July 29, 2022

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Teresa Venatta

Spiritual direction offers sacred space for those who are grieving

Teresa VenattaGrief, which can be defined as a complex response to loss, is a universal human experience that will affect all of us throughout life. From losing a pet, to the loss of a job, to shattered expectations of how we thought life would be, to the death of a spouse after 60 years of marriage, the river of “letting go” runs deep and wide in the course of a lifetime.

For a person of faith, God enters into this experience in a very direct and personal way. What makes grief challenging in particular is that it is never fully resolved.

Author and family therapist Dr. Pauline Boss states that “definitive closure is a myth.” As a result, grieving is an ongoing and cumulative process. Grief also disrupts the narrative of our life and calls us to awareness, a search for meaning, and the possibilities of what might be next.

As Catholic Christians, it can be helpful to find a safe space to talk about our experience of grief and connect it to the larger story of how God continues to move in our lives in the midst of loss.

The ministry of spiritual direction can be a helpful tool in navigating grief. For a person experiencing loss, the loving presence of a spiritual director can be the safe space to express anger, tensions, regrets, fears and hopes.

The wide range of the grieving experience can be shared with the assurance of confidentiality and tenderness. The reality is that, as spiritual director and author Nicholas Collura states, “grief longs for an outward expression and will find it whether we are intentional about it or not.”

For those new to the ministry of spiritual direction, it is basically ongoing spiritual companionship. It is a one-on-one relationship between a trained spiritual director and a directee that is bonded in prayer and conversation. The Holy Spirit is always the true director.

In times of mourning, a spiritual director can be the loving presence to help hold the griever’s lament and receive grief’s outward expression with empathy. There is an affirmation of the validity of personal experience and the director will always meet the directee where they are.

For those coping with grief, it’s important to understand that spiritual direction will not offer solutions. Through compassionate listening, a spiritual director can assist in the discernment of meaning and what life might look like moving forward—all with the lens of divine presence.

Often, given a safe space to openly speak about the experience of loss, clarity and even a joyful sorrow can surface. It is helpful to remember that God is always communicating with us through the circumstances of our lives—in both abundance and in loss. It also needs to be understood that spiritual direction is not grief counseling or trauma therapy. Counseling is better suited for complicated grief, when traumas of the past surface.

Spiritual direction primarily focuses on the movements of the Holy Spirit in the present moment, and a spiritual director might even suggest professional counseling if warranted. William Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”

Spiritual direction is that sacred space to give our sorrows words, offer them to God in the prayerful presence of spiritual companionship, and be open to where the Holy Spirit guides our hearts.

(Teresa Venatta is a spiritual director and the discernment companion for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. She can be reached at spiritualdirection@archindy.org.)

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