I still remember the moment, although it happened nearly 15 years ago. I was an evangelical seminary student in my 20s, preparing for the Christian ministry and struggling through classes in everything from exegesis to administration to pastoral care. Struggling, too, with my call and with a prayer life that seemed to consist mostly of talking to the ceiling. One of my professors, a gentle and quiet man with a background in spiritual formation and psychology, had just delivered a talk on prayer and personality in that morning's chapel service. Maybe, I thought, he might have some answers to all the questions I was asking. Hesitantly I made my way down the hallway, knocked on his door, blurted out my confusions, and stumbled unawares into one of the church's oldest practices: that mentoring along our faith journey that goes by the name of spiritual direction.
Although I did not know it then, I was also stumbling into a larger trend among late-20th-century Protestants in returning to devotional practices with roots deep in the Christian tradition. Browsing the aisles in the "inspirational" section of the bookstore, it is hard to miss titles such as Celebration of Discipline, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, The God of Intimacy and of Action, Soul Friend, and The Holy Longing. While it has points of contact with psychotherapy, Christian spiritual direction is a different undertaking altogether. Spiritual directors focus on helping their clients attend to the presence of God in their lives and explore ways in which they might open themselves up to that presence more fully—everything from trying new forms of prayer to seeing God in the everyday to (if the situation warrants it) psychological or pastoral counseling. ...