Posted on September 19th, 2017
Nim Njuguna, tutor on our Encounter course, explores how the Spiritual Directors in Europe Conference has informed his practice and thinking on the role of spiritual direction in genuine spiritual activism. ‘As sensitive mature spiritual directors, we need to recognize the social and political context in which marginalised communities we serve, experience these issues. In our practice, we can support directees in moving beyond individual issues to discern and gain insight to a larger cultural story where systematically caused problems need structural reform.’
The Spiritual Directors in Europe (SDE) conference was held for the first time in Britain in 22 years, from Wednesday 8th to Monday 13th March 2017 in Minsteracres, a retreat centre run by the Passionist Fathers.
The first SDE conference was held in Hannover in 2000 and since then, participants have met in different European countries every year. The next conference in April 2018 will be held in Lombardy, Italy. To become a member of the SDE, you first must attend a conference.
The conference programme is designed to allow the participants to experience a sense of being more on a retreat with another, sharing experiences, listening and praying together and exchanging information and resources. We had a quiet day meant for individual spirituality referred to as ‘desert day’ of silence and prayer, discernment and reflection. Time for participating in experiential spiritual direction, was done in triads and for me this was a good learning experience.
Each day began with prayers led by a different country and in the early evening, we broke bread together. During the day, plenary meetings, small group meetings and a lot of time for personal encounters filled our time. We were invited to pray for each other, our communities, churches and nations, as well as for many burning issues of today, refugees, political crisis, peace, etc. I was challenged at these times of prayers to reflect on whether ‘prayer without action is hypocrisy and action without prayer is arrogance’.
It was at this conference that I finally decided to limit my spiritual direction to men and women moved by empathy and compassion and actively engaged in action for justice founded in contemplative attitude towards all of life.
I have been increasingly involved in social aspects of compassionate solidarity with the poor and the marginalised and have come to believe that genuine spiritual activism informed by gospel values requires us to embrace the unique and powerful role, demanded by the unfolding story of justice and peace. As sensitive mature spiritual directors, we need to recognize the social and political context in which marginalised communities we serve, experience these issues. In our practice, we can support directees in moving beyond individual issues to discern and gain insight to a larger cultural story where systematically caused problems need structural reform.
For me, the key question to ask is: “Have I grown in compassion for myself and others and how am I expressing this reality?”
“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born.” –Andrew Harvey
I believe we need to move away from a consumeristic approach to spiritual direction and find spiritual approaches that cultivate hope, build solidarity that brings about positive societal change.
The conference in Northumberland closed with Holly Communion; a bowl containing the bread was passed from person to person in silence and the empty bowl was handed over to the representative of the country planning the next SDE conference. Nim Njuguna