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The art of spiritual direction

The Art of Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Ignatian Practice (Messenger Publications) is a concrete, practical book on spiritual accompaniment by Dutch Jesuit Fr Jos Moons. Using concrete examples and case studies, he introduces tools to assist new and experienced spiritual directors in providing individual guidance in the Ignatian tradition. It can also be used in a wide variety of Christian settings. Mrs Siobhan Murphy, Spiritual Director at Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Dublin, reviewed the book for Irish Jesuit Communications and found it to be very useful in supporting and enhancing her practice.

Introducing the book, Mrs Murphy says:

“There is a deep connection in the book with people’s lives covering similar issues in the midst of our differences. The process of getting to know each person, the invitation to be open and to gently reveal ourselves is universal. The tools in the book help the directors to be more effective in their sessions”.

Two introductory chapters discuss the choice for a practice-oriented book and the core values of an Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment.

Using the framework of Ignatian spirituality and developing six unique tools for spiritual directors, Fr Moons maps out the many paths spiritual direction can take. He marks the pitfalls and dangers, and points toward an Ignatian model for ‘successful’ spiritual direction in which the directee is an active and full participant. A final chapter specifically focuses on vocational discernment.

Regarding the taking it easy tool, Mrs Murphy says:

“Spiritual direction can be a long process and it takes time to get to know somebody. Small talk, for example, gradually allows the directee to reveal themselves and it is good to use humour and to hold back on faith talk until the right time. As Fr Moons says, ‘These are intimate matters and they need some warming up to do'”.

Mrs Murphy continues:

“Being patient and relaxed allows the person to trust you and to reveal themselves at their own pace. This approach creates an atmosphere without fear and stress. They can just be themselves”.

Mrs Murphy also finds the going deeper tool helpful. She comments:

“This is now going past the disclosure of description of everyday events. Going deeper through experiencing images and feelings helps us to see greater meaning and God’s gifts through a particular event.

Articulating feelings and being able to express the depth of the soul is very enlightening. The directee is brought into a sense of gratitude and wonder. It can be helpful to make things concrete and thereby deepen spiritual experience”.

Referring to the evaluating tool, Mrs Murphy says:

“This chapter is on discernment which is a unique tool. It’s a tip for the director to be always attentive and vigilant of the inner movements and depths of the directee and being aware of what’s not being said.

It helps the director to monitor whether or not the conversation is proceeding in a good way, taking note of the atmosphere and mood of the directee.

One tip on evaluating is being open, realising that the creator is dealing directly with the directee. This is a mysterious relationship which the director must always keep in mind”.

Finally, Mrs Murphy comments:

“I would recommend The Art of Spiritual Direction which emphasises, once the director develops deep listening skills and concern for the directee, that the tools can be used to maximum effect. It gives us directors confidence that we can develop and improve our approach”.

Jos Moons SJ is a Dutch Jesuit priest living and working in Belgium. Combining pastoral work with academia, he is chaplain with the university parish and also lectures at the KU Leuven with a research position at Tilburg University. In addition, he supervises spiritual directors in formation.

The Art of Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Ignatian Practice by Jos Moons SJ is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications. Priced at €19.95/£18.95.