcome • Physical Attending
• Psych. Attending
2) Basic Listening • Empathy
b) Articulation 3) Exploration • Concreteness
c) Reflection 4) Interpretation and
• Confrontation d) Interpretation 5) Forward Movement • Immediacy e) Forward MovementThe model in the centre column is taken from Margaret Ferris' book, Compassioning: Basic Counselling Skills for Christian Care-Givers (Kansas: Sheed & Ward, 1993), p.3. She calls this the Carkhuff-Gazda model. The model in the third column was originally created by John English, S.J.
Some differences among the three columns depend on the context in which each column is written. The viewpoint of the first column is that of a spiritual guide; the viewpoint of the third is that of a directee; the viewpoint of the second is that of a counsellor according to human-relations theory. Also, the second column refers primarily to a complete process of counselling over several sessions. However, in some way, this dynamic can be found in one counselling session.
Remembering The Session1. What went on in the spiritual direction session? (key words and/or images that will help to recall this interview at a later time)Reflection sheet to help evaluate a spiritual direction session that has just been completed.
2. How did you react interiorly as you were listening? What was the directee saying when you reacted in that way? How would you name these reactions in terms of Consolation or Desolation?
3. What was the key issue, grace, awareness, or need manifested by your directee during this session?
4. How would you understand this in terms of some of the following matrixes: Exercises dynamic; Conversion Cycle; Guidelines for Discerning Spirits; theological principles; a societal way of understanding, etc.?
5. How did you respond to your directee during the course of the session -- the beginning ... the middle ... the end?
6. What orientations did you propose till next session -- focus for prayer ... scripture texts ... some activity?
7. What are the wonderments and learnings about your directee and/or yourself that you ought to carry over into the future? (some questions to ask next time, emerging awarenesses to keep checking out, etc.)
Welcoming And Listening SkillsThis list may help you to reflect upon the attitude of welcome and the skill of listening that ought to be manifested during spiritual guidance sessions by a competent spiritual guide.(9)A. Preparing For Each Session1. The guide is prepared and has remembered what went on in the previous sessions and has recalled the pertinent facts that her directee has shared with her.B. Achieving Rapport2. The guide manifests a warm, accepting manner.C. Art Of Listening
3. The guide communicates an accurate understanding of her directee's feelings, experiences, and behaviour.
4. The guide is able to be herself (not hiding behind a role), open, and spontaneous without overwhelming her directee. She is not defensive.5. The guide is actively -- as opposed to passively or disinterestedly -- interested in what her directee is saying; that is, with ability to feed back feelings and enter into his experience.D. Art Of Silence
6. The guide's non-verbal behaviour indicates that she is "for" her directee and is working for her directee's interests.
7. The guide helps her directee to speak about concrete and specific feelings and experiences in specific situations. She encourages relevant disclosure rather than story-telling or pious generalizations.8. The guide is relaxed and at ease during pauses.E. Art Of Discernment
9. The guide does not interrupt or talk too much.
10. The guide communicates an understanding of what her directee only implies or hesitates to say or what he has poorly formulated. The guide helps him understand himself at deeper levels.
11. The guide's responses are made in a non-judgemental manner.12. The guide speaks the language of living faith, not simply that of psychology or sociology.F. Closing Each Session
13. The guide helps the directee understand the spiritual and/or theological/faith principle that is part of the prayer experience.
14. The guide is ready to disclose anything about herself that will enable her directee to understand his experience better; but the guide actually discloses self ONLY when it will help rather than distract him.
15. The guide is patient and gentle, allowing God to work, and yet is able to challenge or to confront him at appropriate times.
16. In a situation in which the directee is experiencing confusion or struggle, the guide helps him in isolating the issue involved whether it be psychological, social, spiritual, theological.
17. The guide manifests common sense.
18. The guide does not pretend to understand if she doesn't understand.
19. The guide shows an educated understanding of the dynamics of human behaviour.
20. The guide does not project her "pet" understandings upon her directee or find within him what exists only in herself.21. The guide helps her directee to sum up the progress made in the session.G. In General
22. The guide and her directee together consider the grace to ask for or the next step(s) to be taken.23. The guide helps her directee gain greater freedom and independence.
24. The guide herself is prayerful and comes across as a person of faith.
25. The guide possesses an experiential, as well as theoretical knowledge of the spiritual life and is able to communicate this with confidence.(10)
Supervisory Report(11)This list of questions may be helpful for supervisory encounters and for written reports that may be needed. The responses to the questions are more helpful when they are accompanied by concrete examples. For the sake of simplicity, the spiritual guide is female and the directee is male.1. Faith Context -- What concrete evidence does the spiritual guide manifest of being aware of the workings of God's Spirit in the life and prayer of her directees? How well does the spiritual guide help her directees bring their life experiences into prayer?
