December 3, 2020

The New Liturgical Gangstas (3)

Today, we present the third installment renewing IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion involving representatives from different liturgical traditions who will be answering questions regarding theology and church practice.

I caught some of our Gangstas at very busy times in their lives and ministries, so today we hear from four of them.

Who are the Gangstas?

Traditionally, one role of the minister in the church has been to give spiritual direction to individual members of the congregation for their spiritual growth and formation. How extensively are ministers in your tradition and church involved in this? Do you have a specific approach that you follow?

Fr. Ernesto Obregon, Orthodox
Among the Christian groups, I would argue that spiritual direction has been most highly developed and most consistently practiced among the Orthodox. Let me do something I rarely do for this forum, let me list a couple of quotes to show the importance of spiritual direction among the Orthodox.

The following words are from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, an English Orthodox bishop:

One who climbs a mountain for the first time needs to follow a known route; and he needs to have with him, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. To serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the ‘Abba’ or spiritual father whom the Greeks call ‘Geron’ and the Russians ‘Starets’, a title which in both languages means ‘old man’ or ‘elder’. …

This figure of the Starets, so prominent in the first generations of Egyptian monasticism, has retained its full significance up to the present day in Orthodox Christendom. ‘There is one thing more important than all possible books and ideas’, states a Russian layman of the 19th Century, the Slavophile Kireyevsky, ‘and that is the example of an Orthodox Starets, before whom you can lay each of your thoughts and from whom you can hear, not a more or less valuable private opinion, but the judgement of the Holy Fathers. God be praised, such Startsi have not yet disappeared from our Russia.’ …

What entitles a man to act as a starets? How and by whom is he appointed?

To this there is a simple answer. The spiritual father or starets is essentially a ‘charismatic’ and prophetic figure, accredited for his task by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. He is ordained, not by the hand of man, but by the hand of God. He is an expression of the Church as ‘event’ or ‘happening’, rather than of the Church as institution.

I, myself, have a spiritual father, another priest who knows my life and whom I trust to give advice. Various people think of the Orthodox as purely liturgical folk, but when it comes to spiritual fathers, we get downright charismatic. The Orthodox, like the Roman Catholics, have the sacrament of confession, but it may surprise you to find out that not all Orthodox priests have permission to hear a confession. We take spiritual direction so seriously that being ordained is not sufficient, in and of itself, to approve a person to hear confessions and to give spiritual guidance. Rather, giving guidance to people is taken so seriously that it is not an automatic right given to anyone.

What does qualify someone to be a “starets”? I have no simple answer, that is what it means that a “starets” is a charismatic figure. But, I can tell you that a starets will not deny the Ecumenical Councils and that their life will be a holy life. Those priests who are approved to hear confession are but fill-ins or “supply pastors” for a starets.

Thus your “average” Orthodox actually goes to their local priest to receive guidance for their life, in confession and in private talks and counseling. But, in theory, all of us Orthodox should be asking God for a spiritual father who could give us the guidance that will help us on the road to holiness. There are no set rules for how a starets interacts with someone he (or she) is guiding. In passing, the West has also had starets. Check the history of Brigid of Ireland.

Alan Creech, Roman Catholic
First of all, from a Catholic perspective, as one who is not a Priest, a Monk (not officially anyway), an Abbot (any more) or anything ordained or the like, the whole business of Spiritual Direction would seem to be “one of our things.” You would think, right? Maybe not, but I would think, and a lot of people would think. Very often when we hear or read the term, it is in or from a Catholic source – and very often from the monastic arena. So, all Catholics have an assigned “Spiritual Director” right? Awesome! Uh, wait – not hardly. No. Not even close. I’m taking a guess (educated from reading, my own experience, observation, etc.) that most, or a good number of average, every-day Catholic Christians don’t have a clue what a Spiritual Director is, what one does, or that they would ever need such a thing as “Spiritual Direction.” Believe it or not – I’d bet big money that I’m right on this.

