Spiritual Direction Questions

The following is excerpted from an article titled "Noticing the Duck: The Art of Asking Spiritual Questions" written by Portland Seminary dean MaryKate Morse. If you find these excerpts helpful, be sure to read the whole article for accompanying examples, context, greater depth, and the story behind the article's title.

Beginnings: Getting-to-Know-You Questions

Beginning questions are usually easy for people to answer. People are not anxious or confused by them. These questions give the spiritual director a starting point for knowing the person and his or her spirituality. Beginning questions are not leading questions. Leading questions are asked when someone wants a particular answer. These questions, on the other hand, have no right answers. A person may respond in any manner they wish without any internal fear of judgment.

The following are some examples:

Ready to Go: General Current Spiritual Reality

General questions that probe understanding about the spiritual directee's present spiritual reality are a helpful way to progress. For instance, questions from Ignatian spirituality explore the current movements within a person either toward God, called consolations, or away from God, called desolations. However, for those not trained in Ignatian spirituality, simply asking the following questions accomplishes, in a general way, the same outcomes. They are not sophisticated, but they help describe the current spiritual reality of a spiritual directee. They are open questions, so the spiritual directee brings whatever level of intensity or investment he or she desires.

Going Deeper: Specific Current Spiritual Reality

Once a person feels comfortable, the spiritual director or mentor can invite the person to share more about how they usually experience God, what their specific feelings are right now, and what they have done to nurture a relationship with God. At this point in the relationship, the spiritual mentor begins exploring the spiritual house, becoming familiar with its habits, pitfalls, graces, and struggles.

Going Still Deeper: Unpacking Questions

When a deeper trust is established, a spiritual director or mentor can begin to gently guide a spiritual directee into interior areas he or she might normally avoid. These are areas where a person feels unfree and internally bound. These are places where she or he feels confused, ashamed, or frightened. Sometimes individuals will tell a story that has intense meaning for them, but they don't know why. They have very strong feelings of hurt, betrayal, confusion, or anger. They wonder about God in the story. On these occasions a spiritual director might simply ask "Why?" several times. This is not the "why" that looks for reasons to explain why something happened or why someone did something. Instead it is the "why" that explores underlying feelings and thoughts. Asking "why" can lead to insights about what is fundamentally troubling about an experience. The questions create potential for the Holy Spirit to bring new awareness.

Question-Asking Etiquette

So what is the etiquette for question-asking in spiritual direction? Etiquette is not a popular concept. In much of Western culture, etiquette is often perceived as a bunch of rules and prescribed behaviors that stifle natural, authentic interactions between persons. However, etiquette is more than suggested guidelines for how to behave at meals or in social settings. In spiritual direction, etiquette is simply the way of honoring someone by treating the person with dignity and care. Here are a few guidelines for question-asking etiquette for the spiritual director or mentor.

Spiritual Direction Programs at Portland Seminary

If you're interested in formal spiritual direction training, check out Portland Seminary's degrees and certifications offered both online and in Portland, Oregon:

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View all Portland Seminary degrees and certificates