2. Listening Skills -- How well does the spiritual guide listen without distortion?
3. Discernment Skills -- In what ways is the guide attuned to the dynamics of the Exercises? In what ways does the guide deal with the patterns of Consolation and Desolation in the prayer and life of her directees?
4. Knowledge of the Exercises -- In what ways does the spiritual guide manifest knowledge of the text, structure, and dynamic of the Exercises?
5. To what extent is the guide able to assist directees to recognize, face, and deal with areas of brokenness, limitation, sinfulness, etc.?
6. In what ways does the guide show that she is aware of her own interior experiences while directing and of how these affect her discernment and judgments?
7. When relevant, how well does the guide encourage the use of Gospel Contemplation and subsequent Repetitions, and how well does she exercise the `interpretation' and `discernment' of such?(12)
8. In what ways does the guide show respect for and make use of different approaches and understandings from other traditions of spirituality; for example:
9. If the guide has encountered a challenge to her own faith, prayer, values or emotions in reaction to the directee's experience (depression, qualms of conscience, sexual disturbances, vocational difficulties, etc.), how is she dealing with this in her own life?
- Recommending, when helpful, the use of contemplative prayer forms (such as centering-type prayer);
- Recognizing and dealing with the transition experiences towards the prayer of quiet.
10. Allied skills, attitudes, gifts -- How does the guide function in the other areas that have significance for persons working in centres of spirituality and congregational settings:
11. Suggestions for Growth -- In what areas does the spiritual guide need to grow? Give some concrete suggestions for growth in the immediate future and over the long range.
- Ability to work as a team member?
- Ability to give a good homily, teaching?
- Ability and willingness to enter into serious conversation (critical reflection) with others?(13)
- Willingness and ability to develop and use the more cognitive dimensions of spirituality with its practice in spiritual direction.
- Ability to work with small groups (facilitating faith-sharing, theological reflection, using and/or designing prayer processes)?
During shorter retreat programs such as the "Week Of Directed Prayer In A Church Setting" (see page 589f), the week-long directed retreat in the closed setting of a retreat house, the two- or three-day directed prayer experience, etc., spiritual guides often meet regularly for mutual support and communication during the time of the program. This format is helpful for such a group meeting. Also it can be adapted for peer-group supervision(14) and/or for other processes of group enrichment.
Phase 1 Settling-In TimeTime is given to gather and to settle into the meeting.Phase 2 Round-Robin Check-InEveryone is asked to share and indicate briefly (in a minute or two at the most) how things are going. The guide might say something like: "Pretty fair ... I got through my interviews with less trouble than I thought, but there are one or two things that I still feel nervous about...." or "Fine ... I have one directee who has not been able to express any affectivity and I get very anxious with that type of directee...." or "I didn't get much sleep last night, but outside of that, things are going really well."Phase 3 Together In Faith And Intercessory PrayerPhase 4 Explorative Sharing And Discussion
- Start this phase by inviting the group into silence: "Let us place ourselves in the presence of the Holy One with an attitude of gratitude," and then follow this by a full minute of silence.
- Celebrate God's word -- perhaps a hymn with a short scripture reading or in a brief ritual -- followed by a very short period of silence.
- Then make intercessory prayers for what is needed at this time. Introduce this with these or similar words: "Having placed ourselves in God's presence with gratitude, let us ask here for what we might need -- some gift or grace, perhaps some insight, some light."This is the time for some guides(15) to seek support by sharing more specifically what was going on in themselves as they were listening to their directees. The leader extends the invitation for this phase in these or similar words: "Some of us expressed concerns in the round-robin check-in and in the intercessory prayer. Perhaps we could support you in some way?" Then the leader facilitates an empathic and explorative listening-conversation around the presenting guide's issues.(16)Phase 5 BusinessSave some time for the "nuts and bolts." It is placed near the end of the meeting because, if too much time is spent on this at the beginning of the meeting, there is usually very little time for the more important prayer and sharing. Start the business aspect of the meeting with those items that can be handled quickly.Phase 6 Brief EvaluationThe leader asks: "What was unhelpful about today's session and how could it be improved next time?" ... "What was good about today's session?"
Week Of Directed Prayer
In A Church Setting
The Week Of Directed Prayer In A Church Setting is a way of making a directed retreat in the midst of daily living. It is such a simple structure that it can easily be used in a parish, school, university, or business office. And it works! The format is based on making only a half-hour prayer period on scripture each day and receiving spiritual direction for a half hour each day. Participants make their prayer exercise at home and come to their parish church or other setting each day for prayer direction for 30 to 45 minutes, Monday through Friday. On the beginning Sunday and closing Saturday, there is a group session.
