Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve read several works on spiritual direction and what I most appreciated about this was the author’s down to earth approach to these matters. She introduces herself as an “amateur” in these things, which carries both the notion of learner and lover. At points I’ve been put off by the professionalization of spiritual direction. Her test of a calling to this is simply that people begin to trust themselves deeply to one.
She begins by describing how she welcomes strangers, those new to a directee relationship. This was very practical, dealing with her own preparation, the preparation of both physical space and a safe atmosphere for direction.
Her next chapter is on the director as a good teacher. Most striking is that good teachers encourage play. While direction often explores serious matters, there can also be a lightness, a joy, and even laughter in this relationship. Good teachers also know the pupil’s limits, are hopeful, ask good questions, evaluate progress, and are themselves learners.
The third chapter explores the idea of director as midwife, the one who comes alongside a birthgiver to instruct and coach, and oft-times to simply wait as insight gestates. Most striking was her discussion of “transition”, a time just before birth where the birthgiver may totally lose a sense of control and how the midwife can give good direction and support at this time to lean into the hard work of giving birth to spiritual insight and growth.
The final chapter explores the direction of women as well as what it means for women to act as directors. Two critical elements here were helping women find their voice and not simply default to submission, and to face the sin of self-contempt, which Guenther especially sees in women. She concludes with an exploration of directing those who have faced abuse.
This is a slim and yet rich book that is probably one of the best treatments of spiritual direction I’ve read, especially valuable for its lack of pretension and refreshing “down to earthness”.