Spiritual Direction and Quakers

A reflection on offering ‘spiritual direction’ by Eleanor Jackson, a member of Cotteridge Quaker Meeting and a Woodbrooke Associate Tutor. This article was originally commissioned for ‘News from the Centre’, the next edition of which we hope can be printed later in the year. Eleanor trained with the Birmingham Ecumenical Forum for Spiritual Directors & Companions and has been offering 1:1 ecumenically since 2014.

Today’s model of Spiritual Direction is one of companionship and spiritual hospitality – something that Friends would recognise instantly – putting aside everything including our own selves in order to listen.

It’s not about being “A Spiritual Director”, it’s about being on our own spiritual journey, with the door open to anyone who calls. (A model of listening eldership, in fact.)

It’s not counselling because it’s not about strategies and solutions. It’s about that person and God. Right now.  It’s not contractual but can end any time, usually down to the directee.

[At the time of writing, pre-lockdown] I’m seeing six individuals for about an hour each, every 6-8 weeks: four Anglicans of varying beliefs, a Methodist and one Quaker. I also see Friends and others seeking shorter term companionship, particularly with discernment or on retreats.

I use silence a lot in sessions, for gathering or reflection. It takes us to that deeper place where differences in theology and practice no longer matter; where something happens that is bigger than the sum of the parts; where profound insights can happen.  My job is to hold us there in safety.

Encouraging the person to focus on their experience of God/Spirit/the Light/whatever is a very positive way of bringing what might feel distant much closer, more immediate and relatable.

Anything can happen! I’ve been surprised to find myself speaking in their language, saying things that are definitely not my own theology but which have resonated for them. I only do this if I’m getting the “ministry feeling” very strongly, so I trust that leading, taking Advice 13 as my guide.

Spending time with individuals in this way, I’m now absolutely clear that the place, the “something” that I know from MfW is the something that other traditions call “God”.

There have been Aha! moments too. Hearing things that chime with Quakerism, I have a better idea of where I stand under that very large umbrella, the Christian tradition.

These ecumenical encounters have strengthened my core and sense of connection with Fox, Nayler, Penington et al. Discovering parallels elsewhere has made me more of a Quaker, not less.

My current ministry to Friends seems to be listening but also enabling confidence building in others to do the same.

Quakers could be very good at this. Potentially less trammelled by form than some mainstream churches, and with useful things to say, we can bring a clarity that cuts to the centre like a knife through butter. (I’ve seen our take on upholding help others’ burdens fall in a moment.)

The MfW discipline teaches us how to wait and how to listen and, above all, we aren’t afraid of silence.

However, if we want to move beyond Eldership to work in the wider world, we need to train ecumenically. The “Seed” is something ecumenical, possibly even interfaith, and it’s important to overcome our tendency to separation and see ourselves as part of the whole, under the wider umbrella – with treasures to give and to gain.