If you’re interested in knowing what spiritual direction is, what I offer as a spiritual director, and what it can look like, this is the page for you!
What is spiritual direction?
A spiritual director’s main role is simply to listen to your story – offering you their engaged, compassionate, and accepting presence, and asking questions you may not think to ask yourself – in order to create a safe and supportive space for you to explore your own spirituality. Moments of silence may also begin, end, and flow through the conversation, as we pause together to honour and listen to the truth of your story, and to seek the stillness of body, mind, heart, and spirit that can allow deeper wisdom and clarity to emerge.
Other names for spiritual direction are spiritual companionship or spiritual accompaniment, and these descriptions make it clear that a spiritual director does not in fact “direct” you in any way, but rather comes alongside you in your own spiritual journey, much as a career coach, for example, would come alongside you in support of your own hopes and goals for your professional life. The spiritual direction relationship is one built on trust and confidentiality, in which any of the many arenas that form and inform your spiritual life can be discussed – emotional, religious, relational, physical, social, professional, mental, and so on. A spiritual direction session is your time to explore what is important and meaningful for you today, what is life-giving and sacred in your life, the challenges and obstacles you face in your spiritual life, and your relationship with and understanding of God – or however you personally conceive of and name the Mystery in which we “live, move, and have our being.” The time spent together is very much holy ground, where the True Self can be revealed, and along with it the Source and Ground of that Self.
About me and my spiritual journey
My name is Rachael (Felicity Grace) Barham. Born and raised in England, I moved to New Brunswick, Eastern Canada, in 2008, with my husband Jeremy and now 16 year-old daughter Amélie. Alongside spiritual direction and retreat work, I also teach at St. Stephen’s University, a small liberal arts university that values community living, experiential learning opportunities, world travel, and respect for deep questions of justice, identity, spirituality and purpose. I teach courses in language, culture and spirituality, including co-teaching the weekly School of Contemplation for any interested students, staff or faculty.
My spiritual journey is essential to who I am as a human being, taking me from Christian faith formation in the Baptist Church as a child and adolescent, through involvement in charismatic and “Vineyard” churches as a young adult, and then through seasons of faith deconstruction and reconstruction as an adult. On this journey, I have been increasingly drawn towards contemplative spirituality and prayer practices, and towards broader and more inclusive understandings of the Divine, of faith, and of the world in which we live. My faith is still very much developing and evolving – through all the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of life – and I have come to (usually but definitely not always!) 😉 embrace and enjoy this constant evolution.
As a child and young person, I carried a deep longing to develop a relationship with God but also felt a lot of internal pressure, confusion, guilt and shame that I mostly did not know how to handle or express, all of which blocked a sense of authentic connection or connectedness. It has therefore been one of the great gifts of my life to be offered spiritual companionship that has helped me to explore, understand, and accept myself and my journey, and to come to see how God is already present in me and my life, as it is and as I am, not in idealized or over-spiritualized forms. The deep listening and acceptance of a spiritual companion has consistently been a mirror and a model for me of the unconditional love and delight of God – even in the midst of uncertainty about who, what or even if God is!
Around 15 years ago, I began to want to offer to others what had been given to me, thus starting a process of training in spiritual direction, which I have now been engaged in for about ten years. It is a true joy and honour for me to walk alongside individuals from any faith tradition or none as they travel on their own unique spiritual paths, and to offer the genuine interest, listening presence, and invitation to deepening compassion and wisdom that have been such a gift to me.
What I can offer
Over the course of my life and spiritual journey I have experienced and benefited from a variety of streams of spirituality, wisdom traditions, modalities, and spiritual practices, and I bring all of this experience into spiritual direction, offering whatever is useful to each person, and setting aside whatever is not helpful or does not resonate.
For example, my training in spiritual direction was in the Ignatian tradition, and I am still an active member – and currently on the local leadership team – of a group of Ignatian spiritual directors who meet regularly for ongoing formation, supervision, and team facilitation of silent guided/directed retreats. Ignatian spirituality is shaped and informed by the wisdom and guidelines for discernment found in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (16th C spiritual writer and founder of the Jesuits), which form the basis for an intensive 30-day retreat that can also be made over a longer period in everyday life. Ignatian spirituality therefore has an emphasis on discernment – both in terms of noticing how God is already present and active in one’s everyday life, desires, and inner “movements,” and in learning to make life decisions with attention to these movements and to God’s action and invitation. Ignatian spirituality seeks to become aware of “God in all things” through contemplative exercises that employ the imagination, emotions, memory, intellect, and other faculties, or through practices such as the examen – a prayerful, grateful review of one’s day in search of “light” (fresh perspective/ wisdom). Group faith-sharing that engages in sacred listening to each other, ourselves, and God in and through us, is also an essential characteristic of this spirituality. Ignatian prayer practices and guidelines for discernment can be part of our exploration in spiritual direction if this interests you.