Now, if you’re a Deacon, a Priest, a Monk, a Brother or Sister in some Order or another? Absolutely. You’re going to be fairly well acquainted with the practice. You probably either have or are (maybe both) a Spiritual Director. But, and I think this is very unfortunate, very likely you receive this direction from another Cleric or “vowed Religious” (a not necessarily ordained vowed member of a religious Order such as the Franciscans, or the Benedictines, or the Jesuits) and, also very likely, you are giving direction to another Cleric or vowed Religious. For some reason, and no, this is not always true, hear me saying that, the common “laos” – the “people” of a parish community, the lay folk, aren’t seen as needing this level of guidance in the spiritual life. Why is that? Well, I could probably go on and on, and on about that, but this is not the time or place. I will say this: There is a definite demarcation line between the “Religious” (vowed people in Orders, remember), the Ordained, and regular Christian folk. There is still – still – an attitude that if you’re reeeeaaaalllly going to be a hard-core, serious Christian, a real spiritual person, you’ll be a Deacon, Priest or Religious. Otherwise, don’t worry about it too much. Unfortunate.

I know, I know, I already hear the outcry: “In MY parish, in MY diocese, etc., we have a HUGE emphasis on everyone being a deeply transformed, spiritual person! Everyone prays the Liturgy of the Hours every day and we all have Spiritual Directors!” OK, great, but it really isn’t that common, and that’s too bad.

Spiritual Direction itself – what is it really? Is it something you need a degree to do? Do you have to be officially stamped? Do you need to have a collar or a monk’s cowl on to be of service like this to other members of the Body of Christ? Let me answer those questions: No, No, and let’s see… No. Spiritual Direction should be a part of a Pastor’s “job.” It should possibly be, in my opinion, the main part of the Pastor’s job. It is helping, as one who is mature in the Faith, those who are perhaps less mature (not necessarily) to navigate their life in Christ – “the spiritual life.” Using the Wisdom given by God through the Holy Spirit, to help facilitate the molding of this person into the Image of Christ. It’s “spiritual.” It is, if you will, “charismatic.” It’s not necessarily something you learn to do in a class, although you might certainly be able to learn this and that about how to be a Spiritual Director from others.

In the Catholic context, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation – “confession.” There may be smatterings of Spiritual Direction that goes on in that setting, but that’s not really what it’s for. It may be connected to that, but it should more often, probably, happen in a different context. Spending time with someone, getting to know them, having a relationship with the person in order to know what’s going on in their life, the twists and turns, decisions and lack thereof, etc. Allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and being able to translate that to them in a way that helps them understand what “direction” they need to go in next. Not telling them everything to do and not to do. Not culty sort of, “and now you need to buy a white Buick” stuff – that’s just goofy. It’s leading them to Christ, to the Center. It’s “Discipleship.” I’ve heard this role called a “Discipler” in some Christian contexts. Discipler, Spiritual Director, really the same thing.

Unfortunately, and this is getting long, most Pastors in our Catholic context, and in most other Christian contexts that I know of, don’t have enough time to be real Spiritual Directors to their parishioners. There are too many people, too much to do, not enough time. That should change. How? I have plenty of ideas, but nobody’s really asking me, so there you go. One thing I’ll repeat before shutting down here, though, is this: You shouldn’t have to be an ordained person to be a Spiritual Director. You shouldn’t feel you need to have an ordained person as a Spiritual Director if you need one. It shouldn’t be a big “official” thing. It should be a bit more organic and relational. I believe it works best that way. And again, I hope anything I’ve said here actually answers the question and makes sense in some way to someone. Peace to all in this house.

Joe Boysel, Anglican
My first pastoral training came through reading John Wesley and Eugene Peterson. They were my mentors before I even knew for sure that I was going to be a pastor. Other early influences included N.T. Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and an OT professor in my undergrad years, M. Steven McGuire. Looking back, what I see in all these men was a commitment to spiritual direction. Some were more aware of what they were doing than others, but they all communicated regularly that their core belief about ministry included leading people into a deepening spiritual life as the telos of all ministry. It’s fascinating as I think about it, all these men live or lived in a continual tension between the academy and the parish.

