Much is written about spiritual direction. Just search the term online and you will find a vast array of books about the practice of spiritual guidance. However, sometimes authors use the term to refer to the “direction of a person’s spiritual journey” rather than the actual practice of going to a spiritual director for guidance. So, I’m going to share with you the top five books that I recommend on the practice of spiritual direction. This is far from an exhaustive list and I know there are many other great books out there. These are simply a few of the classics used by spiritual direction programs everywhere.
Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction by Kenneth Leech.
First published in 1980 by HarperCollins, this is the classic of all classics on spiritual direction. Leech is an Anglican priest from Canterbury who knows his history, theology and writings of the mystics very well. The book has a highly educated feel about it yet it is not dry or esoteric. It is a must-read for anyone headed to spiritual direction formation and training programs. Seekers may enjoy it as well. Written from a Christian perspective but respectful of other traditions.
Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer by William A. Barry, SJ
With SJ after his name, you know this book is going to have a Jesuit flavor! While it is about the spiritual practice of discernment (faithful choices) it is more about prayer and relationship with God. In fact, one could say spiritual direction is primarily about “paying attention to God.” He writes eloquently about letting God’s dream flower within us. Written from a Catholic perspective.
Faithful Listening: Discernment in Everyday Life by Joan Mueller, Ph.D
This book is also about discernment, which I like to call a “subset” of spiritual direction since so many people come to direction for help with discernment. But like Barry’s book, “faithful listening” could also be a motto for spiritual direction. This book is full of case studies that show us how people learn to listen to God in the context of our daily lives. Mueller, who spent many years as a theology teacher at Creighton University and is a Franciscan sister, writes about how key figures from Christian history have understood the movement and guidance of the holy in their lives. For understanding the history and core principles of discernment, Mueller’s book is a must for spiritual directors. Seekers may also find it helpful. Written from a Catholic perspective.
Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther
Here we have another agreed-upon-classic on spiritual direction, written by a woman who has taught theology, directed a Center for Christian Spirituality and served as an Episcopal priest. Guenther introduced the notion of the spiritual director as “midwife to the holy,” an image of the Feminine Divine that has been helpful to spiritual directors of both genders. Less academic than Soul Friend¸ Holy Listening is quite accessible and many people find it to be their first and best introduction to what spiritual direction is all about. Very seeker-friendly. Written from a progressive Christian perspective.
Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion: Guide to Tending the Soul by Tilden Edwards
The founder of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Tilden Edwards, gives us his take on spiritual direction in this well-written, easy to read (love the large print) book. Like Guenther, his language is a bit less “churchy” than some of the other books and he includes a section on sharing across faith lines. If you are looking for a book that comes from the training program that launched most of the later training programs in the U.S.; a book that shares the best understanding of the non-directive method that most spiritual director use—this is the book to have on your shelf. Written from a progressive Christian perspective.
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