Boston Globe: Growing demand for spiritual directors

It seems that the ancient art of spiritual direction is going mainstream. (H/T Concord Pastor)


Natalie Weaver, a 25-year-old musician who lives in Roxbury, does not go to church. But every three weeks or so, she visits a white vinyl-sided building on Dorchester Avenue, a former convent, to meet with her spiritual director.

For about an hour, she sits with a gentle, bearded man in a quiet room with gleaming oak floors and talks about the experiences that most awaken her spirit, the people who make her feel most connected and alive.

“It’s another person who is listening, and kind of asking questions and even just pointing things out,’’ she said. “I think it holds you accountable to dig deeper.’’

Spiritual direction is a tradition of religious mentorship with roots in ancient Christianity. For centuries, monasteries and seminaries offered direction to clergy and members of religious orders. But the practice is increasingly going mainstream, as more people, Christian and otherwise, seek help exploring their relationship with the divine.

Membership in Spiritual Directors International, the largest such organization in the nation, has increased from about 400 at its beginning in 1990 to more than 6,000 today, including more than 250 in Massachusetts.

Driving the growth are millennials like Weaver, who are more apt than previous generations to identify as “spiritual but not religious.’’ Ed Cardoza, Weaver’s spiritual director and the founder of Still Harbor, a South Boston nonprofit, mostly sees people in their 20s and 30s.

Some, he says, are evangelical Christians who have a strong relationship with Jesus but realize, after arriving in Boston from the Midwest or South to study, that they differ with their parents’ church over political or sexual issues. Others have little religious background but find themselves undergoing a spiritual awakening and do not know where to turn.

“What you recognize is there’s this growing population of folks who are out of the purview of traditional institutions,’’ Cardoza said.

Ardently faithful people of all ages form the other major group seeking spiritual direction. Often, they are confronting a trauma or transition or want to deepen a particular aspect of their faith or practice. Asking their priest or rabbi for spiritual direction is not always an option. Often clergy limit the number of sessions they have with individuals in order to focus on the broader congregation. Many also lack the training to provide the kind of “sacred listening’’ required in spiritual direction.

In a society that is increasingly comfortable hiring experts as private consultants – personal trainers, personal organizers, life coaches – the decision to seek out a personal spiritual director no longer seems as exotic as it once might have.

Read more.


  1. Barbara P says:

    The Holy Spirit is breaking through. Every person should have spiritual direction.

  2. Well that’s interesting. Makes me wonder if I should get a spiritual director. But I do think the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” is immature and silly. I like to tell such people that I’m religious, not spiritual.

  3. midwestlady says:

    We have an interesting variation on this here among Protestants. It’s called a prayer clinic, and it breaks down as a very unconventional sort of church without much structure to speak of. People, whether they’re churched or not, show up when they have times of crisis and get attended to. Some go on to pray regularly at the clinic, I am told. I know of it, I’ve talked to people who staff it, but I’m not a patron because I’m Catholic and there are certain inconsistencies with that, but I find these things interesting. And I’m not necessarily as negative as one might think from a Catholic, as long as they’re not dangerous.

    I do know that in this local area, there are some of these sorts of efforts with Christian roots and some with other roots, including some very weird ones, even dangerous ones. The religious landscape these days is fascinating but increasingly strange in content, although it meets very human and familiar needs and capacities. It does tell you something about what people want and need though, if you look at it carefully and non-judgmentally to see what people are doing and why.

  4. Barbara P. says:

    Manny – it isnt “spiritual but not religious” at all – at least not my spirtual direction. Mine is based on Ignatian Spirituality – my monthly meetings help me find God in all things and encourages me in my relationship with Jesus. I have delved more deeply into the Gospel and my faith than I have ever dreamed possible and each time there is more to discover. Without my spiritual direction I would not have got through my daughter’s bout with a rare pancreatic tumor. (It was malignant but she is cured after major surgery). My spiritual director helped me recognize the Lord’s Peace that enveloped me during that time. Good spiritual direction is an incredible gift.