When I went to seminary, I took a class in spiritual formation under Reg Johnson (Asbury Theological Seminary). Reg began to teach us about practices and disciplines of spiritual formation. He taught us about St. Ignatius of Loyola and Julia of Norwich and St. John of the Cross, and we also read Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. I discovered a whole body of literature out there and a world wherein people sought what I had intuitively thought Christianity was about; viz., a developing inner life. I suppose that those early teachers put a prejudice in me that individual Christians can and must “grow in grace” (as Anglicanism likes to say) such that I’ve never strayed too far from that conviction.

When I had an opportunity to write a dissertation, it was only natural for me to focus on spiritual formation. I studied the effect that the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist – through its dual emphases of Word AND Table – had on the spiritual lives of people. The conclusion of my research confirmed that this “principal means of grace” (another Anglican phrase) does indeed lead people to a continual deepening of their relationship with God and therefore a qualitative improvement in their spiritual lives.

How then do I go about doing spiritual formation? Subversively, as Peterson explicitly taught me to do (see his book The Contemplative Pastor). It’s what shepherds do, because if the sheep knew how long and rocky and difficult the path that lie ahead was, they’d never venture very far. But when the sheep discover green grass and still waters along the way, they are encouraged to keep following. Speaking less figuratively, then, I don’t always tell people my plans. Instead, I invite them to do what religious people do: study the Bible, pray, and fellowship. But my intention is precise: I do not want my people to be content with the quality of their spiritual lives. I want them to want more of God, more of his grace, more of his holiness; all the while encouraging them to fully enjoy the genuine freedom they have in Christ.

Of course, some people want to be directed. In these cases, we practice the disciplines together and I lay out specific goals for them to work towards. We read a lot. We fast. We pray. We employ the disciplines and we do so in the spirit of the disciplines. The truth is I love it when someone comes along and discovers this life and wants it for themselves. But it’s also true that I’ve seen people grow and develop into mature Christians without them ever knowing that I had a secret pastoral agenda that went way beyond providing religious services to religious consumers.

In a small compilation of essays on hermeneutics (Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics) Gordon Fee mentions a colleague receiving a note from a former student, who, upon entering full-time pastoral ministry, wrote her former professor to say, “I have come to realize that above everything else the ministry is hermeneutics.” While I don’t disagree about the overall importance of hermeneutics, I do think this insightful comment falls a bit short. Ministry is spiritual direction, which is fully dependent upon hermeneutics. Or, one might say, “All ministry is the ministry of reconciliation which is also called spiritual formation.”

Rev. William Cwirla
Spiritual Direction?  Hmmmmm.  This one is going to be hard for this die-hard Lutheran.  The term “spiritual direction” is not native to the Lutheran lexicon for at least a couple of reasons.  First, we believe that things “spiritual” are things of the Holy Spirit, who works through the preached Word and administered sacraments.  So, if you want “spiritual direction,” come and hear the Gospel of Jesus and eat and drink the Supper of His Body and Blood and you will have all the direction you’re going to need.

Second, the word “direction” suggests a “director” as in one in charge, perhaps in the way of a coach or master who takes you under his or her wing to guide you in your “spirituality.”  Again, very un-Lutheran.

Lutherans have a long and checkered history with various forms of Pietism, some of which involved the tutelage of the “spiritually mature” reminiscent of so many “discipleship” programs.  This led to all manner of abuses of power and control, often to the detriment of faith, as our own CFW Walther attests of his experiences with 19th century German Pietism at the University of Erlangen.  Lutherans are rightly quite wary of any kind of spiritual direction that does not revolve around the Word and the Sacrament.

My experience with “spiritual direction” and “directors” is second hand, resulting from my hanging out at retreats with the Benedictines of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, CA.  I am aware of their workshops and programs involving spiritual direction and have spoken with their spiritual directors, but really know nothing more than that.  The closest thing to spiritual direction that I’ve encountered in Lutheranism is Stephen Ministries, a lay Christian care program that emphasizes prayer and individual ministry among the laity.

