Understanding Spiritual Direction with Joni Lorraine

Hello Dear Folx with Faith!

I’m Joni Lorraine, the Program Coordinator for Unity’s Spiritual Direction Certificate Program. I am honored to share a little bit about myself and spiritual direction.

Early Spiritual Influences

I was raised as an Episcopalian, although my mom and I were really C&E (Christmas and Easter) Episcopalians. My maternal grandmother, however, was a devoted Episcopalian, and when with her for my summer visits, I watched her demonstrate her faith on her knees each night, reciting her prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

As a teen and young adult, I realized I was a lesbian. At that time, I also did a little too much worshipping at the altars of Boones Farm and Budweiser. My twenties were a time of sobering up. Through that process, I found that a personal relationship with God, as described in the AA Big Book, suited me well. I remain sober to this day and through the spiritual principles in recovery, I was able to fully reconcile my sexuality with my spirituality.

Joni Lorraine, Spiritual Director & Project Coordinator for Unity Worldwide Ministries Spiritual Direction Program

Awakening to Something Deeper

Along the way, my interest in self-awareness and personal development grew. I have since concluded that the only “fixing” we need is a return to an understanding that we were never broken, although many of us received messages that say we are. Whether they come from media, social media, religion, family, etc., it is not truth.

Do we sometimes look broken? Yes. But is there something wrong with us? No. The spiritual journey, which is also the human journey, is a quest to reveal what is under all those layers. As Lau Tsu says, “In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the pursuit of wisdom, everyday something is dropped.”

“In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the pursuit of wisdom, everyday something is dropped.”
– Lao Tzu

Our True Perfection

We can see perfection when we witness the miracle of life. We were all born perfect little babies and while we have experienced many changes as we develop; we are all still the same person we were at birth. It is what the Buddhists call “the original face.” No infant has ever tried to determine her self-worth by measuring her hips.

As you might imagine, this kind of thinking attracted me to the Unity movement, and I have participated in this movement for over 20 years. It also motivated me to be a chaplain for fourteen years and a calling to both spiritual direction and healthcare chaplaincy. I attended the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest here in Austin, where I live, and earned a degree in Spiritual Formation. In the meantime, I continue to be a member of a local Unity center, where I am on the Board of Trustees. I am also, as I mentioned before, the Program Coordinator for Unity Worldwide Ministries Spiritual Direction Certificate Program. I am also a spiritual director as a personal vocation.

Spiritual Direction: Formation

To understand spiritual direction it helps to define spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is a journey of opening our hearts to what we define as holy. It is also a discipline of opening our hearts to something greater than ourselves, whether we define that as an inner or outer experience. Sometimes the school of life grants us this formation. Others pursue it consciously through various means such as contemplative practices or committing to a specific field of study.

Religious instruction doesn’t always translate into spiritual formation. You might have noticed that some people with religious training aren’t very spiritual, and there are plenty of wise spiritual people who aren’t religious. Some people are both, or neither, and we all find ourselves somewhere on this spectrum.

No matter whether an individual has a healthy or less than positive experience of formation, spiritual direction supports a deepening of this formation. It supports it by deliberately and consistently tuning in to the movement of what is holy throughout life.

This leads us to what spiritual direction is. Spiritual Direction is the exploration of what the divine, the holy, the universe (whatever you choose to call “The Big Infinite Everything”) is doing or saying in your life. It’s the practice of exploring our yearning to be connected to something greater than ourselves. It’s a way to gain context and satisfaction in our lives by aligning our inner and outer worlds. It’s done in a personal way, with someone who is experienced and trained to support us in aligning with what is true and holy within ourselves.

Spirituality Unity Aura Devotion Light Nirvana Prayers Paradise Soul Believe Faith Love Worship Heaven Meditation Religion Culture God Spirit

What does a “Spiritual Director” do?

Ok, so what does a spiritual director do?

A spiritual director, or companion, is a person who holds space for another as they navigate their spiritual journey. A spiritual director is trained in the art of discerning what is holy in the lives of their clients/companions and provides the space to explore the energy of these sacred elements. A spiritual director attunes themselves to Spirit both in and out of spiritual direction sessions. They hold sacred space and remain prayerful so they can support others in living in congruence with their highest self.

