Leaping Into The Art of Spiritual Guidance

aosd-pritchard2Seventy meters up from the Zambezi stands a little wooden dock and a clothesline like cable.  On the dock I was quickly briefed and harnessed in.  My companion cheered as I ran off the end of the dock into space like a cartoon coyote.  Held fast by ropes and cables I ‘flew’ out over the gorge and gently bounced my way back.  When I returned to the platform my instructor sent me out again this time with instructions to keep my eyes open!  The second flight was nothing short of amazing.  Trusting the process more fully I could relax and be caught up, held fast, in delight and mystery.  The edge of fear did not eclipse my freedom.  The thrilling risk of jumping added to my joy.  At that moment all knowledge of tension, compression, geography, body composition and physics were critically important but not the focus of my flight.  I had to trust the previous instruction and the guide’s work to see beauty and let the experience unfold.  Finally letting go of anxiety, I could easily have flown out there all day.

The relationship with Mystery in spiritual direction can feel like the moments preceding a horizontal bungee jump.  Carolyn Gratton makes this point effectively in The Art of Spiritual Guidance.   In her second chapter, she acknowledges that offering Spiritual Direction to another is scary because it is as mysterious as it is risky.  She speaks of the “fear and trembling risk [of] offering spiritual guidance. . .”[1] The book and the preparations for leaping had the same initial effect on me.  I was reminded how much there is to know and how little of it I confidently integrate into my process at any one time.   A director’s knowledge, argues Gratton, should be vast and deep ranging from worldview and developmental stages to methods of discernment and prayer.  In the study and times surrounding each direction experience my head is often filled with questions, directives, analysis, calculating corrections and fear.

aosd-pritchard1But then a second connection struck an even deeper chord resolving the first.  What I had underlined in the text in my quest to know and understand were thick chords woven throughout the informational pages like a solid safety harness.  I began to see a lifeline leading to the heart of the matter.  Much of this book speaks to the posture and lifestyle, the heart, of a good and trusted spiritual guide.  Unexpectedly, a deeper call emerged within the Art of Spiritual Guidance to live and work out of places of relaxed freedom, a sense of belovedness, an openness to hope, being fully awake, sensitive and filled with delight in the process of conversion.  Having tasted these ideals I still long to live into them fully; all the while feeling the familiar pull toward bookishness in an attempt to banish anxiety, fear, disappointment, numbness and stagnation.  I have often resorted to having a strategy and knowing the facts hoping that will make the processes of spiritual guidance manageable.  I am both taken in and shaken by the far reaching call of the Spirit from the pages of this book to be “a wise fish” knowing and feeling and yet being so grounded in love that words like relaxed freedom and beloved delight might truly make their home in me as I offer hospitality to another. [2]

The Art of Spiritual Guidance magnifies these truths even further.  It is imperative that our rigging is solid.  No one wants to wonder for long if the one hooking up the harness can be trusted!  The comparison can be made to a director continuing to learn from and listening to the wisdom which psychological, theological, anthropological and sociological studies can bring to direction.  Having knowledge of the spiritual growth and development of human persons in communities throughout history is important.  People tend to follow familiar patterns and have done so for thousands of years.  Gratton has accessed the multitude of resources available to her and has become a wise and learned guide.  Specifically, she mentions several tools for assisting the uncovering of self-knowledge and we would do well to get to know those tools.[3]

And then, in the midst of learning the tools and techniques and all of the finesse that comes from practice there is the necessity to let go and trust that the Spirit who is continually at work in both director and directee will do what needs to be done to open up the way for conversion to continue.  Gratton reminds us that the Spirit is the true director with whom we are invited to partner.  “It is important to be clear that, in Christian terms, the Spirit of God is the true guide of God-seeking hearts.”[4] The entire enterprise of spiritual direction hinges on this fact.  Our heads and our hearts are welded together in the life of the Spirit.  It is into and out of the mystery of our spiritual humanness that we can learn and practice the Art of Spiritual Guidance.  “All that we have concluded about the guidance project comes to fruition at this moment.  People recognize themselves as called by the Mystery, not only out of their aloneness and isolation, but also into a fresh attachment to love.”[5] And so I come back to the crux of the matter.  My experience over the last few months has become clearer for having read and reflected on Gratton’s text.  Spiritual direction is indeed a leap into love, trust and freedom.

Out over the gorge, tingling with life, fully awake, eyes wide open, I experienced the freedom of trust.  The more leaps I take into meeting with others the more I am being asked to let go of my desire to control through knowledge and to instead bear witness to it and to the beauty of love unfolding in another as messy and awkward as that can sometimes be.  Knowledge and study can undergird the flight from fear and can assist in the “turn toward transcendence.”[6] The head and the heart grow together while doing the work and taking risks in real human relationships.  “As lovers who are incarnated mixtures of spirit and flesh, we must grow in knowledge of ourselves and of the main attractions of our heart.  In so doing we will grow in confidence that life will always be ‘a tune beyond us yet ourselves . . . of things exactly as they are.’”[7]



Gratton, Carolyn.  The Art of Spiritual Guidance. New York: Crossroad, 1992.

[1] Carolyn Gratton, The Art of Spiritual Guidance (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 22.

[2] Ibid., 107.

[3] Ibid., 86.

[4] Ibid., 107.

[5] Ibid., 168.

[6] Ibid., 106.

[7] Ibid., 168.


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