If pressed to speak of “spiritual direction” within a Lutheran framework, I would first point to ongoing pastoral care, especially in consideration of private confession and absolution.  Here, the pastor, as a physician of the soul, serves somewhat in the capacity of a spiritual director, though not necessarily in a directive or formalized way.  If you ask for spiritual direction from me as your pastor, I would most likely encourage you to the regular worship in hearing the Gospel and receiving of the Sacrament, frequent use of individual confession and absolution, daily devotional reading of the Scriptures along with edifying readings from the church fathers including our own Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhardt, and others, and prayer, guided by a decent prayer book such as Starck’s Prayer Book or Johann Gerhard’s Daily Exercise of Piety.

Secondly, I would point to what our Confessions call the “mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren,” that is, the conversation and encouragement among Christians.  This happens on a more or less ad hoc basis, as people are placed side by side in community, frequently within their vocation, and have opportunity to converse and pray together.   This is not a “director/directee” relationship, but a familial conversation among the various members of the Body of Christ.

I might wish I had more to write on this topic, but then I’m glad I don’t.


  1. I am probably a person who could benefit from direct face-to-face spiritual direction. I could say, “Here is what is going on in my prayer life, personal life, work life (I know they are all related). Do you have any suggestions? Am I going astray somewhere? How do I deal with this particular problem?” BUT…I also think I am someone who doesn’t take direction very well (thus, the need for me to take it, probably). I think I am not a very trusting person and I would likely wonder, “Does this person know me better than I know me? Does this person really care about me? Why don’t I just let the Holy Spirit guide me and get ‘direction’ through prayer, reading the Bible and reading books by people who have studied and prayed?” So, if it was offered, I may try it, but I don’t know if I would stick with it or not. Chalk it up to my being too independent, too American, too liberal, too Democrat, too something. Or, maybe I am fine doing as I am doing. I don’t know. God knows. I

    t’s a good thing no one wants ME to give THEM spiritual direction. I would be WAY too wishy-washy, I am sure. I would not be “direct” enough. Who would want spiritual direction if it wasn’t direct?

    • Joe Boysel says

      Ah, Joanie, your honesty is refreshing! Perhaps, you should not think of a Spiritual Director as a person who would require (or even want, for that matter) so much authority over you. Rather, SD’s are most helpful in that they are like “native guides” who know the lay of the land and can give sage advice. If you had a good SD s/he would not demand you do what they say. Contrarywise, they would fully recognize that your own instincts are the best way to find a deepening walk with the Lord. But, they might just help you uncover those instincts so that you can affirm what the Lord is already communicating to you. Does that make sense? SD’s are more like friends, less like judges! Blessings+

      • Love your descriptions of SD’s….might they multiply like yard signs in October (pardon the analogy).

      • Thanks, Joe. It does sound like a good spiritual director would be great for all of us.

  2. Interesting to hear the various interpretations and approaches to spiritual direction amongst the “gangstas”. It sounds more like pastoral counseling, or guidance whether by a religious or lay person compared to my understanding. All good and beneficial but different orientation.

    My experience with spiritual directors over the past 10 years, along with my training in it was much less “directive” than this. The Holy Spirit is the “director” and we would gather periodically to listen together to how the Spirit has been active in our lives between visits. The focus of this coversation was primarily in processing their experience of God in their prayer/devotional life and their response to him as they live out (and struggle with) this response in EVERY facet of life. Lectios, various prayer practice , books, etc, were suggested to help them develop their life of prayer – their life AS prayer. Direct guidance, advice giving, etc, was rarely offered.

  3. Joanie, Call a local priest, monastery, retreat house. Also Spiritual Directors International has a website to put folks into contact with Spiritual directors

  4. Bob, I checked out the SDI website. Very nice! The map shows a number of directors not too far from where I live. Problems would be time/money/non-support of husband. The site also led me indirectly to where I can see some good videos. Thanks!