Among other tools and practices that I have come to love, and can introduce if they are useful to you, are the following:
- The Enneagram is a psycho-spiritual system of personality that many, myself included, find profoundly helpful in understanding themselves, their spiritual journeys, personal growth, blockages to growth, and their relationships.
- Forms of silent meditation such as Centering Prayer and mindfulness meditation are simple but powerful ways to practice moving beyond our usual habits of frenetic mental activity, and addiction to productivity, judgment and control, instead learning to let go, consent to reality, and become present to the present moment as it is.
- I have personally found it more and more important to reclaim the vital role that the body plays in spiritual life and practice, from things as simple as paying attention to breath and posture, through intentional movement such as dance or yoga, to practices that honour and welcome the emotional and physical experience of the body, such as the Welcoming Practice/Prayer or Focusing (see below).
- BioSpiritual Focusing is a way of noticing and listening to what our bodies know, developing a new habit of caring for rather than ignoring or controlling our important feelings, and letting them point us towards the untold stories, Divine Wisdom, and interconnectedness with which our bodies are in direct contact. This is a practice that has become a significant source of holistic growth and healing for me, and one that I love to companion others in, either as part of spiritual direction or as a stand-alone practice.
Who is spiritual direction for?
If your interest is piqued, it’s probably for you! 🙂 Anyone at all can benefit from personalized companionship and support in their spiritual life.
I love the variety of people that I am privileged to accompany:
- those who want to deepen an existing Christian faith, perhaps exploring new ways of praying or of expressing their spirituality;
- those whose previous understandings of faith, God, and themselves have fallen apart, leaving an often painful void, but also an opportunity to discover and build something new;
- those with no specific faith background who are experiencing a longing to explore meaning, truth, and purpose in their life, along with their own concept of and relationship with the (sometimes difficult to name!) Divine/ God/ Universe/ Spirit;
- those who find themselves feeling spiritually stuck in some way, and who are seeking support in exploring how they got to this point, and how to move forwards;
- those who face an important life decision and want to approach it in a grounded, wise, holistic, and discerning way;
- and those who simply want the intentionality, connection, broader perspective, and accountability that regular spiritual direction can offer for their ongoing faith journey.
If you’re not sure if spiritual direction is for you, or even exactly what you are looking for, it would be a good idea to arrange an initial session to meet each other and discuss together.
What does a spiritual direction session look like?
A spiritual direction session usually lasts for roughly an hour – either in person or via phone or video call – and its main content is you talking and me listening, as we explore and honour your spiritual journey together. I will probably ask questions to help you approach and explore your journey in fresh ways, and I may let you know what I am hearing you say – sometimes it is surprisingly helpful to simply hear our own words and thoughts mirrored back to us!
Other aspects of how spiritual direction works can be uniquely tailored to who you are and what you are looking for.
- Perhaps you want to start each session with a guided meditation, contemplative prayer exercise, or poem, and then let the conversation flow from what you experience and notice – or the other way round.
- Perhaps you will discover that it really helps you to start by, say, lighting a candle and pausing for some silence, or that a little lighthearted chatter is what best helps you settle into the time together – or both!
- It may be important and helpful for you to set concrete goals for yourself out of what has seemed important in our conversation… or it might be equally important for you NOT to do this!
- Some people like to pray, silently or out loud, to end a session, or ask me to pray out loud for them.
- Some people in some seasons of their life like to be offered suggestions and materials for their personal prayer or spiritual practice in between sessions.
The possibilities are endless, and as unique as you are, and they can shift and evolve as you do. The important thing to remember is that this time is yours, so it is important to let me know what is helpful or not helpful for you, as and when you become aware of anything, so that our sessions can be as comfortable and beneficial as possible for you. It is also worth reminding ourselves that there is no wrong or right way to do things, and no wrong or right, “spiritual” or “unspiritual” things to talk about; remembering this truth is an important “unlearning” for many people. As Franciscan Richard Rohr puts it, “Everything belongs.”
What does it cost?
Because of my life circumstances and other paid work, I am privileged to have the freedom to offer spiritual direction free of charge. I see spiritual direction as part of my life’s calling, and as a gift that I simultaneously offer and receive – an exchange of a different kind. I hope to make it possible for people to access spiritual companionship who might otherwise struggle to, or who might not even consider it, and that the absence of any cost acts as a window onto the gratuitous and priceless nature of the Life and Love we have been given.
However, if it feels important to you, as it does to some, we can happily discuss some kind of “payment in kind,” such as donation to a charity that aligns with your spiritual values and longings, or a contribution towards my ongoing formation, personal retreat costs, or retreat offerings.
Get in touch
To discuss an initial session to explore whether spiritual direction with me is a good fit for you, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to hearing from you!