The structure of this Week is very simple. Imagine a local church setting. You have a team of seven prayer guides. There are 35 persons who have signed up for this experience. On the team of prayer guides are both lay persons and professional people in ministry. The participants range widely in expectation and desire. But they have all come because they desire to deepen their prayer life or to learn to pray with scripture. Everything has been pre-organized. The hall is set up, the direction rooms or places have been assigned, and the prayer guides have a list of their directees. Both directees and prayer guides know when the sessions of private prayer guidance will be held. So here is what it looks like a little more concretely:
OPENING SESSION -- Sunday, 1:30 p.m. -- 4:30 p.m: The goal of this session is to meet one another, to introduce the prayer guides, to get started, to give some tips on prayer, to attend to last-minute organization, to set the tone, and to begin to create or to continue the creation of a community of prayer. During this session, the prayer guides meet with their directees to set up and finalize the interview times and places. By the end of this session, all the participants are motivated to make a half-hour spiritual exercise each day, have their scripture text(s), and have a fairly good idea of how to go about it.
WEEKDAY INTERVIEWS -- Monday through Friday: Each participant comes back to a designated place to receive prayer direction for 30 to 45 minutes each day, Monday through Friday. The prayer material is based on scripture, according to either a suggested prayer pattern or some other prayer pattern that might be helpful. As one discovers in any directed retreat, prayer direction also involves the experiences of life which surface in or are related to the prayer. On each of these weekdays, the team of prayer guides meets for an hour for a team meeting. It is helpful if they have a meal together in addition to this meeting.
CLOSING SESSION -- Saturday, 1:30 pm -- 4:30 pm: The goal of this session is to round off the experience of the Week. Through it, the hope is to accomplish the following:a) Appropriate the experience of the Week;This Week Of Directed Prayer In A Church Setting is a rather simple structure which can be adapted in many different ways; for example:
b) Give some tips for the future;
c) Help those who may have had somewhat of a disappointing experience;
b) Help establish or continue the development of a community of prayer;
f) Suggest some resources that are available for a life of prayer.
- Two-week experience during which the directees receive spiritual direction every other day;
- Six-week experience during which the directees receive spiritual direction every day for the first week and then twice weekly for the rest of the six-week period;
-- Endnotes --
2. This phase is represented by statements 1-4 and 24 in the following section entitled, "Welcoming And Listening Skills."
3. For the sake of simplicity in this appendix, the spiritual guide is female and the directee is male.
4. In the Exercises journey and in ongoing spiritual direction settings, this phase is enhanced when, after a period of time, a directee learns to reflect on his own experiences through Review, Repetition, Asking for a Grace, and Awareness Examen. All of these are explained in this manual in the context of notation- in Section I, Running Commentaries. This phase is represented by statements 3-11 in the following section entitled, "Welcoming And Listening Skills." This approach (as every generalized approach) has a definite bias. It admits of many exceptions such as that indicated endnote 34 of Chapter 33.
5. Some directees have developed the practice of reflecting on their experiences before coming to the spiritual direction session and are able to express their interior experiences so well that this phase may not be needed at all. However, if a directee is not so capable and practised (and many are not), if he is not able to move forward, or if he is confused, etc., this explorative listening phase needs to take place. This phase is represented by statements 10-20 and 25 in the following section entitled, "Welcoming And Listening Skills."
6. Techniques Of Critical Reflection (from our common human heritage): Isolating issues in a complex situation; Brainstorming; Prioritizing; Story-telling; Recounting historical facts and feelings surrounding one's experience; etc.
Psychological Instruments: Writing with the non-dominant hand; Guided imagery; History of facts and feelings; Reframing; Writing a letter to self; Expressing feelings in art; Keeping a journal according to the Progoff method; Family-of-origin processes; etc.
Spiritual-Exercises Instruments: Making the Review; Praying for a Grace; Repetition; Guidelines for Discerning Spirits; Paying attention to interior movement of spirits; Gospel Contemplation; Awareness Examen; Process of discerning a choice; Techniques in the use of discerning a choice; Praying over one's own personal history; etc.
From Other Spiritual Traditions: Methods of centering prayer; Relaxation techniques with Eastern-type meditation; The overview and understanding of the stages of the inward journey as explained by John of the Cross; etc.
Other Instruments: Theological reflection; Social analysis; etc.
7. This phase is represented by statements 15-20 (note the overlap with the comment in endnote 5) in the following section entitled, "Welcoming And Listening Skills."
Consult the section, "Developing A Spiritual Direction Model In The Light Of Its Proper Horizon," in Chapter 33 of this manual. The model developed there gives some of the matrixes that can used by a spiritual guide.
Much of the work in this phase is literally `interpretation'; discernment is a particular form of interpretation. Spiritual guides often use the word "discernment" for any interpretative listening in a spiritual direction session. Strictly speaking, however, Ignatian discernment takes place only as the guide begins to listen in terms of the language of Consolation-Desolation and of the Guidelines for Discerning Spirits with respect to the determination of a decision. Consult Figure 4 in Chapter Eleven of the Running Commentaries.