  5. Thank you pastor Cwirla for your comments! I have always gotten nervous when people begin to talk about mentoring or discipleship. I had the worst experience with such practices and am still trying to recover. My group focused so much on sanctification I forgot about the justification which is the only thing that sanctify, that initial me becoming the bride of Christ. Bad use of law and gospel.

    • Second that.

      • Wasn’t Luther active in giving spiritual direction? He may not have called it that, but didn’t he actively teach people how to pray and read the Bible? Isn’t the catechism a tool for spiritual formation, with specific directions for how to use it? Don’t we have specific examples of him instructing individuals in spiritual practices–like Peter, his barber?

        • Chaplain Mike-
          What you say about Luther seems true based on my reading and experience in the Lutheran church. However, the focus with the catechism and its content is on the crucified Christ and his means of grace, not about ourselves. The spiritual disciplines or “growth” I had been taught in non-Lutheran circles was focused us and our application of biblical principles in life. Big distinction.
          Compare the Small Catechism (GOD, SIN, the Cross, means of Grace-HIM for you) to the modern biblical discipleship DVDs (you, you, you, tithing, giving, reading, small group, X,Y,Z). Very different.

  6. As a member of a functionally non-denom (Vineyard), I’m hoping to hear from Jepsen and Richardson on this one. My own personal experience is that for all the talk about discipleship, disciple making, etc. I’ve actually seen very small amounts of it compared to other things (bible study, special programs, “vision casting”, I could go on and on..). I’m curious to hear the take on this from others from a non-denom, or “bible only” camp.

    Thank you, Alan Creech….ironic to hear such a strong message for the priesthood of believers from the RC guy….you amaze and surprise us (yet again).


  7. I have been blessed to have a great spiritual director. I am Catholic, but my spiritual director is a lay person. More than anything, he has become a mentor. Someone I can have lunch with and talk about the faith and whatever is on my mind. He’s a friend.

    I also have a regular confessor, which, for me has been great. Awesome priest. It’s more a conversation than anything too formal. He has gotten to know me and the things I struggle with and has been able to give me great advice along the way.

    I can totally see how having a spiritual director would be unpleasant, or worse, if it is not the right person. Personally, I’ve been lucky in the people I have been able to surround myself with, but I think it is all a matter of personality and finding the right fit for you.

  8. I like everything, which I’ve heard from the gangstas. But I think there are many people who frequent this site whom have come out of evangelical circles where “spiritual direction” was a cornerstone to their experience . . . and maybe not so healthy of a cornerstone. In the more rigorous sects, some of the parachurch groups (which I came out of), more fundamentalistic churches and even cults, “spiritual direction” can easily get mixed up with the “spiritual directors’ (pastors, parachurch staff, evangelical husbands) personality disorders (mental illness).

    As part of the Fall of Adam, none of us are complete psychologically. All of us carry mental health baggage as echoes of that Fall, some more than others. Psychologists have long recognized that several personality disorders carry the trait of wanting to control or dominate others. Theses people who suffer from these disorders, more often than not, end up in leadership roles such as CEOs of companies, drill sergeants and unfortunately, spiritual leaders (pastors, para church staff etc.). They then believe that their maladaptive personality trait (of wanting to dominate and control others) is their anointed responsibility from God. The victims (those so dominated) are easily hoodwinked into submission to this type of “spiritual direction” because they want to do what’s right. They really want to serve God, so when their spiritual authority tells them to do such and such, they, at least at first, do it. It can be very damaging over time.

    As an extreme example, at the epicenter of every bad cult you will find these men (occasionally women) who have taken this “spiritual directing” to the point they are having sex with members (and children as in the case of the Children of God cult) . . . convincing them this is what God wanted. Of course scripture warns against leaders “lording” over those given to their care.

    So, for us who have come out of these spiritually abusive situations, and once again when we get our heads screwed on straight, we tend to error in the other direction. It is hard for me to seek spiritual direction from anyone now that I’ve been burnt (a couple of decades ago). So I have to really work on it . . . but carrying a healthy amount of skepticism and discernment.

