A New Beginning in Spiritual Direction

Even though I have completed the one year nine months formation program for spiritual directors led by the Life Direction Singapore team of spiritual directors, I wondered about how my burden of journeying with younger pastors would be fulfilled. 

Most evangelical pastors and ministry staff have little idea of the need for spiritual direction. They also tend towards productivity in their work and would be too busy with schedules that look like expanded suitcases. They would rather prefer a mentor who would help them be more productive and fruitful and effective in leadership and ministry. The doors seem shut. I have to look to God to open doors. 

In the last decade, I have detected a glimmer of hope. A new generation of evangelical pastors and ministers have been trained in our institutions that have a knowledge of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. The major evangelical seminaries and colleges have already established courses on the above subjects that would help students deepen their friendship with God, and their awareness of self. They even arrange for students to experience a silent retreat and/or spiritual direction as part of their training.

Such was the case for Trinity Theological College, whose lecturer Dr Jimmy Tan, from the time I knew him as a seminary student, had a passion for such knowledge. His years of study, practice, research, and reflection has resulted in a book he wrote titled, “How Then Shall We Guide?”, which is a comparative study of Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin as spiritual guides. He has even run courses that included an experiential component so that students get to experience personal encounters with God in the context of a prayer retreat and reflection on the word.

A week ago Dr Jimmy Tan (third from left) led a retreat for Trinity Theological College students attending his course on Pastoral Theology and Praxis. He invited Koh Seng Chor(second from left) and myself to help out in providing spiritual direction to the students during the retreat. A few other regulars were also invited to help out: Sue Kim Lee(fifth from left), an Elder of a Presbyterian church and from the Life Direction Singapore; and Tina Khoo (fourth from left) and Kayyona Lim (extreme right), both ministry staff from Wesley Methodist Church.  Together each of us met with three students each for spiritual direction sessions. It was a joy to serve in this inter-denominational context.

I felt privileged and blessed to experience this “open door” and to provide a safe space for the students to share about their walk with God, and their reflections on what God is doing or how he is leading them in their current life context. It is merely two sessions for a brief retreat. However, it was a good beginning. 

All the time that I have gone on retreats, I have been sitting in the seat of the directee. It was a humbling and meaningful experience to sit on the other chair. Not that it is superior, for both persons are in seats of poverty. It is more a seat of co-discernment and sacred entrustment. I believe that this ministry is very much needed for people in pastoral ministry and I believe the Lord will manage my availability to those who need it.

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Final Retreat of Spiritual Direction Formation Program

There were three retreats in the whole 21 months program. The learning is very experiential. They began with a short retreat with input, followed by a longer silent retreat with spiritual direction, and now this is the longest of the three, eight days of directed silent retreat, with half day to begin in prayer and another to seal the fruits of the retreat.

This is held at St Patrick’s School at East Coast Road. La Salle House is the name of the center, formerly a boy’s hostel. Its newly renovated and it looks good, and is comfortable. However, there were insufficient rooms, so all the men stayed in rooms at where the La Salle brothers live. The rooms are old, real old but old has its modest charms (see room floor tiles below). However, you can walk out across Marine Parade Road and the AYE highway, and you are at East Coast Park with ample places for meditation and prayer (see below)

This blog will be static until the retreat is over and hopefully I have a desire to write about this retreat. Until then, the Lord bless and keep you.

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SDFP: Almost Done & Yet Not

I had mixed feelings when Sr Fran reminded us that our Spiritual Direction Formation Program (SDFP) was about to end on 30 September 2023. I felt a sense of relief that our input sessions of a year and nine months were about to be completed. I have enjoyed this learning journey together with my fellow learners of spiritual direction and will miss their company. At the same time, I had a sense of anticipation that a new vista has opened up before me, a feeling that bubbled up when I began my practicum in January. This was how I felt about the impending end of the program. 

What is left of this SDFP 2022/23 is one whole day integration session, an eight-day directed silent retreat, and finally, graduation. Sr Fran also announced that we would be given a complimentary one-year membership in Life Direction Team, which entitles us to join the team for their planned input sessions. She also encouraged us to continue our learning journey by accompanying directees regularly, continuing with supervision and with spiritual direction. They are serious about our ongoing formation. I cannot but be most thankful for the passion, care and sacrifices of the team that has driven this whole program.

There is so much more to learn. Not textbook learning. Not more lectures. More of learning through a process of practice, reflection, personal growth and ongoing supervision. I look forward to this. What I have learned will more fully equip me to accompany younger pastors in their journey of growth and serving God’s people. I believe this to be part of my God-assignment.

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What is Spiritual Direction?

This beautiful image with a magnet for the refrigerator was given by Teresa Hogan, a friend from the faith sharing group I am in. She bought it from the famous Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, Korea. When I beheld the 4cm square print of a painting (see above), it straightaway struck me as a beautiful image of what spiritual direction is all about. 