8. This phase is represented by statements 21-23 in the following section entitled, "Welcoming And Listening Skills." The next little step is made up of a series of past little steps like the root breaking forth from a seed and becoming a shoot before it can become a stem for a leaf and a flower. As the plant is already present in the seed, so the future orientation is present in the experience of the directee. In other words, the next little step is the next little move to be proposed in the forward movement. At times, it is a slightly different Grace to ask for, or a slightly different focus in a suggested scripture text for prayer, or an attempt with a different method of prayer, or a return to being faithful in putting in the time of prayer, or a reading of an article using Lectio Divina, or some task that will carry the process forward.
Here are some other principles in discovering the future orientation in the directee's experience of prayer and life:
9. I adapted most of these questions from a set of unsigned handouts given to me in the 1980s. With thanks to the unknown author.
- Often the next little step is dependent on the directee's level of consciousness and faith development. For example, a spiritual guide, guiding the programmatic-type directee who is not in touch with his interior affectivity, cannot expect to base the next little step on his interior processes. She may have to wait until he moves through some crises and his feeling states become more obvious to him.
- When a directee is in authentic Consolation, a spiritual guide does not have to worry about what the next little step is. She can trust that God will do the leading.
- Desolation or some other point of resistance is often an indicator of the place where the next little step may have to occur.
- The Conversion Cycle, developed and explained in Chapter 32, is very helpful in determining the next little step that is emerging from a directee's prayer and/or life experiences. In the Exercises journey, the assessment of Consolation and Desolation in the light of the Exercises dynamic is the key instrument for this.
10. Consult Chapter 33 of this manual, particularly the subsections on Theological Thinking, critical reflection, and the explicit use of the Exercises.
11. I adapted most of these questions from a set of unsigned handouts given to me in the 1980s. With thanks to the unknown author.
12. In Chapter Eleven of the Running Commentaries, consult the section entitled, "Gospel Contemplation And Prayer Guidance" and Fig 4 (p.136f).
13. Consult the section, "On Using Theological Reflection," in Chapter 33.
14. For a full treatment on the nature of supervision and also its practice in peer groups with a very viable format, consult Maureen Conroy, R.S.M., Looking into the Well: Supervision of Spiritual Directors (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995). Chapter 2 gives two models for peer-group supervision with excellent examples. It emphasizes a contemplative, prayerful atmosphere and focused feedback as the context for the guide who is presenting her experience. This context is more intentionally explicit than that suggested in my format which includes the aspects suggested in endnote 3. On the other hand, the theological-reflection component, for reasons given in Chapter 33 of this manual, is more explicit in mine.
15. Not everyone is expected to share more than what was done in the preliminary round-robin check-in. Otherwise there would not be sufficient time in the meeting to give the support that might be required.
16. In this phase, it is preferable that one guide's issues be handled as completely as appropriate, given the time and goals of the meeting, before dealing with another guides' issues. Depending on the nature of the team meeting and the expectations of the group of spiritual guides, this phase can be adapted with more focus as follows:
Learning Through Theological Reflection
It is my contention that, in addition to focused one-on-one supervision, the most useful instrument for spiritual guides to continue their growth in competence is to engage in critical reflection (serious conversation) with other guides. At times, team meetings can be used for this provided enough time has been allotted for it. Hence, after this Phase 4 is completed, the group is invited to pause for silent reflection followed by some form of `theological reflection.' In this situation, the changes (*) might be done in this way:
Step 1 Silent Reflection On The Explorations Of Phase 4
Facilitator invites the group to move into silence for three minutes to do the following:Step 2 Choosing Topic For Theological Reflection
- What happened to me while I was participating in the explorative discussion (Phase 4)?
- What are the issues connected with the experiences that we have been exploring?
- Which one of these would be important for us to discuss in order to grow in the art of spiritual direction?
Facilitator invites the group in a round-robin format to answer the first and third questions briefly, i.e., a minute and a half at most. Then facilitator helps the group to choose quickly one topic.
Step 3 Theological Reflection
After this is over move to Phase 5 and Phase 6.
- What are the facts and data necessary to understand this?
- How can we understand this psychologically, historically, sociologically, systemically?
- How do we understand this theologically:
- What gospel passages help one to reflect on this? Why? .... What beliefs or theological themes are involved? ..... How does this bear upon the work of spiritual direction? .... How is this related to the Spiritual Exercises? .... What difference does this knowledge make for one's living?
(*) The above steps came out of a conversation with Elaine Frigo, CSSF, who, with Virginia Varley, C.S.J., has been conducting workshops on peer-group supervision. In these workshops, they have stressed the theological-reflection component.