I like what the internationally known depth psychologist, author, and wisdom teacher, David Benner, says about spiritual directors. “Spiritual directors function like guides more than teachers. They accompany others on the journey, not as experts but as companions. Having escorted others on similar journeys, they are able to help in selecting the best route. Like a sherpa. Furthermore, because they know the region where you and they are journeying, they may be able to help you put the journey in perspective to see where you are in terms of where you’re going… The way they best facilitate the learning that’s important to the spiritual journey is by continually orienting themselves and you to the spirit.”

“Spiritual directors function like guides more than teachers. They accompany others on the journey, not as experts but as companions.”
– David Benner

Is spiritual direction counseling? Therapy? Coaching?

You might find some but not all the things a spiritual director does in the middle of the Venn diagram of coaching, pastoral counseling, and therapy. Some people find the structure of a little coaching helpful, while others may not. The goal of a spiritual director is to be a guide, leading an individual toward the sacred in their own life. This is what we’re good at. A coach, on the other hand, depends on their own experience and knowledge to provide you with guardrails to success. This is what a coach does well.

A therapist is concerned with your emotional and psychological wellbeing, and this intersects with your spiritual wellbeing. While a spiritual director may also be a therapist (many of us are), analyzing or diagnosing a client to solve a psychological issue is not the job of a spiritual director. If a person needs psychological care, the spiritual director will refer them to a therapist.

While spiritual direction can be like pastoral care, pastoral care is often a short-term experience. Once weekly for six weeks is a typical time frame for pastoral care. Pastoral care is also often tied to a specific religious tradition and frequently uses theology as a tool in the care provided. Certain facets of spiritual direction may come into play in pastoral care. However, pastoral care is more frequently used to solve a problem, whereas spiritual direction is used to explore a longing to grow deeper and closer to the sacred.

Spiritual direction is designed for long term support. It’s for those who are seeking a deeper relationship with what is personally holy and/or wish to experience deeper personal peace and perspective. One meeting per month for six months at a minimum is recommended, though spiritual direction is an experience most people continue for much longer.

“If we desire a more loving society, we individual persons must return to the deepest common sense of our hearts; we must claim love as our true treasure.”
– Gerald May

How can a “Spiritual Direction” help?

The goal of spiritual direction is to help individuals enhance their experience of spiritual qualities in everyday life. These universal qualities can be found in nearly every religious and spiritual tradition and include things like the experience of love, joy, peace, and many others. Spiritual direction can also enhance a person’s ability to show up in life in a more loving, joyful, and peaceful way.

As the psychiatrist and theologian Gerald May said. “If we desire a more loving society, we individual persons must return to the deepest common sense of our hearts; we must claim love as our true treasure. Then comes the difficult part: we must try to live according to our desire in the moment-by-moment experiences of our lives.”

This is what spiritual direction explores. Those moment-by-moment experiences of our lives where we claim the experience of love, joy, and peace as our true treasure. Spiritual direction is a holistic, spiritually intelligent approach to exploring life’s big questions through enhancing the sacred in life.

A word from James Masters, Folx with Faith Project Coordinator

Folx with Faith is excited to announce a collaboration with Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute’s Spiritual Direction Program. Our goal is to provide safe and valuable spiritual resources to the queer community. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a spiritual direction session and highly recommend spiritual direction services to anyone seeking to enhance their spiritual lives!

We are in the process of creating a resource directory that includes queer affirming spiritual directors using the same badge system that we use for affinity groups. In the remainder of this blog, Joni Lorraine, the Program Coordinator for Unity’s Spiritual Direction Certificate Program, will provide information about herself and spiritual direction.

James Masters

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Spiritual Direction is an experiential process. Perhaps you’re curious about how it works in person and wish to see it in action? You can try out a spiritual direction session with a spiritual director. If you’re interested in exploring spiritual direction, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can learn more by emailing spiritualdirection@unity.org.

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