    • Buford Hollis says

      Right–people from liturgical churches will think of going to a priest or monastery, while evangelicals will turn to people who have appointed themselves “spiritual directors” and hung out a shingle to that effect.

    • Since we’re talking about abusive situations—and those in positions of authority—and while Father Ernesto is in the picture—I hope he won’t mind if I link to a recent post of his about child abuse:

      The final paragraph sums up his article, and much of what J. Michael Jones is talking about:
      “I do not know what it is about this type of sin [child abuse] that seems to keep the perpetrators from repentance. Nor do I know why this is the sort of sin that most tends to be hidden by families. But, this is certainly one of the sins that is most resistant to repentance, confession, healing, and restoration.”

  9. I’m with you, Pastor Cwirla!

    “Spiritual direction”.

    Just what is that, anyway?

    To me (anyway), there is nothing quite so boring as a person who is working on “their spirituality”, whether by themselves, or with aid of a “director”.

    “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”

    Well…maybe we could help Him out a little bit.

    As you say, Pastor Cwirla, the Word and Sacraments will do just fine, thank you very much.

    • “Just what is that (spiritual direction) , anyway ?”

      From Alan Creech above: Spending time with someone, getting to know them, having a relationship with the person in order to know what’s going on in their life, the twists and turns, decisions and lack thereof, etc. Allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and being able to translate that to them in a way that helps them understand what “direction” they need to go in next. Not telling them everything to do and not to do….

      OK, if this isn’t your cup of tea, if this doesn’t speak Jesus to you, find another way, but why act like what we’re talking about is 1)flatly unnecessary and/or 2) strange or bizarre or perhaps 3)so works oriented that it becomes a different gospel. Call this a rant if you want, but telling me “it’s all GOD, and none of me” is just plain not helpful to me, and I’m convinced that their is a universe maker WHO has made other means of grace available to me above and beyond the WORD and the Sacraments.

      Sorry if this ‘package’ is confrontational: I’m not trying to push you towards accepting the practice, but your reasoning , to me, is just flat.


      • That’s OK, Greg.

        I much prefer to speak in terms of Christian faithfulness, Christian education, a Christian pastor.

        Then we might be able to avoid the self-preoccupation that often comes with “spirtuality”.

        So often we see that “spirituality is something cooked up in somebody’s head or heart to help them ‘feel’ a certain way (not always, but much of the time).

        As a Lutheran, I know that I don’t have to feel saved, or feel spiritual, to know that I am saved. Focusing on the promises of God, that come to us externally and objectively in the Word, is the best way to go about that.


        • Buford Hollis says

          One of the reasons that “spirituality” is popular is that “church” and “religion” have become associated in the minds of many with rote or retrograde practices.

          • I think you are exactly right, BH.

            It’s a shame that so many church leaders have done a terrible job teaching whay church is all about, and why the church does what it does. (hopefully to stay centered on Christ).

            A friend of mine went to a mega-church nearby and was greeted by ushers in spacemen garb. And then it got worse from there.

            When we jettison much of what the traditional church has been doing over the centuries in favor of the latest and greatest (whatever), we can end up all over the map at the whim of whomever and their idea (that day) of what “spirituality” is.

          • And a respectful consideration of the wisdom of the humble and spiritually mature might prevent a whole lot of this. Someone under St. Silouan’s or St. Theresa of Avila’s direction would probably NOT dress up as a spaceman to greet churchgoers.

          • Buford Hollis says

            Spaceman garb? Whatever their faults, they don’t sound like they were being too “rote” or “retrograde”!

        • from Damaris, typed below:

          And a respectful consideration of the wisdom of the humble and spiritually mature might prevent a whole lot of this.

          this is what I don’t get about many of the complaints reg. spiritual directors and direction: when done with wisdom, there is nothing “whiz bang, make me feel good” about it; it’s not cooking up anything new, novel, or self-centered. It’s just wise friends helping us walk in humility, because just us and our bibles, and yeah I’ll go there: just us and our priest/pastor/bishop/holy guy(s) typically just isn’t enough for us (or at least enough for me) because we are just that wayward. This isn’t a modern form of “choose your own way”, it’s more like “get solid, wise , help so that you DON”T choose your own way”.

