Join the Nouwen Legacy Associates (NLA) and you'll automatically be a part of the wide communication network of friends associated with the continuing ministry of Henri Nouwen. You'll be the first to know what's happening around: events, programs, activities, etc. associated with Nouwen. You will also receive regular monthly email letters from Wil Hernandez (delivered directly to your inbox) as he regularly shares his thoughts, insights, current involvement opportunities, etc. all related to Nouwen and his ever-expanding spiritual legacy.
What is Spiritual Direction?
The spiritual journey is never meant to be a solitary process. We all need sacred companions along the way. Whatever the term of preference is employed-be it spiritual counsel, spiritual guidance/mentoring, soul friendship, or spiritual direction - we do not want to miss the point: they are all intended means and processes for our soul care and spiritual formation. They are all designed for "companionship" which, as Alan Jones metaphorically describes it, is "for the hatching of our hearts," that is, "for the bringing home of our scattered and fragmented selves, for the making of a heart at home with itself" (Exploring Spiritual Direction, p.154).
Having said this, spiritual direction still holds the time-honored distinction of being the most ancient term directly identified with the long established history of the cure of souls. Its modern-day rediscovery represents "the recovery of the lost jewel in the crown of Christian soul care" (Gary Moon and David Benner, Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, p. 245).
As if to wipeout its rhetorical mist and in the process demystifying it, Henri Nouwen - in his characteristic simplicity-narrowed down his definition of spiritual direction to "direction given to people in their relationship with God" ("Spiritual Direction," Worship, p. 55). He wisely focused on the basic dynamics of spiritual direction: prayer and discernment. As he elaborates further, a spiritual director, according to Nouwen, is "a mature fellow Christian ... from whom we can expect prayerful guidance in our constant struggle to discern God's active presence in our lives" (Worship, p. 402). To him, spiritual direction involves "people com[ing] together to listen to the direction of the Spirit" (Foreword to Spiritual Direction by Francis Vanderwall, x).
Watch Wil Hernandez's Interview about Spiritual Direction conducted by Spiritual Directors International (SDI)
What is a Retreat?
In his book The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen encapsulates what to him are the three ways to life in the Spirit: solitude, silence, and prayer. They are not to be reckoned as a luxury but rather an absolute necessity for every Christian engaged in ministry. We see in the Gospels how Jesus Himself exemplified their regular practice in His life and ministry. In the thick of His demanding work, Jesus regularly took off, at times inviting His disciples to accompany Him, either to a mountainside or a solitary place to commune with His Father in prayer (see e.g., Matt 14:23; Mk 1:35; Lk 4:42).
Henri Nouwen points out that unceasing prayer - which characterized Jesus' life - go hand in hand with the exercise of solitude and silence. Solitude is not simply withdrawing and being alone, but being alone with God. Silence does not mean abstaining from speaking but listening to God. In short, "solitude and silence are the context within which prayer is practiced" (Way of the Heart, p. 69). This, in essence, is primarily what is involved in what we now call spiritual retreat.
Simply defined, a spiritual retreat is a time-off from our regular routine, deliberately set aside for God in solitude, silence, and prayer for the nourishment of our body, soul, and spirit.