2010 National Symposium

Exploring Contemporary Spirituality and its Impact on the Practice of Spiritual Direction

Click here to download the papers presented at the Symposium of The Proceedings of the Inaugural National Symposium of the Australian Ecumenical Council for Spiritual Direction.

The Symposium sought to foster the professional study of, and academic research into, the impact of contemporary spirituality on the practice of spiritual direction. The Australian Ecumenical Council for Spiritual Direction (AECSD) invited academics, researchers, the staff of spiritual direction formation programs, spiritual directors, and other interested parties to participate in the two-day Symposium.

During the two days, twenty-one academic papers and practitioner presentations explored contemporary spirituality and its impact on the practice of spiritual direction in Australia. Some papers also highlighted the findings of current and recent research presented within the field. Practitioner presentations were delivered through workshops. The Symposium ended each day with a facilitated panel discussion with the Symposium’s participants and the day’s speakers

The Symposium’s Speakers and Their Topics

Nancy Ault

Plumbing the depths: theological reflection and spiritual direction

It is a common practice today to separate spirituality from religion. In the western development of Christianity, this separation mirrors earlier divisions of theology into different disciplines. One of the consequences of these divisions has been to isolate spirituality from theology and more recently, spirituality from religion.

Denise Brosnan

Spiritual direction with the person with a life-threatening illness

I sat opposite my GP and watched him stare at my blood-test results, feeling his discomfort, as he told me that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. In the next few sentences, he would talk about death and about chemotherapy. My life, as I knew it, had changed. The next day I went into hospital and, since then, have been involved with medical experts. What do the spiritual experts have to offer?


Cheryl Camp

Is Christian-Muslim interfaith spiritual direction possible?

The contemporary growth of interfaith dialogue is giving rise to the development of a new theology and spirituality of engagement among religions. Does this extend as far as the sacred space of spiritual direction? This presentation explores the possibility of a Christian-Muslim spiritual direction dynamic.


Susan Campbell

Spirituality for Generation Y Australians and the implications for spiritual direction

“They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are, because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.” (Sayers, 2009)


Beverley Campbell

Stewards of God’s mysteries

This paper will present the research I am undertaking as the Sanderson Scholar for the Uniting Church, based at the Centre for Theology and Ministry. It is a small-scale oral history project in which I draw on the interview transcripts of ten ordained Ministers of the Word, Deacons or ministry interns in the first two years of ministry in the Uniting Church, to explore their lived experience of being newly ordained. As ‘stewards of God\’s mysteries’ (1 Corinthians 4:1), ordained ministers have been called to occupy the middle ground. They have been set apart to carry out the complex tasks of ministry, within congregations, or with those on the margins of society. Ordained Ministers of the Word or Deacons are encouraged to seek spiritual direction to assist them in discerning their call and in staying true to their vocation. The spiritual director plays a key role in facilitating and supporting people in this process of discernment around issues of identity and the meaning of ordination.


Anna Killigrew

The desert as spiritual director

What happens to people as they spend time in the desert? Jesus’ wilderness time empowered his ministry. Desert continues to work its miracles today. We note that in our Hebraic scripture tradition, God is known as calling people out of slavery into a lifetime (40 years) in the wilderness. It is from a life lived in the wilderness that the lessons of desert wisdom have been learned, honed, ritualized, celebrated, repeated and taught.


Robin Koning

Ignatian spirituality as ecclesial spirituality

A notable feature of contemporary spirituality is the distinction often made between spirituality and religion, between Jesus and the Church, between personal faith and institutional religion. At the same time, a major resource in contemporary spiritual direction is the spirituality of St Ignatius Loyola, who was very much a man of the Church, who submitted himself, along with his draft text of the Spiritual Exercises, to Church authority, and who included “Rules for Thinking and Feeling with the Church” (Sentire Cum Ecclesia) within the Exercises.


Janelle Macgregor

Using Bernard Lonergan’s cognitive method in discerning self as self-in-relation

Many writers I read on the topic of spiritual direction suggest that a goal of spiritual direction is supporting and encouraging directees in the development of a sense of self as self-in-relation with God and the world. While most writers call for a holistic approach, few offer concrete strategies for combining heart and mind, body and soul, or for assisting directees in articulating their emerging sense self as self-in-relation. Some, in fact, deny the effectiveness of cognitive approaches in the affective domain and the application of cognitive methodologies to religious experience, whereas I propose that the cognitive process of identifying and naming experience is essential to understanding self and making decisions and life choices.


Marlene Marburg

Empowerment through poetry

This presentation invites the hearer to a bonsai experience of the Spiritual Exercises through the presenter\’s poetry. It is intended that the poetry invites those present to engage with their own perspectives and reflect on their individual graced places with the one we call God. Through inviting hearers to this experience, I show the way poetry can accompany a person either giving or receiving the Spiritual Exercises, and in spiritual direction generally. The most important thing in this presentation is not me, nor the poetry I read, but the hearers\’ disposition towards what God might offer through these few words. This disposition is called being present to the gaze of God. Robert Marsh says that God is looking at you looking at God. There is something, both disarming and exquisite in that thought; something personal and holy. How could we help but be enamoured of a God with such affectionate attention.


