Spiritual Directors International (SDI)
In the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, young seekers of the contemplative life would find elder monks and hermits who could provide guidance, instruction and encouragement along the way.
Over the centuries in the monasteries of the Christian tradition, it became commonplace for more seasoned monks to offer mentoring and support to the novices and beginners of the interior life.
Certainly, the Christian mystical/contemplative tradition endorses having a meaningful one-on-one relationship as a way to foster the mystical life: St. Brigid of Kildare is famous for saying “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head” (using the classic Celtic name for spiritual companion, soul friend or anamchara — from which this website takes its name). Aelred of Rievaulx, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, and Evelyn Underhill are among the other leading voices of the mystical tradition who also endorsed walking with a spiritual companion as an essential practice of the contemplative life — for all people.
Today, this tradition of one-on-one spiritual accompaniment (companionship) continues — and it’s not just limited to saints or monks, priests or nuns. In fact, in our time, spiritual direction (its most common, if imperfect, name) is a ministry that flourishes especially among laypeople — ordinary folks who seek spiritual growth and greater intimacy with God/the Divine, even in the midst of busy, full and demanding family lives and careers.
In the 1970s, spiritual direction was something mostly associated with monasteries or religious “professionals.” But thanks to the pioneering work of contemplative leaders like Kenneth Leech, Tilden Edwards, Janet Ruffing, and Margaret Guenther, by the 1980s and 1990s spiritual companionship became increasingly visible in the culture of contemplative Christianity. As this ministry, so long hidden by cloistered walls, became an increasingly available resource for laypeople, several leaders in the spiritual direction world gathered in 1989 to form a service organization for spiritual directors and the people they serve. Thus was born Spiritual Directors International, which these days tends to simply use its acronym, SDI.
SDI now is an educational nonprofit, serving over 6,000 members in 42 countries around the world. Although it began as a gathering of Christian spiritual companions, today the organization is interfaith in scope and supports spiritual guides of any faith tradition. On its website, SDI says it is “committed to supporting and growing access to spiritual companionship and the deep listening, open questions and compassion our healing modality offers.” The organization’s vision statement is “SDI believes spiritual companionship and deepening into the sacred transform individuals, society, and all creation.”
If you are in need of a spiritual director/spiritual companion/soul friend, SDI offers a searchable database where you can find spiritual companions in your region (or ones who can be reached online). They also provide information on retreat centers and on formation programs for those who feel called to the ministry of spiritual companionship. You can narrow your search by the director’s spiritual tradition, location, gender, age, and other categories, to narrow down your results. It’s important to remember that just because someone is listed in a database does not, in itself, mean they are the right spiritual companion for you — but this can be an invaluable resource for finding people who perform this ministry and making contact to discern if someone is the right person to walk with you on your spiritual journey. To access the SDI database, click here: www.sdicompanions.org/find-a-spiritual-director-companion/
For spiritual directors themselves, SDI offers a variety of resources, from publications to conferences to courses designed to support this ministry. SDI is widely respected as the leading organization providing support and service to spiritual directors. For one small example, the organization’s Guidelines for Ethical Conduct is a thoughtful and perceptive guide to what the best practices of a spiritual direction ministry looks like.
To learn more about SDI, find a spiritual director, or explore what spiritual direction might mean for you, visit the organization’s website at www.sdiworld.org.
To learn about Carl McColman’s ministry of spiritual direction, visit www.anamchara.com/spiritual-direction.