What is the Bible, if not about spiritual direction? Open up to a page, any page, and you are bound to find something that offers insight and guidance of one form or another.
Of course, with 73 books (46 Old Testament, 27 New) from which to choose, plus any number of commentaries, interpretations and analyses for each, Scripture can, for some, seem rather intimidating.
In an essay entitled “Using Scripture in Prayer and Spiritual Direction,” Sulpician Father Richard Gula, author (“The Call to Holiness”) and moral theologian, suggests that while the Bible’s text and interpretations can be overwhelming, that “should not frighten us away from praying with Scripture, nor smother imaginative application to our lives.”
Spiritual direction, says Father Gula, offers believers an opportunity “to become more consciously aware of the presence of God in their life, more deeply in love with God, and more alive in the Spirit of God.” Scripture, as a place of encounter with God, “can serve as a special resource for spiritual direction.”
But effective spiritual direction begins with prayer — more specifically, Father Gula suggests, “contemplative-like” prayer that “listens, pays attention and opens our hearts to the deeper dimensions of our experiences where we meet God.”
And, he adds, because Scripture expresses the word of a living God seeking to engage in dialogue with us, “we need to approach the Bible in prayer as a word addressed to us personally calling for a response. ‘What do I hear the Lord saying to me?’ is the fundamental question we bring to Scripture when we pray.”
Thus, it is important to pay attention not simply to the words of Scripture but to the mood and feelings of those we read about; to how we feel ourselves as we read (“Where am I in this story?”); to ask, “How does the Lord seem to me in this text?”; and to how we respond to God (“Lord, what I hear you saying to me is …”).
In the process, a healthy balance of “left brain” (imagination and intuition) and “right brain” (logic and analysis) thinking is necessary.
To that end, both spiritual director and directee, though likely not certified in biblical scholarship, should be “biblically informed” and aware of ongoing critical examination of scriptural texts. Both should also have an honest understanding of what the directee is seeking through this exercise.
If that search, ultimately, is for a closer relationship with God, it is unlikely that any sincere (read: prayerful and prayer-filled) effort at reading Scripture will be for naught. How, after all, can time spent with the spiritual director of all spiritual directors be anything but productive?
“Call to me,” says the Lord, “and I will answer you; I will tell you great things beyond the reach of your knowledge” (Jer 33:3).
Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.