IF YOU want a “how to” book on spiritual direction, this is not the one. Rather, this is theological exploration, but always with the approach of practice, and particularly the practice of spiritual direction.
For example, the first main chapter is about God, and begins by looking at “A God who comes near”, then God “near as Three-in-One”, and goes on to the mystery, beauty, and wonder of God. The sections on revelation (God’s revealing Godself) have the practical approach to how we humans know this God who comes near, and the final section on “The divine conversation” looks at the part played by spiritual direction in that process. Each chapter ends with helpful “Reflection and Questions” in relation to the reader’s own experience in life and in spiritual direction.
Having considered God, the second chapter considers human beings. This starts from humans as “beings-in-communion”, which made sense to me after the discussion of God as Trinity, but might not resonate immediately if a reader starts with a sense of aloneness. Subsequent sections broaden the focus and include discussions on sin, liberation, gender, and sexuality. Psychological insights are also examined with an explanation of their relevance.
The relationship between God and humans is explored further in the chapters on Jesus, and on salvation and transformation. Then the authors examine more closely how God and humans draw near, looking at the Holy Spirit, the Bible, church tradition, and church in relation to spiritual direction. They explore differing views of the place of the Bible, say, so that readers can reflect on what we practise and what we say in relation to the Bible. Finally, they invite readers into a continuing conversation with themselves, and encourage individuals and churches to discern God’s activity in the world and to engage with it.
Soul Friendship requires attention to read, but the attention is worth while, because the book gives plenty of food for thought. I found the depth given on any aspect slightly uneven. This was occasionally exasperating if I knew little about that area, but clear references are given for further reading if needed. As I see it, spiritual direction is more than a cluster of techniques, and so time spent considering the purpose and place of the practice will help individuals and the Church make best use of spiritual direction: Soul Friendship is a valuable contribution to this reflection.
Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.
Soul Friendship: A practical theology of spiritual direction
Adrian Chatfield and Nigel Rooms
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30