Spiritual direction is about accompanying someone on a journey. Although the picture is actually one of a couple on a journey, it can be anyone. I liked the idea of the spiritual director carrying a staff with a cross at the top, a symbol of our dependence on Christ’s finished work during our spiritual journey. The small sail boat at the harbour reminds us that the journey we take away from the safety of home, may be marked by strong winds and massive waves at some point, and having a companion on this journey of life is vital. Most blessed of all is to have the nurturing and caring Spirit watching with love over our going out and coming in (Psalm 121) and this is pictured in the white overarching cloud in the picture. 

I decided not to stick this to the fridge. I will keep it and place it at my desk to remind me what this ministry is all about. But what exactly is Spiritual Direction? Let me give you some of the descriptions that was given to us during one of the lessons in the Spiritual Direction Formation Program I am attending.

“An interpersonal relationship in which one person assists others to reflect on their own experience in the light of what they are called to become in fidelity to the Gospel” (Carroll & Dyckman).

“Spiritual direction, as we understand it then, is directly concerned with a person’s actual experiences of his relationship with God …. religious experience is to spiritual direction what foodstuff is to cooking. Without religious experience there can be no spiritual direction. 

We define spiritual direction, then, as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship. The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experience, that is, any experience of the mysterious Other whom we call God. Moreover this experience is viewed, not as an isolated event, but as an expression of the ongoing personal relationship God has established with each one of us”. (Barry & Connolly S.J.)

A spiritual director made this observation in one supervisory session: ‘Spiritual direction is like panning for gold. A directee comes and together we dip into the stream of their life and pull up all kinds of things. Rocks of all sizes – I can never guess what is coming next – all kinds of conflicts and problems, then all of a sudden some fleck or nugget of pure gold emerges into view in the bottom of the pan as we swirl the water around, emptying out the rocks.’ This is a powerful and captivating metaphor of the process of spiritual direction. Together, the director and directee look at everything – whatever is in the water and the pan – during their session. The director receives the directee’s life and everything in that life, helping the directee contemplate the gold among all the conflicts and block and stuck places. A skillful, graced director gives that gold reverence, time, interest, and attention until the directee realizes how much more valuable and significant are the flecks of gold – the experiences of grace and the Spirit – then are all the stuck or problematic areas of his or her life.” (Ruffing RSM)

“Spiritual direction seeks primarily to enable the seeker to achieve a deep relationship or grounding in God and thus to live a life of total freedom, individuality and deep love. This is an awesome and complex process which entails ridding oneself of past psychological injuries and traumas, false ways of thinking and acting, and undue attachment to any person, possession, or spiritual practice. At the same time it encourages and fosters a practice of deep prayer so that one can discover ones’ deepest self, and thereby find the will of God in one’s life.” (Alice McDowell)

If you are looking for spiritual direction, Life Direction Singapore , an ecumenical group that has a list of available trained spiritual directors of Catholic or Protestant backgrounds.

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Spiritual Direction Formation Program: The Practicum Phase

It has been a year and I am in semester three of my spiritual direction formation program. I have observed that formation always took priority over information. This is good. This is the way it should be. We learn to listen to God, to listen to one another, and listen to movements in our soul. This growth does not come by more information, but by more formation: awareness and discernment through personal reflection, through spiritual direction with a spiritual director, and through faith sharing in groups.

After three rounds of giving direction to one another in-house, we now enter the phase of spiritual direction practicum. Each us have to find two directees to give spiritual direction to under an experienced supervisor. I feel excited about this phase, and look forward to learning more about spiritual accompaniment. The formators are very serious about the formation of spiritual directors, and want to ensure that even during this phase the volunteer directees will benefit from their sessions.

On Saturday, we had a Day of Prayer at the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary retreat house opposite the Botanic Gardens at 49 Holland Road. In each semester, a few days are devoted to such retreat days or week. We learn to be aware of what God is doing in our life and to respond to his invitations. 

For the first half of the day, we were instructed to reflect on the past year and to observe movements, encounters, people, blessings and joys, struggles and burdens, doubts and certitude, passion or aridity, hope and longing. As I reflected on the past year I gave thanks for the excitement and joy of observing the personal and spiritual growth in my formation. The highlights of my year were mostly related to the formation program.  

Lunch was fulsome: bento sets, beverages, banana cake, chocolates, and grapes. All was eaten in silence. We were to savour the fullness and richness of this blessing. I was so satiated I found myself wishing for a nap. 

The afternoon reflection was thankfully more tangible, since we had a heavy meal. We each took prayer shawls of different colours, cuttings and patterns. The long prayer shawl of the Jews is called “tallit/tallith”). “Tal” means tent. “ith” means little. Thus, with the shawl over our heads we set up a little tent, and invite God into our home, and we fellowship with Him in private prayer. The four fringes of the shawl are called “tzitzit” and comes from the Hebrew word “tzutz” which means “to gaze”. What a beautiful description of what should happen in prayer. With this “tent” we were instructed to meditate on the uncertainty of the journey ahead of us, similar perhaps to the twists, turns and movements of Joseph and Mary, accompanied by the holy infant Jesus. I have no certitude of what the future holds, but with God’s presence, I feel very assured and rested that like Joseph, who was entrusted with Jesus, I would experience the provision and providence of God.

At the end of the day of prayer, it was announced that we will get a confirmation via email of who we are giving direction to and what we need to do. I look forward to this new movement.

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