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Taking a journey with spiritual direction

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Jun 16, 2017 at 1:45 PM

Two Wilson County pastors recently received training and certification in spiritual direction, an ancient practice that lets director and directed sift through life’s experiences together. 

Rev. Matt Steinhauer and John Grant attended a class through Lipscomb University to learn how to become spiritual directors. The class began in August and consisted of five meetings in two-day spans, making ten days the class met overall, as well as study in between class sessions. As of May, both are certified spiritual directors. Steinhauer is the senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church and Grant serves as the connections minister for College Hills Church of Christ, although according to the pastors spiritual direction transcends denominational boundaries and even the label of Christianity.

“It spans honestly across the label of religion because it’s not just a Christian thing,” Steinhauer said. “John and I both come with a Christian understanding of God’s action in the world, but if someone came and wanted to have a direction conversation with me and I knew they were Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim, I think I could still have that conversation with them.” 

What happens in a session is as much up to the person seeking direction as it is to the director. It can begin with a word of prayer, a scripture or poem read, a bit of silence or any number of things. The director will often then ask a question and let the person talk about what has happened in their life recently, perhaps asking more to guide the conversation or just letting the person talk. 

“Sometimes asking that question draws things out that you didn’t even know were there. My director, she rarely advises me,” Grant said. “She will instead just ask questions about what is going on in my life. It’s not problem oriented or project oriented, it’s process oriented.” 

During the course of a session, usually an hour, the director listens. He or she may draw out certain issues, pick up on things to pray about and merely guide the conversation. 

A session of spiritual direction may on the surface seem similar to a counseling or therapy session, but there are some marked differences in the practices. Where counseling and therapy set out to tackle a specific problem, spiritual direction is meant to find the meaning and find the spiritual impact within life’s experiences. 

“Spiritual direction is different than [counseling] because you’re not really trying to be the agent of change for this person. You’re really just walking along beside them. You may indirectly be the agent of change, but that’s not your purpose.”  

Despite the name, spiritual direction actually lacks what most would call direction. Other names for the practice include spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship and soul friends. 

“The Holy Spirit is actually the one directing and we are the ones discerning,” Grant said. “Often in spiritual direction, you might have an empty chair to signify the presence of God.” 

Another symbol that often appears in spiritual direction is a candle. Both Grant and Steinhauer use a candle in their session to invite the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Both Grant and Steinhauer see their own spiritual director once a month in an hour-long session. Steinhauer uses the internet to connect with his spiritual director in Missouri via Skype. Grant first heard of the practice in Oklahoma and sought out a director through Spiritual Directors International. He was referred to both a Catholic nun and a Protestant pastor. He’s attended spiritual direction sessions now for about 13 years. 

Both pastors have directed sessions with individuals seeking spiritual direction. Grant has five people that come see him once a month for an hour. Three are from the congregation at College Hills Church of Christ and two are not. Steinhauer said he plans to start a small group within Faith Lutheran Church to explain the practice and grow from there. 

“I learned a lot about myself but the most significant thing I learned was about listening and to ask a good question and sit back and be quiet,” Grant said.

A large part of a session may be spent in silent prayer, though it depends on what is on the heart of the person seeking direction. 

“Our culture sort of prevents us from being still and listening,” Steinhauer said. “This process over the last eight months has really changed that for me. The silence that you learn to practice as a spiritual director really just makes a difference in your every day life.”

At the closing session of the spiritual direction class all students were given a colorful painting of a path with a quote on the back that says, “we’re all just walking each other home.” Something that both pastors keep as a reminder of the mission of spiritual direction. 

Pastor Grant may be reached at jgrant@collegehills.org, and pastor Steinhauer may be reached at 615-449-5480 or pastor_matt@bellsouth.net.

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