Eugene Peterson on Spiritual Direction

Eugene Peterson has been my spiritual director for years, so I wanted to share some of his thoughts on Spiritual Direction from an interview he did with Christian Century back in 2002.  Here it is:

…basically [spiritual direction] is not a specialized thing. It’s very much a part of the Christian life and should be very much a part of the pastor’s life. In my view, spiritual direction is a conversation in which the pastor is taking the person seriously as a soul, as a creation of God for whom prayer is the most natural language.

This kind of conversation is not problem-centered. If you have a problem — an intense, tangled, emotional problem — there are counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists to help you. That’s good and important work. But most of the time people don’t have problems — though somehow in our society we don’t give careful attention to one another unless there is a problem. If I don’t have a problem and yet I have this sense that something is going on in my life and I have questions about what God is doing — what am I to do? I should be able to call up my pastor and say, “I need to talk to you.” But usually people feel like they have to come up with “a problem.”

If they’re lucky, they have a pastor who is alert to what’s really going on — which is usually not much more than ordinary life and the yearning to live it fully, maturely, with some intensity. “Ordinary” doesn’t mean mediocre or complacent. Ordinary is capable of intensity and is worthy of attentiveness and commitment. I get worried that the popularity of spiritual direction will take it out of ordinary life and put it more in the category of problem-solving.

I have two basic definitions of spiritual direction. One is you show up and then you shut up. It’s important that people have a place they can come to and know that you’re going to be there with and for them. The other is that spiritual direction largely involves what you do when you don’t think you’re doing anything. In other words, you’re not trying to solve a problem. You’re not answering a question and it doesn’t seem like you’re doing anything. It takes a lot of restraint and discipline for a pastor not to say anything, not to do anything. But the pastoral life is an ideal school for learning how to do it.



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