While spiritual direction continues to gain popularity in evangelical circles, the ministry is still largely misunderstood and unappreciated. Larger issues of social justice and world peace tend to be downplayed in these circles as well. Rohr suggests that while it is unrealistic to believe that “we are going to solve the huge global problems we have by merely dealing with the indi-vidual” (which is the typical evangelical approach), he does view “spiritual direction as very much the enlightening, the freeing, the liberating of the individual soul, it isn’t meant to be corporate work…but hopefully you would be liberating people with gifts for organization, management, journalism, who are going to influence the corporate level, too.” This is important because “if we don’t get those people working together it’s not going to move to the tremendous social problems we’re facing today.”
As a well-known author, speaker, and activist Rohr was asked to speculate on who the next generation of spiritual directors will be and how they will contribute to global peace and justice. Rohr maintains that it is important to keep these linked. “They’ve got to have a passion for both. . . We’ve often said that the most important word in our title is not ‘action,’ it’s not ‘contemplation,’ it’s ‘and’.”
Rohr contends that spiritual direction will, by necessity, be a non-clerical driven ministry.
“Up to now, we reflected history that looked up to higher ups, people with special costumes and special titles and special degrees and what we call in the church ‘ordination.’ What’s happening now, and we’re seeing this even in our politics, that it’s not enough to hold an office. You’ve got to have competence. . . I’m a priest myself but, I think we now know, just to be honest, you can be an ordained priest, you can be an educated minister, and not really be competent to understand the human soul. . . and this is the great turnaround that’s happening. We’re finding, ‘You know what? Some of the laypeople have competence without formal ordination.’ So, it’s going to be lay led and it’s in a position where it doesn’t have to fight the structures of the church either. It moves purely by competence, purely. I know they’re not going to get rich, unfortunately. Competence doesn’t seem to get you rich, unfortunately.”
Finally, Owens queries Rohr about discernment of a charism for spiritual direction, which is met with the introduction of an interesting paradoxical balance. Quoting T.S. Elliot, Rohr contends that while one needs “to have the passion for it. It has to have a place that fits in your heart already which is the way the Holy Spirit speaks, to say, “I’m calling you to this. I name it within you as a desire” that authorities need to be cautious of those too much desiring to operate as spir-itual directors. Rohr says:
“We always say people who need to be ordained too much--don’t ordain them for a while. Well, I’d apply that to a certain degree, not as much, because spiritual direction is not an office with all kinds of perks as ordination was, but I’d still say that if you need the label too much, the title too much, the self-image too much, if you be pushing too hard, “I’m a spiritual director and I’m going to be recognized” then I would delay that person’s validation as a spiritual director.”
Finally, Rohr establishes the connection between spiritual direction and global peace by pointing out that:
“if you have obsessive people, needy people, people who need the role and the title too much. . . that always sets you up for aggressive, violent relationships, eventually. . . if you need it too much, you’re going to fight to protect it, and you’re going to manipulate to protect it. You’re going to be deceitful to protect it. There you have a foundation of un-peace, non-peace, violence.”
I always find Richard Rohr to be refreshing, honest, and revealing. His assessment of the inability of the organized church to adequately offer spiritual direction via the ordained leadership is a challenge to the hierarchy of not only the Roman Catholic Church, but of any denomination. Most of the students in spiritual direction training programs are laity, mostly women, mostly late middle aged. While this wouldn’t seem too threatening on the surface, the gifted layperson helping people to move into a deeper, more authentic, and highly responsive relationship with God is by definition a threat to the status quo of organizations.
Rohr’s insistence on the symbiotic relationship between contemplation and action is a helpful corrective to many evangelical misconceptions that view mystical spirituality and especially contemplative meditation as eastern, non-Christian, “navel gazing” that draws people away from authentic devotion mediated thru scripture. I recognize the balance demanded of those who seek to “go deep” must also “go out” and what is received must be given away.