          IMO: the ev. church is starving for this, esp, in the cold , impersonal suburban swamp that is much of America


    • Overall, I’m with you on this, Steve. Perhaps what is really at issue here, however, is our definition of spiritual direction, and maybe the designation itself.

      I would see what Staupitz did for Luther as “spiritual direction”—pastorally helping another person focus on Christ. I would see what Luther did in translating the Bible and getting it into the hands of people, teaching people to pray, creating the catechism for families, etc., as “spiritual direction,” for it involved a pastor encouraging and providing specific direction and practices to help people know Christ and grow in their relationship with him. The rite of confession also plays a part in Lutheran ecclesiology and practice; I would include that under spiritual direction. Luther’s rejection of the monastic tradition, it seems to be, did not involve saying that people don’t need spiritual direction, just that one need not be a monk or nun and engage in extraordinary disciplines in order to have an authentic relationship with Christ. So, through the Bible, catechism, hymn books, and so on, he gave people in all walks of life and vocations specific direction in their life with Christ.

      Eugene Peterson (a Presbyterian) would say that a main duty of a pastor toward his flock is to teach them to pray. I think this is what I was getting at.

  10. I understand “spiritual direction” as being under the guidance of a spiritual director, much like an exercise trainer or a coach. Luther was certainly not doing this, at least in an intentional way. Private confession served as an opportunity for spiritual counsel, catechesis, etc. In fact, Luther’s father confessor Staupitz was instrumental in bringing Luther to a proper understanding of the justification of a sinner by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. So I suppose, one might have called Fr. Staupitz Luther’s “spiritual director” but he was actually his father confessor.

    As I indicated in my article, personal confession is probably as close as we get to some sense of spiritual direction. Luther and the Lutheran rite leave some latitude for pastoral conversation, though confession is not the same as counseling. At the same time, Lutherans are quite aware from history what Pietism did to private confession, making it into a form of spiritual domination of the strong over the weak. Luther equipped people to be discerning Christians by translating the Bible, writing catechisms, teaching and preaching.

    What i understand as “spiritual direction” today, albeit from afar, is quite foreign to Luther and the Lutheran tradition.

  11. I would agree with Pastor Cwirla that what I, too, “understand as spiritual direction today … is quite foreign,” not just to the Lutheran tradition, but also to the historical tradition of spiritual direction. It still boggles my mind that there are people who take courses on spiritual direction, get a degree on spiritual direction, and then hand a sign out that they are spiritual directors. Spiritual direction is not an academic discipline that is learned in a schoolroom. It is not simply a variant form of psychological counseling.

    Spiritual direction is just that, a direction that is wisdom based and not knowledge based. It is given by a person who has not chosen himself or herself. In fact, often when you read Orthodox writings about spiritual direction, you often read that the elders about whom they talk did not choose to be elders but were recognized as elders in a non-formal fashion. Often a person or two would ask them for advice, and it would be so good, holy, trustworthy, and effective, that they would mention to others this person who gave them that wise advice. As the “fame” of the person would spread, more and more people would come to them, to the point that sometimes the elder would try to hide! Definitely not self-chosen.

    Nor do you read in Orthodox tradition about having regular meetings with elders while the counseled you about your life. Rather, you would come at need, and you would never be quite sure what type of reply you might receive. Sometimes it would be a question, sometimes a saying, sometimes a story, and sometimes you would even be rebuked. That is to say that an Orthodox elder is about as far away from a psychologist as you can get!

    If you want to read some pithy short stories about some of the original startsi, Google the Desert Fathers and click through until you find some of the stories.

  12. Father Ernesto…I love reading stories about the Desert Fathers. So much wisdom there. And subtle uses of humor. They had a great understanding that God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are. I don’t know who originally said that, but i agree with it. Their emphasis on prayer has always appealed to me.