Membership Moments


Spiritual Direction: Moving Toward a Horizon of Freedom and Love

Often people ask, “What do three chairs have to do with spiritual direction?” In one chair, a seeker sits describing his or her lived experience of God, or Mystery, to a spiritual director sitting in the second chair. The spiritual director listens not only to the seeker but also to the relationship of the seeker with a sacred Presence in the third chair. In spiritual direction, a sacred Presence—whom many call God, Ultimate Reality, Christ, a Higher Power, or God Beyond Names—in the third chair exists, even when doubt and existential angst may make a sacred Presence seem invisible. 

Historically the role of the spiritual director is to invite the seeker to not only listen to the questions, fears, doubts, joys, and celebrations in the seeker’s head and heart and the words that the spiritual guide might offer, but also—most importantly—to listen deeply for the wisdom offered by the ever-present Presence in the third chair.

The true spiritual director resides in the third chair.

In the past decade, I’ve enjoyed photographing three chairs in hopes of communicating the value of spiritual direction to a broad audience. Looking over the photos, my favorite pictures of three chairs include a horizon.

I like the way the horizon sets the stage for the encounter of a seeker sitting in one chair describing to a spiritual director sitting in a second chair his or her lived experience of deepening into the sacred.

I recently became reacquainted with the importance of the horizon to the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner as he answered the question, “Can God be known?” Robert Masson’s Karl Rahner: A Brief Biography describes how Rahner

argued that we can know of God by attending to the movement of our knowing itself towards its objects. Reflection on this reveals that our thinking always reaches beyond its immediate objects towards a further horizon. Hence, the movement of our knowing, and the ultimate goal towards which it reaches, can be grasped only indirectly (or "transcendentally") as our thinking turns back on itself.

Rahner identified the elusive and final "term" of this dynamism with God and contended that the same movement towards God is entailed in freedom and love. By conceiving God, who always exceeds our reach, as the horizon presupposed in the movement of knowing, freedom and love, Rahner provided a way for talking and thinking about God as "mysterious," that is to say, as a reality who is known, but only reflexively and indirectly—and perhaps not even consciously—as the ever receding horizon of the human spirit.

More simply put: the Presence in the third chair is inextricably linked to a horizon of freedom and love that draws us toward it. By meeting regularly with a spiritual director, seekers move toward freedom and love, even when sometimes they cannot fathom the horizon. Since all spiritual directors are life-long seekers, we all listen for spiritual guidance toward an ultimate horizon. We trust as Erasmus taught, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

We acknowledge that the contemplative stance of a spiritual director is humility and awe. As SDI gets ready to launch Emerging Wisdom 2015, please join me in humbly praying with the Psalmist, "Awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10).

How does the image of a third chair inspire and connect your ministry and service of spiritual direction? How does the image of the horizon set the stage for you as a spiritual director and a life-long seeker? Share your thoughts on the SDI Blog

Scroll down to read the articles associated with these headlines.

1. New! Register for the New SDI Webinar: The Enneagram and the Beatitudes
2. New! 2015 Emerging Wisdom Educational Events: Registration Coming Soon!
3. New! SDI Revised Guidelines for Ethical Conduct is Now Online
4. Apply for the New Contemplatives Initiative
5. New Video! SDI Learns from … Rev. Jane Vennard
6. Share Your Thoughts about Presence
7. SDI Blog Highlights
8. September Poem by Jacalyn Cesario
9. September Blessing from the Executive Director

1. New! Register for the New SDI Webinar: The Enneagram and the Beatitudes

Are you looking for new ways to apply the Enneagram to your life and spiritual practice? Do you regularly reach for the Beatitudes, and are you curious about how to integrate the Beatitudes and the Enneagram into your spiritual work?

SDI invites you to participate in, The Enneagram and the Beatitudes: Understanding the Blessings of Who You Are, an SDI Webinar led by Joseph Byrd, OLF, DMin, from Michigan, USA.

