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Dr. Barbara Winston: Spiritual Direction in Today’s Church

Dr. Barbara Winston: Spiritual Direction in Today’s Church

Dr. Barbara Winston coordinates the spiritual direction ministry for the Diocese of Monterey, California and in collaboration with Mercy Center in Burlingame, California oversees the Acompañantes Espíritu Bilingual Bicultural Program to train Spanish-speaking spiritual directors.

A community of lay women and men, clergy and religious, all spiritual directors in the Diocese of Monterey offer the gift of spiritual direction to seekers who may be lay adults, deacons, priests, religious, Christians, non-Christians, the homeless, and the imprisoned. The Spirit draws all these and more into the sacred space of spiritual direction. Recently, the diocese began a program to increase the number of Spanish-speaking spiritual directors by offering a special three year program, Acompañantes Espíritu, to people who have been specifically recruited and invited to discern their call to this ministry of prayer and listening.

Priests and members of religious orders have traditionally had confessors and spiritual directors. For centuries, lay people would seek the advice and guidance of hermits and monks who were not priests for spiritual guidance/direction. St. Ignatius Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises established the model of the spiritual director to help seekers discern the spirits and how God is working in their lives; no matter the circumstances.

After the Second Vatican Council, lay women and men, religious and clergy became more involved in directing retreats and providing spiritual direction. This movement has been growing since Vatican II with the support and encouragement of popes, bishops, priests, and superiors of religious orders. Spiritual Directors International grew out of a small group of Catholic spiritual directors from Mercy Center in Burlingame, California  in 1989. It has become a global inter-faith organization with 60,000 members on six continents. According to Dr. Winston, 600 people attended the 2014 annual Spiritual Directors International conference, “Emerging Wisdom,” in Santa Fe, New Mexico from April 24 to May 2. Dr. Winston was impressed by the growth in membership, particularly the growing interest and participation by young adults. It was also interesting for Dr. Winston to experience the growing community of trained and wise spiritual directors from the Jewish tradition.

Although priests have been the primary spiritual directors in the Catholic tradition, the declining number of priests is coinciding with the growing demand for spiritual growth and direction. Spiritual direction isn’t “directing” in the usual sense of the term but it is really an act of “being present” to the other. In spiritual direction, the focus in on the relationship between God and the directee. The key components of the direction session are prayer and spiritual discernment and the interaction between both. The ability to trust and to share is key to the relationship.

Christians have been spiritual companions to each other from the earliest days of the church, as we understand from the Acts of the Apostles. The resurgence of spiritual direction bears witness to our renewed call to holiness in this third millennium, the millennium of the Holy Spirit.