Bernadette Miles

One body, one spirit, one mission: uncovering the essential elements of empowering a collaborative ministry team

This paper is the result of an action research study of a small collaborative ministry team working within a large Catholic religious institution. The research explores the experience of group members as collaborators through a systems psychodynamic perspective in an attempt to uncover what enables and what disables collaboration. Findings suggest that collaboration is enabled when the primary spirit is clear in the minds and hearts of all members of the collaborative ministry team; mutual recognition and encouragement of difference override the need for strong external boundaries; hierarchical structures become minimal.


Robin Pryor

“God is in this place – How awesone!” Spiritual direction and the significance of place

The role of reflection on scripture is well established in the companioning of directees, notably so in the Ignatian tradition, among others. The role of “God\’s other book”, creation, has received much less attention. In the case of regular sessions of spiritual direction following a directee\’s spiritual journey, place may have little or only passing significance. On the other hand, the physical setting of a retreat over a number of days, a week or more, may have quite a profound impact on the directee and enrich the evolving conversations with a director. While the focus continues to be on the directee\’s prayer and ongoing formation in the spirit, this experience may be quite differently nuanced if the retreat is located in a desert, mountains, or in a river or island location.


Beth Roberton

Bringing women into a broad space to liberate feminine spirituality

The patriarchal domination of women\’s faith in conservative contexts has disempowered women\’s significant faith-experience through limiting ways of knowing God to ways of encountering God that are personally engaging in a masculinised paradigm. Such limitations stifled the validation of women\’s self-actuated faith.


Ian Robinson

If anyone thirsts – tapping some resources for a transformative desert spirituality

A range of sources will show that the biblical desert tradition can be a valuable resource for Australian people, despite their recent history of colonialism and secular city living.


Peter Saunders

Psychodynamics and the giving of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: a case study

As part of a PhD thesis, this research explores the place of psychodynamics in the giving of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. It aims to develop a deeper appreciation of the relationship between psychoanalytic processes and the giving of the Exercises through the experience of the director. This qualitative research has used semi-structured in depth interviews with 22 directors of the Spiritual Exercises from different parts of Australia.


Di Shearer

Towards a critique of spiritual direction as field of practice

Spiritual directors engage regularly in supervision as a form of personal critique of practice. However, the field of practice as a whole appears to lack a strong theoretical research base. This lack weakens the contribution of the field not only within academic circles but more importantly within the day to day listening ministry to which we aspire.


Lucy Tierney

Enneagram wisdom frameworks: a tool for tending the sacred

Six Enneagram Wisdom Frameworks express the universality of patterns operative in nine groupings of general characteristics of human behaviour, feelings, and motivations. While the element of universality is absolutely true, the element of personal uniqueness is also absolutely true, e.g. facial features, fingerprints, DNA structure. Enneagram Wisdom Frameworks, considered metaphorically, name the “facial features, fingerprints, DNA structures” in general of human behaviour, feeling, and motivational patterns. The individuality emerges through the unique responses and choices of the person within these patterns.


Stephen Truscott

The Influence of spirituality as an academic discipline on the understanding and practice of spiritual direction

Spirituality has recently emerged as an academic discipline. How this may influence the understanding and practice of spiritual direction is the subject of this enquiry. The essay first reviews how this academic discipline distinguishes three levels of spirituality: the experience itself that transpires at a real or existential level, the lived actuality of this first level and the practical or academic investigation of the two prior levels.


Kaye Twining

The question of grace in a face of human disorientation: the contribution of a spiritual director to the spiritual journey of a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder

The paper outlines the significance and boundaries of one model of Christian spiritual direction in the spiritual journey of a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The nature of bipolar disorder is that it affects a person’s moods, thoughts and behaviour. Consequently, the experience of bipolar disorder is such that it can disorientate a person’s sense of self, triggering existential questions around identity, meaning, belonging and religious expression. These are significant spiritual questions. However, due to the complex nature of bipolar disorder these spiritual questions often go unheeded.


Patricia Wait

A contribution to our understanding of contemplation in a postmodern world

My own search for a deeper relationship with God has led me to the researching of a PhD dissertation currently entitled: “Meeting God, in the company of Julian of Norwich and John of the Cross.”

Research has included mysticism in the Christian tradition, mysticism in a postmodern world, and my understanding of Jesus the Christ.


Joan Wright-Howie

Encountering God’s grace as maternal embrace

As a starting point for my research, I describe an experience of maternal embrace from my own life experience in which I sense the grace of God at work. Maternal embrace is motherly holding, where a mother\’s body can be physically holding, enclosing or protecting. Maternal embrace also extends beyond the physical to emotional and spiritual nurturing, enabling and enduring. Maternal embrace surges forth with the strongest impulse of love, nurture and protection, which is not limited to the biological mother.