Why seek out spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition?

Why seek out spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition?

… the journey of faith is a journey shared. We do not, cannot travel alone. Though books can inspire, encourage, or freshen the spirit, it is often in dialogue with another that one best grows in the personal meeting with the Lord. (Katherine Marie Dyckman and L. Patrick Carroll, Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet: An Introduction to Spiritual Direction)

There are many good reasons to engage a spiritual director, but Dyckman and Carroll highlight the most important one: we can’t travel the spiritual journey alone. We discover ourselves and our deepest desires by sharing our faith journey with another; we also can learn to unveil our resistances to the very One we desire. When we share our experiences with another who is skilled in interpreting experience, we can begin to recognise the significance and the meaning of that experience for our lives. Frequently, faithful people have some quite profound experiences of God but can fail to recognise them as that. As Janet Ruffing observes:  “People have religious experiences they might never dare talk about. But it’s God’s gift to give, and it’s up to each of us to accept such experiences and grow them.”

Ignatian spiritual direction begins and ends with a very positive view of the human person. It affirms the goodness of all created reality, yet it remains attuned to the reality of evil in the world, which is why discernment is so important in Ignatian spiritual direction.

Because it represents a positive anthropology, Ignatian discernment focuses on uncovering our deepest desires (as opposed to our ‘surface’ or ‘instinctive’ desires). This can be a challenging journey, but it is also an exciting and life-giving one. It is here that the value of accompaniment comes to the fore; when I am accompanied by someone who is experienced at navigating the landscape of the heart, then it is easier to read the signposts and recognise what is significant and worthy of my attention. Such a partnership of seekers can be very fruitful in a myriad of ways.

Because all Ignatian direction is based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, the focus is on experiencing first-hand the care and unconditional love the Trinity has for me. This in turn gives me the courage to recognise the parts of my life that are not responsive to love – where I ‘miss the mark’, as it were. But I can hold this, because I know I am loved and forgiven in this state; I do not have to change for God to love me. This sense of being loved and forgiven leads me to desire a deeper reconciliation and intimacy with the One whose unconditional love I have experienced in the depths of my heart; this in turn draws me into the heart of Jesus. In short, I begin to desire to become more like Him. I am drawn into His heart, which is a heart of compassion for the world – particularly those who struggle and are on the margins. Far from being burdensome, this ‘immersion’ in empathy and solidarity nurtures a spirit of joy, liberation, and hope.

This tends to be the dynamic of Ignatian spiritual direction since it is the same pattern or ‘dynamic’ of the Spiritual Exercises.

Learn more: What is Distinctive About Ignatian Spiritual Direction?