Spiritual Directors International

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Image Guidance

by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart
New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2nd edition 2010
130 pages
Reviewed by Bobbie Bonk

Have you ever found yourself experiencing an image or a daydream that leaves you with questions, concerns, hope, or possibility for spiritual growth? Or have you awakened from a dream wanting to uncover its deeper meaning? Elizabeth-Anne Stewart offers a tool that can help unravel the symbolism of the messages that surface from the unconscious and lead to a fuller understanding of one’s relationship to self, God, and others.

With a step-by-step outline, Stewart teaches the spiritual guide and the spiritual seeker how to use the methodology. The process can be done individually or with a group. Stewart’s stories of how she uses image guidance in spiritual direction are inspiring and grace filled. When the seeker is open, shifts and transformations happen even during the process. Once the seeker reaches a state of relaxation, he discovers or recreates an image and dialogues with the image. This is holy time, and the spiritual guide needs to be attentive to God’s movements in asking appropriate questions, clarifying what she hears the seeker say, and knowing when to move the person back to the here and now. Because emotions often accompany the process, it is important that the spiritual guide be in a state of prayer, listening deeply to what is happening within herself as well.

Chapter 4, “Image Guidance and the Discernment Process,” explains that image guidance “puts us in touch with our deepest feelings and raises possibilities we might otherwise not have dared imagine” (74). Stewart aptly describes God’s will, not in a way that is negative or unpleasant but as grace that allows our will to align itself with God’s. “The more we surrender, the more we come to understand that God is indeed a personal God who cares about every aspect of our lives, down to the smallest detail” (73). Indeed, this process may introduce the seeker to a new image of God or heal painful images that may have been imposed through life’s experience.

Time and again, Stewart shows in her stories how images that reveal themselves are often unexpected, and their unfolding helps the seeker to discover something totally unforeseen. “Clearly, when left to their own devices, images could offer more than human logic could impose upon them” (109). Because of this, trust in the process, in the other, and in God is essential. Beauty lies in the ability to revisit the image and allow it to continue to open up.

Stewart includes an appendix of exercises to work with self-image. They allow for imagination and creativity along with immersion in the richness of self. These exercises and reflections seem like the beginning of a journey filled with blessings. In the midst of prayer and with a sensitive, compassionate spiritual director, image guidance can be very useful in spiritual direction because images can “function much like dreams in terms of their ability to heal, to guide and to illumine” (1).

Bobbie Bonk, MA, is a spiritual director and retreat facilitator living in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. Through additional training in workshops for adult survivors of childhood abuse led by Mary’s Hope and advanced certification in “Soul Healing for the Spiritual Director,” she has enhanced her spiritual direction training from The Center for Spirituality at Work in Denver, Colorado.


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