Spiritual Direction is a sacred companioning that can be helpful as we journey through this life, especially during life changing events that challenge us most. It is an ancient practice that originated in the Roman Catholic tradition and is now practiced widely across all faith traditions. Because of that, it is more spiritual than it is religious, requiring only openness to the belief in a holy something, greater than ourselves. It is an interfaith experience when the central belief is that there is one God whom we all choose to worship differently.
“Finding a spiritual director who is trained and open to meeting a person where they are, and willing to set aside their own image and understanding of God, is important,” says executive director of the Spiritual Life Center, Melina Rudman. “There is one voice of God, spoken through many languages and traditions. No matter who or what we believe, as human beings we have a spirit. Especially in times of grief and challenge, our spirits need tending to.”
It is different than therapy in that there is a spiritual focus as people grapple with unfathomable loss. Finding the right spiritual director can best be explored through recommendations from friends and even interviews to determine if you and the director are a good fit. Spiritual directors in your area can be found through Spiritual Directors International (www.SDIworld.org). They can also be located through retreat centers and places like the Spiritual Life Center in West Hartford, Connecticut. Rudman recommends inquiring about a director’s background, whether or not they are in ongoing formation, and sharing some of your story with them and watching for a reaction.
“Your spiritual director can be with you throughout your journey, listening to the guidance of the voice of the Holy, and helping you tune the ears of your own heart toward that voice,” she says. “You should feel a connection with your director, a sense that your experience of God is respected, especially if you are someone familiar with having mystical experiences.”
In a typical session the director should do far more listening than speaking, and you can expect to be asked guiding, open ended questions. If you want to begin or end your session with prayer a good director should be open to that. And if you find that it’s not working out, don’t hesitate to make a change.
During a time of grieving, we might wonder if that is the best time to begin or even to continue spiritual direction. We may feel mad at God for “taking” our loved one. “Everyone is mad at God at least once in their life. God can take it! Anger in the face of a huge loss is an appropriate response.” says Rudman. “When people are grieving there is often great loneliness and unresolved business. At times like that, God is a container that can hold our grief, loneliness, regrets, anger and pain. Being able to explore those things in the presence of the holy, with someone who holds our story as sacred, offers resolution, comfort, closure and life can be found.”
She says spiritual direction honors grief and that it is part of the human and spiritual experience. “It’s handled tenderly and respectfully. It’s not rushed. Spiritual direction allows you to stay with the grief and move in and out of it. It is a place of acceptance.”
Society doesn’t care much for the grieving process and encourages us to get on with it. But spiritual direction is an invitation to take all the time you need. We all grieve differently and there is no right or wrong way. Spiritual direction invites us into relationship with the divine, to explore places we may have found too painful to go. And with the right spiritual director, the process provides a safe and sacred space to make that journey.
Spiritual direction sessions typically last one hour and are scheduled once a month, but during particularly difficult times, sessions may be scheduled more often. Fees vary depending on the director or program and can run $50-70 per session, although many places, including the Spiritual life Center, have a flexible payment policy and do not turn anyone away due to inability to pay.
Rudman arrived at spiritual direction after pursuing a degree in psychology from Baypath College. While attending the Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford Seminary in 1999 she had a mystical experience of her own that prompted her to explore spiritual direction for the first time. “People were always telling me their stories and coming to me to share their joys and pains. I knew this was a gift for me.”
She received her certificate in spiritual direction from Sacred Heart University in 2002 and later became involved with the Spiritual Life Center serving on its board of directors. She ran the Servant Leadership School at the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry in Hartford, CT for nine years and joined the staff as executive director of the Spiritual Life Center in August of 2013.
When asked why she chose to be involved with this sacred practice she responded, “I can’t imagine my life without it. I think that for me, it took me beyond religion into relationship. That has healed my life in so many ways.”
The Spiritual Life Center is located at Holy Family Retreat Center, 303 Tunxis Road, West Hartford, Conn. (860)243-2374. Rudman is also the author of Reimagining the Gospels, prayerful wonderings on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, published this past September. It is available at www.Amazon.com.