Spiritual directors and mountain climbing

Embarrassing but true fact - I don't know my cardinal directions. If you asked me how to get to our apartment, I would give you detailed instructions on how to "turn right at the gas station" followed by "we're the apartment beside the pool." I can't tell you whether we're facing east or west, and north and south mean pretty much nothing to me. Can't you just tell me whether that store is by the Walmart or Target? 

Needles to say, adventuring with me can sometimes be a challenge - especially when that adventure involves the outdoors and cardinal directions are a necessity. After all, I can't tell you the way to the top of the mountain by saying "take a left at the big boulder shaped like a bear drinking coffee." 

If you want to climb a mountain there is a lot involved. First, a stop in at REI to stock up on a sleeping bag, framed backpack, water purification system and freeze dried cheesecake bites (I'm not kidding, they do make those. They're not as good as you think they are. Yes we've tried them).  

And while Google and YouTube can tell you quite a bit about hiking, pitching camp, and the proper backpack packing techniques, nothing beats a good heart-to-heart with an experienced mountain climber.  You can avoid a lot of unexpected problems in your hike if you sit down with someone who has been through it before and gather some great advice. Your hike can go even better if you have a guide along the way, showing you the interesting things you may have missed and stopping you before you inadvertently wander off the side of a cliff.

In Tobit 5:3, when Tobias leaves his home and obeys his father, but is worried that he does not know the way. Tobit answers his son, “Seek thee a man which may go with thee." We're called to seek a wise guide in our path through the interior life as well, someone to guide us.

Hiking the spiritual path to Heaven can become much easier with an experienced guide. We can try to do it alone. But St. John of the Cross, author of the famous Dark Night of the Soul doesn't beat around the bush when he says "He who has himself as a guide has an idiot as a disciple." Ouch. So we're not meant to journey though the spiritual life alone. Sometimes, we need a good mountain guide. 

The virtuous soul that is alone and without a master (a spiritual director) is like a burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter.”
 — St. John of the Cross

While having a spiritual director isn't an absolute MUST, (if it was, the Catholic Church would require it) the help and advice that a spiritual direction can give can make the spiritual path a heck of lot easier to find - if you choose the right spiritual director, that is. So that brings us to the big question - how do you choose a spiritual director? 

If you're in the process of choosing a spiritual director, don't feel alone. After years of spiritual direction with a wonderful priest, I'm having to discern a new spiritual director since mine is leaving to study in Rome I asked him if I could be given plane tickets to Rome as a consolation prize. He said no. So how do we go about this discernment process and why do we need to put so much thought into who we ask to be our spiritual director? 

Saint Teresa of Avila has some things to say about choosing a spiritual director. “Not one in a thousand is capable.” Whoa - nothing like making this an even more daunting task. But the same Doctor of the Church also said “The Lord will give you a director if you are really humble and desire to meet with the right person." 

When seeking a spiritual director, look for someone who is knowledgeable in the faith, a good listener, and someone who won't shy away from honesty. 

When discussing spiritual directors in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes, "Thus your good will be examined and confirmed, and your evil corrected and remedied;—you will be soothed and strengthened in trouble, moderated and regulated in prosperity."  

Although my spiritual director has been a priest, spiritual directors can be someone in a religious community, and even a lay person. I loved finding out that Saint Pope John Paul II's first spiritual director was a lay person - a tailor! 

The big thing to remember in discerning a spiritual director is that the process mostly involves you getting out of the way so that Christ can lead you to him or her. I remember when I was first looking for a spiritual director in college. I asked a good priest friend of mine who lived close to us if he could take me on as as spiritual directee, and he told me no. But if he had taken me on, I wouldn't have met the spiritual director who led me through college, discernment, and helped me recognize God's will in my vocational journey. 

If God is putting the desire for a spiritual director on your heart, reach out and trust Him to show you the path to a good mountain hiking guide along the path to Heaven. Bring your desire to prayer and then get ready for spiritual growth!