Some thoughts on Spiritual Direction

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

In continuing our series on the value and experience of spiritual direction in our SoulStream community*, we have the wonderful opportunity today to hear from our friend and fellow partner, John Kiemele. Thank you so much, John, for offering these thoughts on your spiritual direction journey, on the way it has unfolded in your life, and on the way it has invited you to sit in company at the hearth of love and deep listening, breathing deeply, and opening to Life. We’re so grateful for your presence among us.
Deb Arndt

Spiritual direction was not a serious consideration until I was nearly 40 years old. Up to that point, discipleship and mentoring held center stage. From my early, insular years in our conservative corner of the Prairies, I regularly heard sermons, Sunday School lessons and dynamic personal testimonies of people being discipled or taken under an elder’s wing and mentored in the ways of Jesus. Ironically, I heard lots but experienced little. I do recall faith-filled women and men who indirectly talked with me about faith and the Jesus Way; however, my personal testimony never included the part where I was formally chosen and mentored. In my young and curious mind, I always wondered why my experience was so out of synch?

I recall many walks along our cow trails wondering what difference such a flesh and blood reality would make. In reflection, the paradox was real: I knew God walked with me, and I carried a persistent void and its pressing questions. 

Borrowing the belief that discipleship was vital to Christian growth, I dedicated years to education, training, and ministry expression in the discipleship arena. I crafted a career with discipleship’s whats, whys, and hows, all the while remaining internally disconnected from my own experience. When ministry conversations began to overflow the banks of my savvy programs and all my typical discipleship answers began feeling flat and lifeless, echoing my inner void, I realized that I needed something more sustainable and life-giving for others and for myself.

I don’t recall exactly how spiritual direction hit my radar, but I remember finding and meeting with my first spiritual director with anticipation. Yet every time I arrived at his university office for a session, he simply spun around from his obviously consuming desk and computer and launched right in with, “What’s on your heart today?” I remember feeling like I was one more insertion into his bursting schedule. I had a sense that the setting should matter and that our conversation needed to feel a bit “warmer” than it was. So, I kept looking and eventually settled into a regular rhythm with a second and somewhat guarded director. Our time together began to redeem my early experiences and thoughts about spiritual direction.

A couple of years later, we met Steve and Jeanne Imbach and something deeper clicked. The cosmos seemed to align. I began seeing Steve for spiritual direction and experienced a consistent fullness of intentional time, genuine interest, loads of heart space, grace-filled holding of my story, meaning-filled settings, simple beauty, and invitations at almost every breath. I felt invited to come in from an echoey cold and to sit in company at the hearth of love and deep listening. My heart/soul began to breathe deeply, unlike anything I had experienced. I began sensing transformation because of spiritual direction.

Here was a place where my heart could relax and widen—a time where my story and all its layers mattered. It didn’t make any difference what I brought; Steve held it and listened generously until True Life and Love emerged. I began experiencing something beyond my conservative tradition and training. Strangely enough, I actually felt a bit naughty exploring real curiosity, asking other questions, and taking deepening delight in my relationship with God. Spiritual direction helped my heart shift. 

In the past 20-plus years with four unique directors, each has artfully held, affirmed, and guided my heart deeper into my story of the Story. Today I can say spiritual direction grounds me, awakens me, helps me recognize what is mine and what is not, what divine invitations seep through persistent pulls and pushes, where resting and listening and other intentional responses tend and stretch my soul’s library, what it means to be witnessed, and of course what God-with-flesh finally feels like as we continue walking each other home. Spiritual Direction… is one way that we intentionally listen into Life. and I am most grateful.

*Source: Partner Connect May 17, 2024

John Kiemele, PhD, is a wellbeing educator and spiritual director. He teaches spirituality, lifestyle change, and deep listening, leads contemplative retreats, and directs The Listening Collective at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center. John engages the whole person—body, mind, and soul—in wellbeing practices and contemplative soul care. He is Director Emeritus of Selah Center, former Executive Director of SoulStream Initiatives, and an ordained clergy.


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