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Spiritual Direction in Context

Spiritual Direction in Context

by Nick Wagner

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“God created us to be lovers,” writes Nick Wagner in his introduction to Spiritual Direction in Context. “When we love, we are in right relationship. We are acting for justice. The ministry of every spiritual director, in any context, is to serve as a guide into the depths of that love relationship.”

Here, in this provocative collection


“God created us to be lovers,” writes Nick Wagner in his introduction to Spiritual Direction in Context. “When we love, we are in right relationship. We are acting for justice. The ministry of every spiritual director, in any context, is to serve as a guide into the depths of that love relationship.”

Here, in this provocative collection of essays, respected leaders in the field of spiritual direction explore the myriad of contexts in which this relationship takes place and offers practical ways to respond to them.

As the popularity of spiritual direction grows, directors are facing situations that monks and nuns – for centuries the exclusive practitioners of this profession – never had to face.

The essays in this book, drawn from Presence, the journal of Spiritual Directors International, look deeply at spiritual direction in a number of contexts, including the workplace, with the aging, in hospitals, with women’s groups, with youth, with the homeless, and with those in mourning.

Spiritual Direction in Context is the third in the SDI series.

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Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
Spiritual Directors International
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Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.42(d)

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SPIRITUAL Direction in Context

By Nick Wagner

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2006Nick Wagner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-2209-1



Spiritual Directors: Teachers and Guardians of Mystery Shaun McCarty, ST

In ancient times there was a king who decided to find and honor the greatest person in his realm. A man of wealth and property was singled out. Another was praised for her healing powers; another for his wisdom and knowledge of the law. Still another was lauded for his business acumen. Many other successful people were brought to the palace, but it became evident that the task of choosing the greatest would be difficult.

Finally the last candidate stood before the king. She was a woman. Her hair was white. Her eyes shone with the light of knowledge, understanding, and love.

"Who is this?" asked the king. "What has she done?"

"You have seen and heard all the others," said the kings aide. "This is their teacher!"

The people applauded and the king came down from his throne to honor her.

The role of those who accompany others on journeys of faith has been seen in a variety of ways: spiritual directors, masters, fathers, mothers, midwives, guides, counselors, mentors, companions, friends, and so on. For some, a given designation for the ministry of spiritual direction may say too much; for others, too little. Rather than restrict terminology to a single role or set of words, I prefer to employ a variety. This enables me to explore more creatively the richness of this multifaceted gem of pastoral care.

For some time, I've thought it would be enriching to explore the role of "mystagogue," a special kind of teacher whom the king honors. Pedagogues teach children. Androgogues teach adults. As mystagogues, spiritual directors are teachers of mysteries. This particular term has helped me focus on what I would call one of the "sacral" (in contrast with some of the more "secular" or "professional") facets of this ministry. It has been my experience that the heart of what we do in companioning people on their journeys is concerned with keeping the mystery of it all in focus, and I hope this exploration of the role of a "mystagogue" will promote this way of looking at spiritual direction.

At a time when there is a veritable smorgasbord of spiritual entrees and desserts for practicing and prospective spiritual directors, a caution may be in order. It may be easy to succumb to the subtle illusion that it is primarily learned skills that will make us better "hunting guides" for those in search of God. Perhaps we need reminders now and then that God is not necessarily where or how we expect to find God, that God's presence is often about elusive mystery. Nor is God's kingdom manageable primarily by dint of acquired human proficiency. I would suggest that mystery is at the heart of what we do and not do as spiritual directors. Indeed, I would suggest that it is at the heart of who we are as spiritual directors.

The Role of Mystagogue

The term "mystagogue" is rooted in two Greek words: mystes, which means "one initiated in mysteries," and agogos, which means "leader." Thus "mystagogue" conveys the notion of leading into, building up, supporting, revealing more clearly how awesome and impressive mystery is. Or, to put it another way, mystagogues find ways of helping people see everything in God. "Mystagogue" is a term often used to refer to those who lead people in sacramental preparation and follow-up; it is also an appropriate way to describe those who help people celebrate the holy in the midst of everyday life.

This role of mystagogue has a long tradition within many faith communities and contexts. With Paul, Cephas, and Apollos, mystagogues are "stewards of God's mysteries" (I Cor 4:1). Previously, Priscilla and Aquila, partners in ministry with Paul, had performed a mystagogic service for Apollo by explaining "the Way of God to him more accurately" (Acts 18:2, 26; Rom 16:3).

According to Celtic spiritual tradition (inherited from the time of the Druids), the soul is thought to shine around the body as a luminous cloud. When a person is very open, appreciative, and trusting with another, that person has found an anam cara or "soul friend" who beholds the other's light and beauty and accepts that person for who she or he truly is. This friendship awakens the fullness and mystery of that person's life. The two are joined in an ancient union with humanity that transcends barriers of time, convention, theology, and ethnic background. When one is blessed with an anam cara, the Irish believe one has arrived at that most sacred place—home. Likewise, mystagogues awaken the fullness and mystery of peoples' lives and guide them on their journeys home.

In the Roman Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, the term "mystagogue" is associated with newly baptized adults in the last stage of their formation process, called the mystagogia (post-baptismal catechesis). Ideally, it is meant to be a lifelong process of deepening faith. Candidates for mystagogia are those deemed ready for the "solid food" of which the author of Hebrews speaks: "Everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb 5:13–14).

Characteristics of the Mystagogue

As bearers of the mystery of God, mystagogues are not primarily functionaries. Yet they do have a role in facilitating others' attentiveness to mystery. They do this first by knowing (that is, experiencing) and allowing themselves to be caught up in mystery receptively, patiently, reverently, and with abandon. They learn best by being led themselves into mystery, enthused by it, directed by it, possessed by it. Those candidates they help learn more by way of contagion than infusion.

Effective mystagogues pique interest in mystery by helping others to discover the enlightening dimensions of mystery hidden in the plain sight of everyday human experience. To help this happen, mystagogues foster a contemplative attitude toward those who seek their help. They communicate a sense of wonder, awe, and reverence more by letting their words emerge from fertile silence. They are of more help to others by raising questions rather than by supplying premature answers. They support others in living the questions and finding their own answers at their own pace.

Entrusted with stewardship for the mysteries of faith, mystagogues are, indeed, a special, perhaps somewhat unconventional, kind of teacher. Mystagogues teach by helping people name and claim their own religious experience. They evoke truth more than they impart it. They lead people to see everything in God. They teach spiritual things spiritually by being witnesses to the truth in proclaiming, celebrating, and living the paschal and pentecostal mysteries.

Spiritual Directors as Mystagogues

Spiritual directors serve as mystagogues of faith and personal piety. We lead our directees more deeply into these mysteries in such a way that they become revelatory for life, and we help them develop language to talk about it. In our mystagogical role, we are people who traffic in mystery and possess some fluency in this "second language."

As responsible stewards like Paul, Cephas, and Apollos, our task is not to dispel mysteries by making them more reasonable or comfortable; rather, our task is to help our directees learn to live with the ambiguity of the weeds and the wheat in their lives. In this role, spiritual directors are "midwives" of the soul, evocateurs of transformation and growth.

Spiritual directors as mystagogues minister to others especially by being guardians of the mys

Excerpted from SPIRITUAL Direction in Context by Nick Wagner. Copyright © 2006 by Nick Wagner. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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