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Spiritual Direction
Spiritual Direction

Trusting Our Inner Authority

Friday, June 25, 2021

Spiritual Direction

Trusting Our Inner Authority
Friday, June 25, 2021

The two wheels of Scripture and Tradition can be seen as sources of outer authority, while our personal experience leads to our inner authority. I am convinced we need and can have both. Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom. Christianity in most of its history has largely relied upon outer authority. But we must now be honest about the value of inner experience, which of course was at work all the time but was not given credence.

Information from outer authority is not necessarily transformation, and we need genuinely transformed people today, not just people with answers. I do not want my words in these meditations to separate anyone from their own astonishment or to provide them with a substitute for their own inner experience. Theology (and authority figures) have done that for too many. Rather, I hope my words—written or spoken—simply invite readers on their own inner journey rather than become a replacement for it.

I am increasingly convinced that the word prayer, which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, was meant to be a descriptor and an invitation to inner experience. When spiritual teachers invite us to “pray,” they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!” Father Thomas Keating (1923‒2018) wrote:

The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God]. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that [God] is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in [God]. But we hesitate to believe this until our personal experience gives us the confidence to believe in it. . . . God constantly speaks to us through each other as well as from within. The interior experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to perceive [the divine] in everything else—in people, in events, in nature. We may enjoy union with God in any experience of the external senses as well as in prayer. [1]

This is a foundational belief of the ministry of spiritual direction: everyone has access to an inner experience of God, but we don’t always recognize those experiences for what they are. We may be too busy, too bored with our church services, or too “bought in” to the narratives of our consumer culture. A practice of slowing down, of reflection, of asking “big questions” about our desires, our wounds, our values, and our relationships helps us to discover and trust in the truth and authority that lies within us.

As the wise Joan Chittister points out, “Spiritual direction, ‘holy friendship,’ can be found in every great spiritual tradition. But the purpose is not to attach us to someone wiser than ourselves—the guru, the great guide, the spiritual master, the bodhisattva, the saint. The purpose of spiritual direction is to enable us to become holy ourselves.” [2]

[1] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986), 44.

[2] Joan D. Chittister, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir (Sheed and Ward: 2004), 112.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 5, 7.

Explore further resources and watch Father Richard Rohr explain why more people are asking for—and benefiting from—spiritual direction.

Story from Our Community:
In 2007, I started a two-year course of study to become a spiritual director. . . It was truly a life-changing time for me. A book from the reading list included Fr. Richard’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” and, seeing myself as a highly educated and sophisticated individual, feelings of resentment followed the inference that I was a “wild man.” But once I got into the book and saw the parallels with my own life, I was astounded. A local Roman Catholic Priest agreed to be my spiritual director and I found his guidance to be as transforming as Fr. Richard’s writings and my training. What a different person I am now. Ego has been “reorganized,” and that little piece of God whose image my soul reflects is now discovered. —Jimmy B.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, caught II (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: This pattern of leaves exists for a brief moment in time—a calm just before wind buffets the surface and the leaves shift. Like these leaves, our many facets of human experience are in constant motion. Spiritual direction invites us to gently reveal this dance, moment by moment.
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