Join us:

28 October, 1:00 p.m. EDT; 5:00 p.m. GMT/UTC
28 October, 8:00 p.m. EDT; 12:00 a.m. GMT/UTC (following morning, 29 October)

The webinar will be offered twice to accommodate multiple time zones. SDI aims to make programing available for as many people as possible. Learn more and register today!

2. New! 2015 Emerging Wisdom Educational Events: Registration Coming Soon!

Five extraordinary keynote presenters have been prayerfully selected. From Sufi master Pir Zia Inayat-Khan to award winning radio host of On Being Krista Tippett, the keynote presenters reflect the diversity of SDI members from around the world and across traditions. Also presenting: theologian and Thomas Merton scholar, Dan Horan, OFM; professor, musician, and environmental steward Kathleen Deignan, CND, PhD; and Brian McDermott, SJ, who served as a keynote presenter at the first SDI conference twenty-five years ago. Read more in-depth biographies on the SDI website.

Registration will open 10 September. We expect participants from six continents—make sure to register early for your first choice of workshops! Check back often for new details and information.

3. New! SDI Revised Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

Spiritual Directors International has made the Revised Guidelines for Ethical Conduct even more readily accessible! Printed booklets will continue to be available through the SDI store, and you can now download a free PDF version from the SDI website.

Thank you to the Guidelines for Ethical Guidelines original and revised task force members for giving your time, talents, and wisdom: Lucy Abbott-Tucker; Bill Creed, SJ; Andrew Dreitcer, MDiv, PhD; Richard M. Gula, SS; Jinks Hoffmann; Joy McFarland; Timothy E. O’Connell, PhD; and Dorothy Whiston.

4.Apply for the New Contemplatives Initiative

Are you an emerging contemplative under the age of forty? Do you know someone else who is? The New Contemplative Initiative Scholarship and Bursary Award is your opportunity to engage with the global learning community of Spiritual Directors International during the 2015 Emerging Wisdom conference.

The application deadline is 28 November 2014.

If you know someone you would like to nominate, simply fill out a short form to nominate him or her! SDI will follow-up with an e-mail and invitation to apply.

5. New Video! SDI Learns from … Rev. Jane Vennard

Rev. Jane Vennard describes spiritual practices, including spiritual direction, as a path to compassion.

Spiritual Directors International learns from Rev. Jane Vennard. A spiritual director for more than twenty years, Vennard is a senior adjunct faculty of prayer and spirituality at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, USA. She teaches and leads retreats in international ecumenical settings, and is the author of six books, including Praying with Body and Soul; Be Still: Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats; and The Way of Prayer.

6. Share Your Thoughts about Presence

Have you received the latest issue of Presence? What was your favorite article? What insight did it give you? Send your thoughts as a letter to the editor to Nick Wagner,

7. SDI Blog Highlights

Are you looking for contemplative inspiration from fellow SDI members? Check out the SDI blog! Each month, dynamic writers contribute their thoughts on spiritual direction, as well as reflective pieces on the contemplative practice of the week. In August, the blog featured articles from Lynn W. Huber who wrote about compassionate listening and a story about the contemplative practice of lighting a candle by Janice Lynne Lundy.

Interested in writing for the SDI Blog? E-mail for details.

8. September Poem by SDI member Jacalyn Cesario [Minnesota, USA]

The Empty Room

The empty room
is a disturbing reminder
of what was lost.
The silence is deafening.
It wants my attention,
but I would rather close the door
and not think about it.
Stay with the pain, I am told.
Weep, scream, grieve and remember.
Remember the good
that once filled the space.
The blessings, the life, the gift.
One day you will notice a stillness.
A room that is no longer empty,
but rather cleared
and open with possibilities.

9. September Blessing

During September, may you remember that we are all life-long seekers, listening for guidance as we deepen into the sacred. May humility and awe become a daily contemplative practice. May our desire to be of service, to end suffering, to encourage peace and justice, and to tend to wisdom emerging be fulfilled.

Peace be with you,

Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv
Executive Director