Working with a spiritual companion you have chosen yourself can awaken you to new possibilities, new connections and a new sense of meaning in life. If you’re ready to find a spiritual director to work with you, we invite you to use our searchable database of over 6000 directors and companions. Locating and interviewing a spiritual director/companion, chaplain or life coach is an important step in your spiritual journey. SDI’s desire is to provide an easy, inviting way for seekers to connect with a spiritual companion, to find a training program and/or a retreat center. We also help existing spiritual companions find supervisors and additional training resources.
Are you a spiritual companion? Or are you discerning your role as a spiritual companion? We invite you to discern on the Hallmarks of a Spiritual Companion, listed below. Read over these hallmarks, pray and meditate on them, discuss them with a trusted companion. They are not meant to be a complete set of qualifications, but rather these hallmarks represent various qualities that a spiritual companion resonates with and strives for in their companioning work.
Hallmarks of a Spiritual Companion
Which is not a passive act, but rather a profound and supportive engagement
with the people we companion;
A prayerful, meditative, immersive approach. One that acknowledges that in order to access the Beyond, we must use channels beyond our rationality. And that
we need to keep going back, over and over, to
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, USA
“Most people would agree that spiritual direction means companionship with another person or group through which the Holy One shines with wisdom, encouragement and discernment. Some, however, expect this companionship to be of a professional nature, with a trained, supervised, and perhaps even certified spiritual director. Others see it as spontaneous and gifted, strongly resisting signs of professionalization.
Spiritual guidance can happen authentically in a vast variety of forms. The many forms can be divided into two major groups: Formal spiritual direction and informal spiritual companionship. Formal spiritual direction includes relationships that are explicitly defined as spiritual direction with a clear separation of roles between spiritual director and spiritual directee. Meetings are usually scheduled in advance on a regular basis, and a spiritual directee normally has only one formal director.
Informal spiritual companionship is characterized by a lack of structure and role definition. These relationships are not considered exclusive, and most people have several such companionships. Meetings tend to be irregular and spontaneous. There is nearly always some atmosphere of mutuality, and each person retains his or her own locus of discernment. There is no notion of providing a service, and fees are out of the question.”
Gerald May, MD. Excerpted from Shalem News, Volume xxii, No. 1, Winter, 1998, “Varieties Of Spiritual Companionship”
“We define Christian spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”
William A. Barry, SJ and William J. Connolly, SJ, Center for Religious Development, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
“Spiritual direction is the process of helping every believer realize her or his own soul freedom and to help everyone accept the responsibility of developing a relationship to God through Jesus Christ while in community. Some spiritual guidance practices that strengthen that relationship include spoken and extemporaneous prayer in formal and informal worship; participation in challenging learning communities; dialogue on scripture, faith practice, and mission; personal study and interpretation of scripture; silence, meditation and use of the labyrinth in some associated churches.”
Rev. Catherine Fransson, Seattle First Baptist Church, American Baptist
“Spiritual direction is a contact whereby someone accepts someone else as a guide on (a part of) their spiritual way. Someone seeks and accepts someone else as a guide on their own spiritual way and entrusts himself to his guiding authority. A sort of archetypal spiritual direction in the Christian tradition was practiced by the Desert Fathers (between 300 -600 AD). In the desert surviving as a human being and a faithful Christian was for most people only possible with a reliable guide. Spiritual guidance grew in a very natural way. Beginners looked for support from experienced fellow-travellers. They sought concrete advice. ‘Speak a word to me.’ They wanted clear directions so that they would not lose their way.”
Gideon van Dam, Dutch Protestant Church, Netherlands
“Presbyterian spiritual direction requires a scriptural foundation and theological familiarity in our case with the Reformed faith and tradition, that’s our lens. But direction is primary interested in our universal spiritual experience and that necessitates the capacity and willingness to notice God through many lenses. Direction is not about telling people what to believe or how to act but working with the Spirit to discover, surface, name for themselves, and engage in what God is doing.”
Rev. Kenton Smith, Presbyterian, USA
“Spiritual direction in the Anglican Tradition is somewhat like the Anglican Church itself — a combination of many paths which have been handed down over the centuries. Traditionally the “Anglo Catholic” segment of the Anglican Church has always had a form of spiritual direction. There are still some spiritual directors from that old tradition which held that the spiritual director was also one’s confessor. Just as direction is becoming more sought out in other traditions, we too are experiencing more people looking for spiritual directors and so now there are both Evangelical and “Anglo Catholic” seekers.
Spiritual directors here in Ontario are trained in Franciscan, Beneditine, and Ignatian traditions, and the Anglican way is to combine these traditions and others as it seems necessary for a spiritual directee’s needs. Certainly spiritual directors in the Anglican Church are aware of a special attachment on the part of some Anglican spiritulal directees to the Prayer Book and the spirituality of the daily offices.”
