|Publication Date: 21 May 2015|
|Publisher: SPCK Publishing|
|Author: Liz Hoare|
|ISBN-13: 9780281072200, 9780281072217|
Using the Bible in Spiritual Direction
The Bible has always had a privileged place in the director’s toolkit and has been mined as a resource in different ways. It has been a source of wisdom; it has provided material for prayer and reflection; it has encouraged those just beginning in prayer and those for whom prayer has run dry; it has challenged belief and behaviour in the struggle to discern God’s will and set boundaries for orthodoxy in Christian experience.
With that all this in mind, the author suggests that spiritual direction is not just for individuals but for the flourishing of the Church as a whole. There is evidence of a loosening of the links between Christian orthodoxy and the practice of spiritual direction. It is also often perceived as a private and individualistic pursuit. The author therefore asks how the Bible challenges this interpretation of a key but often unacknowledged ministry in the Church, and how it may help the whole Church to own spiritual direction and thereby benefit the wider world.
LIZ Hoare’s Using the Bible in Spiritual Direction (SPCK, £14.99) set me on a steep learning curve, not because the book is in any way difficult, but because the subject itself has, until fairly recently, been more commonly associated with parts of Christian tradition generally remote from Methodism, such as the Desert Fathers (and Mothers!), Benedictine lectio divina, and prayer in the tradition of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. In later times, the directeur de conscience was a recognised figure in French Catholic history and literature (Louis XIV had one; their interactions would be an interesting subject of research).
Dr Hoare herself (her doctorate is in Tudor history) stands within a broadly evangelical Anglican tradition; she is tutor in spiritual formation at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Yet she writes with understanding and app recitation of (among many others) high Churchmen of the late 16th and 17th centuries and of leaders of the 19th-century Oxford Movement. In such a wide-ranging account, it is not surprising that Methodism and the Wesleys receive only passing mentions. Yet in fact several Methodist Districts, normally in co-operation with or under the leadership of Anglicans, have established courses in spiritual direction, while across the Atlantic, “Hearts
on Fire” is the title of a Fellowship of United Met hodist spiritual directors and retreat
leaders. Many readers, including the present reviewer, will welcome a definition of what is
meant by spiritual direction, and what is not. Dr Hoare believes that spiritual direction is not, among other things, a self-improvement plan. Catholic writers have made a clear distinction between spiritual direction and the sacrament of penance. Others, including Dr Hoare herself, insist that it is not psychotherapy or counselling,
still less financial planning (“Sell all you have, and give to the poor”?). “It is not in the least about handing over responsibility for our lives to another human being. ”More positively:“ Spiritual direction is a relational ministry between two people whereby both are seeking to listen to the Holy Spirit ... It is God the Holy Spirit, in fact, who is the real director ..."
The author speaks with the quiet authority of one who has both received and given spiritual direction for many
years. Although, like John Wesley, she is a person “of one book”, she draws on a rich fund of old and modern sources, to which copious notes and bibliography bear witness. She does not question the value of academic study of the Bible, but she encourages her readers to place biblical texts themselves at the centre of their pilgrimage. She sees spiritual significance in the abrupt ending of Mark and in Luke’s setting Jesus’ great sermon on the plain rather than on the mount. No review can do justice to the drawing power of this remarkable book. Readers who have already experienced spiritual direction will find their experience deepened. Those who are taking their first steps on that journey will be encouraged to go forward in confidence and hope.
In this new book about spiritual direction Liz Hoare writes with an insider’s understanding. She knows the work and feel of this one-to-one ministry of accompanying people on their spiritual journeys. She moves easily between the voice of the “director” and the shoes of the “directee” as she explores the connections between this work and its roots in the Bible.
As someone who has just completed a one-year introductory course to becoming a spiritual director, I found this a very helpful and interesting discussion of the many ways in which scripture lies at the heart of this role. The Bible is full of stories of people who are looking for God as they face real personal struggles, and God is there too waiting to meet them.
In 138 pages she provides a map of the territory across which the journeys of spiritual direction can travel. Her particular focus is on how people draw on the Christian scriptures. She engages in a gentle conversation with a wide spectrum of different readers: those who might not see big links between direction and the Bible, and those who are wary of reading the Bible in ways that use the imagination and reflection on experience. Her own spiritual life has been nourished by the scriptures and she suggests many ways in which they can speak to us: images, metaphor, pictures, prayers and story. She explores the use of questions (very common in the Bible), the importance of listening in silence and the dangers of inappropriate use of scripture.
She introduces us to a range of models commonly used in spiritual direction and highlights the way that the Bible is used in these approaches, drawing on the methods of the desert fathers, Ignatius, Benedict, the puritans and the Oxford Movement.
Central to her case is the person of Jesus himself, the great model of how to have spiritual conversations with people: his attentiveness to God and the person in front of him; his use of questions; his emotional empathy; his perceptive discernment; and his own rootedness in scripture – “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the scriptures to us?”
In an age where religion is out and spirituality is in, this field of ministry is increasing in popularity and significance. Liz has provided us with an important guide.
... finding new insights in familiar texts ... Her writing is succinct and approachable, and offers a very readable introduction to spiritual direction. The book will be useful both to those involved in direction and those seeking direction.