Conversatio Divina

Part 19 of 19

Unity and Diversity in Spiritual Direction

Gary W. Moon

I have a good friend who turned a fascinating idea into a fine dissertation. Marty Goehring is the friend. He’s a clinical psychologist, but like so many of the therapists I admire, he talks more about the spiritual classics than modern psychology.

The interesting idea? Marty was concerned that clients entering professional counseling lasted for only about four sessions. Since this was before managed-care limitations, he wondered, Why so few meetings? He reasoned that part of the problem might be that the clients came in expecting one thing but received another. Wouldn’t it be great if a brief instrument could be developed for assessing client expectations so that they could be matched with best-fit counselors?

So Marty went to the library for quite a while and dusted off some books about the process of psychotherapy. He emerged with the conclusion that it is possible to classify almost every school of counseling—and there were hundreds—using only two axes: authority and orientation.

For example, high authority therapists are reserved experts who are not very interested in being warm, personal, or empathetic. These types of counselors are specialists who can look at a client’s life and then analyze and give direction. At the other end of the continuum, low authority therapists practice. They are warm peers who become involved in a nondirective, participating, and peer-like manner.

The other important continuum Marty observed was orientation. Here therapists can be categorized as being supportive (offering companionship and presence), reconstructive (promoting positive personality change), or teaching (helping to resolve specific life problems). When he put it all together, Marty was able to develop a simple instrument to help ensure that if a client came in expecting Carl Rogers (low authority/reconstructive), he didn’t get Albert Ellis (high authority/teaching).

So what does this have to do with this issue on Spiritual Direction? Well, as David Benner pointed out in the front page, the articles you have read certainly provided “a variety of perspectives on the multifaceted jewel that spiritual direction represents.” Perhaps you found the variety shocking, never expecting to find musings by a Catholic professor of spiritual direction and a Protestant comedian between the same covers. It may have been a bit of a jolt to read about how a Pentecostal professor considers Bono to have been, on occasion, an insightful spiritual guide, or to flip from the offerings of a conservative evangelical author to those of an Anglican priest.

But those are the little surprises a lot of folks love about Conversations. To be honest, how else could we present this multifaceted jewel of spiritual direction but as an intricate diamond reflecting one uniting source of light?

Almost thirty years ago, James D. G. Dunn, lecturer in New Testament at the University of Nottingham, published a notable book, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. He examined the diversity represented by four different kinds of Christianity: Jewish, Hellenistic, Apocalyptic, and Early Catholic, while looking for the unifying center. Out of the kaleidoscope of differences being examined Dunn suggests there was an “integrative centre.” The agreement he saw, the real center, was “the unity between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ.”

Let’s pull all this together—Marty, Freud, multifaceted diamonds, and James Dunn. In Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, David Benner looked for the unity and diversity within the discipline. We invited seven different pastors, priests, or theologians to describe the history and process of spiritual direction from within their tradition—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Reformed, holiness, social justice, and charismatic Christianity. While there was much diversity, it certainly was no more than the diversity Marty found when examining psychotherapy. In fact, most of the differences could be explained by locating the directors on the same two axes Marty suggested: authority (high or low) and orientation (supportive, reconstructive, and teaching).

Far more striking than the diversity was the unity. Regardless of what it is called—spiritual direction, friendship, disciple-making, companionship, journeying with—each of the facets of our investigation reflected striking commonalities. Each pointed to the need for a traveling companion and the Holy Spirit’s being the true director, and each defined the goal as taking on the life and character of Christ through the development a loving and interactive relationship with the Divine.