  5. Barbara, I was criticizing you. In fact I wasn’t responding to you at all. I don’t think I hit the Reply button. I was commenting on the quote inside the article. I’ve heard people say “I’m spiritual but not religious,” and that’s usually new age stuff. Some of those people like to say that Christ was profound but not divine. Not sure if you’ve come across any of them.

    Oh thank God on your daughter’s tumor. Pancreatic cancer is very scary. I’m glad you found the strength to deal with it. I would need a spiritual director myself if something similar happened to my son.

    I hope no one thinks I was ridiculing the notion of spiritual directors. I wasn’t. I was serious about wondering if I should find one. I was putting down the notion of spirituality without religion.

  6. Oh my. I meant I WASN’T criticizing you Barbara. Darn typos. I can’t type.

  7. It’s odd that although this is on the increase, retreat houses are closing down. I am very sorry to see Carmel Retreat, Mahwah, NJ wrapping up 60 years or so with a Mass and concert in June. I especially like Fr Mike Wastag there the last 16 years. As for directors, I have met some exceptional lay directors at various places. There is a poet in Illinois, Judith Valente who gives moving retreats with her husband, a judge. They are very real people, well trained, solid, and their programs sell out all over the country.

  8. Barbara P. says:

    Manny I didnt think you were critisizing me – but I just wanted to reach out to you to let you know how much spiritual direction has added to my faith and my life – including the way I practice my religion. Don’t get me wrong – it isnt just for the tough times, it helps me in all times. Think about it – but make sure you get a good spiritual director!

  9. Katie Angel says:

    We are fortunate here in Atlanta to have two strong and active retreat houses – Ignatious House and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. I regularly attend both of them for directed as well as silent retreats and cherish the chance to be “outside of time and space”. I am so sorry to hear that other retreat centers are not doing as well. I will add that to my morning prayers. Blessings to all.

  10. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I love the Monastery — it’s where I received my vocation. The Holy Spirit is IN THE HOUSE! :-)


  11. Thank you. I will consider it.

  12. Joanc57 says:

    I go for monthly spiritual direction at St. Francis of Assisi and find it extremely helpful. I feel like parish priests are very busy; I love having my spiritual director priest’s ear for 45 minutes because that’s his job. Highly recommend!

  13. justamouse says:

    So, do you pay for a spiritual director like you do a therapist? I know a few people who have them, and I have to admit, I’m jealous. I’ve been praying for one. But I’m betting it has to be the right fit.

    I do have retreat houses around- I may have to give it a try.

  14. Barbara P says:

    I pay a tiny fraction of what a therapist charges. It is only fair to pay. I believe most have invested time and money in training etc. You are right there does have to be a good fit so don’t give up if the first person doesn’t work out. I suggest that you visit the retreat houses and find the one where you are comfortable. Then let the Holy Spirit do the rest!

  15. LoneThinker says:

    I am sure Cardinal Sean there in Boston can tell all of you that the practice of spiritual directkion was brought to the Western Church by Eastern Church refugees. The Irish took the idea of spiritual direction out of the monasteries and adapted it to the whole believing community. The anam chara, Irish for soul friend, came from that development and led eventually to auricular confession and set penalces that replaced the long and harsh earlier public penances. Sady, the sacrament has been reduced today for the most part to an almost mechanical confession and absolution especially in the long lines for communal services in Advent and Lent. I am glad to see the idea taking root and was part of Shalem’s programme as a volunteer for a while a decade or more ago. Very worthwhile and soundly ecumenical understaking since moved into DC. A city whose Power People can always benefit from a little humble listening and learning in the deep recesses where our soul meets the Holy Spirit. In my personal opnion of course!

  16. I’m a spiritual director. I’m all for all types of people requesting spiritual direction. God works with the person where he or she is. BUT spiritual direction first came across the transom as a ministry within the Church–not an alternate church for seekers. I really think it is best understood within this light. My sanctification, such that it is, comes about through attending to the details of being a Catholic Christian–not getting more general or vague–and having a director that attends to that with him is essential.

    Yay for the Ignatian exercises, btw, which help attend to the details well.

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