Spiritual Directors International

The Home of Spiritual Companionship

Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies)

Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies)
edited by John Sullivan, OCD
Wellesley, MA: Christus Publishing, 2012
248 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

As the title suggests, Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies) approaches spiritual direction from a Carmelite perspective. This understanding grows out of the Christian tradition. The Carmelites have shaped and been shaped by Christian faith and thought for hundreds of years. The Carmelite appreciation for spiritual direction has made significant contributions to the story of Christian spiritual direction.

The Carmelites, known more formally as the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, is a Roman Catholic religious order which was founded at least as long ago as the twelfth century. The spiritual focus of the Carmelites is contemplative prayer.

Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies) focuses its attention on three people from the history of the Carmelites who made key contributions to shaping our understanding of spiritual direction. A man and two women, all three have been recognized as saints and as making important contributions to church teaching.

The man is John of the Cross. A Spanish priest and spiritual director, he is known both for his poetry and his writings, which describe spiritual formation and development. John of the Cross gave us the phrase and the concept “dark night of the soul.” This chapter presents his views of spiritual direction,  addresses the intimacy of the relationship between a spiritual director and spiritual directee, and the responsibilities that intimacy creates for spiritual directors. In addition, Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies) includes an interesting comparison of some of his writings to aspects of Buddhist teachings.

The second person is Teresa of Avila. A Spanish nun who knew and worked with John of the Cross to reform the Carmelite order, Teresa of Avila wrote her autobiography, The Interior Castle, and The Way of Perfection, among other books, which are now considered classics. The chapter presenting the viewpoints of Teresa of Avila emphasizes the importance she saw in being open in spiritual direction. She understood the essential nature of both trust and honesty in spiritual direction.

The third person is Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who lived several centuries after John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Therese of Lisieux wrote several books, including an autobiography, and a large number of letters related to spiritual direction. The chapter reflecting her views focuses on the need to find the balance that encompasses knowledge and spiritual experience.

Spiritual Direction (Carmelite Studies) is a resource of potential value for many spiritual directors. It is an excellent introduction to people and perspectives that have played key roles in the story of spiritual direction in the Christian faith community. It shines a helpful light on significant elements in the history of the church and is a good beginning for people interested in the historical development of Christian spiritual direction. It also addresses some aspects of how Carmelite thinking relates to other faith traditions.

I am particularly attracted to the way this book gives tangible insights and explanations that illuminate contemplative spirituality. It is a good resource for helping to understand key contributions that have shaped Christian spiritual direction through its history. 

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

Two for the Price of None

Learn. For. Free. Discover and Listen. One signup, two great resources. Free.

Help Us Serve More People

Become an SDI member. Great benefits, discounts, and networking. Learn more...