Dana Fisher, Professor at Trinity College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
“Traditionally Lutheran spiritual direction is concentrated on sin. Luther said faith alone can free us from sin. So what people are looking for is salvation which to most means the experience of bliss. Consequently the spiritual director’s first task is to help the spiritual directee discern what is sin and what is not. The next task is to help the spiritual directee to realize that in spite of suffering peace is the sign of grace.
Since the 1950s many retreat houses have been built, and lay people as well as priests direct there. Lay people can also give the absolution of sins. There are no formal guidelines for spiritual direction and no guidelines for training. During the last two or three decades the Lutheran Church has been looking more and more towards the Roman Catholic Church for inspiration. Many of us have attended courses in spiritual direction in Roman Catholic institutions.”
Eva Basch-Kahre, psychoanalyst and spiritual director, Lutheran, Sweden
“Spiritual direction is the facilitation of one’s spiritual formation through a covenanted relationship with another, formalized in regular meetings for inquiry, conversation, and reflection around one’s personal experience. The spiritual director is one who, by virtue of personal holiness and spiritual maturity, helps the spiritual directee to pay attention to the presence and work of God in her or his life. Within the Wesleyan/Methodist theological tradition of Christianity, holiness of heart and life is the goal with an interconnected system of spiritual direction for all as the means toward that end. The sharing of stories in small accountability groups or through public testimony, and the linking of personal devotional practices with service among the poor are emphasized as means of grace.”
Rev. Douglas Hardy, PhD, Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
“Spiritual theology has to do with living the Christian life instead of thinking about it…. The counseling movement, even within the church, became heavily psychologized and became almost exclusively therapeutic, so what people were dealing with were problems. If you had a problem you went to a counselor. But spiritual direction in a sense doesn’t begin with a problem. Spiritual direction deals much more out of health and an identity of Christian holiness, so I think it’s an obvious response to the failure to transcend.”
Excerpted from a 1995 interview of Eugene H. Peterson, Evangelical, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
We are intuitives, and quiet
guides. We provide reasoned feedback (only when asked!), and we also try to evince balance and equanimity at all times.
To ourselves, to the communities
we serve, and to our supervisors, who help keep
We are committed to constantly learning (sometimes the same lessons,
again and again, until they finally sink in).
We honour the unique character of each person we encounter, and we try to
leave our own predilections and inclinations to
the side, even when doing so is difficult, to allow
our companions to find their own way through.
We are compassionate to others, but we also know the
importance of taking care of ourselves.
At the very least we “do no harm,” but more than that we endeavour to always comport ourselves in an ethically correct manner. And to admit our mistakes, and apologize, when we invariably make some.
We position ourselves in groundlessness (so as to achieve maximum stability), moving towards the unknown with our companions courageously and fearlessly. We acknowledge that entering the field of the Beyond requires us to shed our preconceptions, to be humble, welcoming, and willing to let go. We also need to be ready to explore the shadows and sufferings that feed our collective spiritual growth.
Understanding that our conceptual framings, as valuable as they may be, are in the end no substitute for a direct experience of God or the Universe. So we marry our intellects to our intuitions, and encourage those who we
walk alongside to find their own balance between the two.
Spiritual insight and revelations are critically important steps along the way, but, with some effort, are accessible to just about anyone. Spiritual maturity (or any kind of maturity really), on the other hand, is not. Consequently, beyond the flashes of realization our colleagues and we encounter, we keep practicing living into our principles, with the hope that some growing measures of wisdom result.
We are “intimacy workers,” committed to getting up close with those we companion, and with the essence of the Universe, even when that can be very challenging. At the same time, we always honour healthy boundaries.
Spiritual companionship is a two way street. And, as with most successful relationships, it is most fruitful when our preassigned roles start to fade away and we start to melt into each other. That is, when the false difference between self and others disappears, and we are swept into God’s embrace together.
We try to recognize where people are at, with understanding and compassion, and meet them there without judgement. That means having enough tools in our arsenal to engage in multiple modalities, as appropriate. And it also signifies recognizing when we have reached our own limits, and being able and willing to refer those who come to us to others as circumstances warrant.
Intrigued? Resonating? The world urgently needs you. We invite you to take some next steps towards growing as a spiritual companion. Become a member of SDI, and join the community of spiritual companions – what better way to “learn the language” of spiritual companionship than by surrounding yourself with people who are fluent! We offer many resources to grow and nurture your companionship practice.
We also invite you to check out our first SDI Course, an Introduction to Spiritual Companionship Across Faith Traditions, a deeper intro to the healing modality of spiritual companionship.
The next step would be to train and certify as a spiritual director, guide, or companion, via a Formation Training Program. You can search for a Training Program in our Searchable database.