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Spiritual direction program emphasizes “knowledge of self”

Chris Baker is the associate director for the Center for Spiritual Renewal. “An emphasis that we would want to bring in and see is pairing that [knowledge of God] with a knowledge of self,” Baker said about the Center. | Kalli Thommen/THE CHIMES


Located on the outskirts of Biola’s campus in portable classrooms, the Center for Spiritual Renewal is often regarded as a mystery by most Biola students. Despite its obscure location, the Center for Spiritual Renewal represents one of Biola’s central goals for its students: that while taking classes to deepen their knowledge of God, they would also deepen their knowledge of self, according to Chris Baker, associate director for the Center.

The Center for Spiritual Renewal is the ministry arm of the Institute for Spiritual Formation, which is a special program at Talbot Seminary. On average, about 650 students receive spiritual direction from one of 70 paid spiritual directors. Spiritual direction appointments are free and typically last for 45 minutes.

Knowledge of self is intrinsic to having knowledge of God

Baker summed up the goal of spiritual direction with John Calvin’s concept of “double knowledge.”

“Knowledge of God needs to be paired with knowledge of self. You can’t have full knowledge of God without true knowledge of yourself. You can’t have true knowledge of yourself without true knowledge of God,” Baker said.

Baker said that Biola, being a Christian college that requires 30 units of Bible classes, tends to focus on the knowledge of God more than knowledge of self.

“An emphasis that we would want to bring in and see is pairing that [knowledge of God] with a knowledge of self,” Baker said.

Spiritual direction is not counseling

Sophomore Savannah Booth also receives spiritual direction. “It’s a little bit different than counseling. It’s not problem-oriented, it’s more talking about ‘this is what I’m going through right now,’ and then they intercede for you and pray with you,” Booth said. | Kalli Thommen/THE CHIMES


Senior elementary education major Katie Canet said that before being encouraged to do spiritual direction as an RA, she had always avoided it because she thought it was more like counseling.

“It’s not like ‘how are you feeling?’ — it’s more like helping you see what God is doing in your life,” Canet explained.

Sophomore Christian ministries major Savannah Booth also found that spiritual direction is distinct from counseling. 

“It’s a little bit different than counseling. It’s not problem-oriented, it’s more talking about ‘this is what I’m going through right now,’ and then they intercede for you and pray with you,” Booth said.

The value of an outside perspective

Booth began attending spiritual direction as a freshman because it was a requirement for her classes. Though it’s no longer required, she has continued meeting with her spiritual director. Booth claims one of the most rewarding parts of spiritual direction for her has been having an outsider’s perspective.

“It’s great to have friends at college but they’re all kind of going through the same things. It’s nice to talk to someone who’s just there to listen and who’s been through it and is able to say what you should do,” Booth said. “I think when you talk to friends they know people who are involved in your problems so they kind of give you a biased opinion and advice. You don’t get that at spiritual direction.”

Students like Booth, who are not doing spiritual direction to fulfill a requirement, are eligible to receive one chapel credit for each of their spiritual direction sessions, according to Baker.

Spiritual directors as listeners

Baker said that while it’s an adjustment for many people, the primary role of a spiritual director is to be a listener.

“In spiritual direction, the focus is entirely on the person coming for spiritual direction. You don’t actually get to know much about the person who is your spiritual director, which is kind of weird for people at first,” said Baker.

Multiple spiritual formation opportunities

While spiritual direction is the primary ministry for the Center for Spiritual Renewal, Baker said that they also hold mini on-campus retreats and provide spiritual formation training for faculty members.

Baker also explained that while retreats and spiritual direction experiences do provide opportunities for spiritual formation, there are many other on-campus opportunities and class requirements that help students grow in knowledge of themselves.

“There are many departments on campus that are involved in the spiritual formation of students so we’re just one piece of that. There are many voices and many hands trying to encourage that,” Baker said.

Baker encourages Biolans to take advantage of the opportunity of spiritual direction and claims it is well worth the walk to the Grove to get there. 

“Spiritual formation is a journey, so you have to journey to get to spiritual formation,” Baker joked. 

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. Fred

    The evolving use of vocabulary in Christianity is interesting.

    "Sanctification". No, that is an old word, now we use spiritual formation. Okay, fine.

    "Counseling". No that is an old word, now we use spiritual direction. Okay, fine.

    Who knows, maybe sometime in the future we'll dispose of the word "God" and replace it with "Spirit-Being".

    I might be wrong, but the rejection of old words for new ambiguous words, causes Christianity to become entirely ambiguous.

    Thank the for the article! March 30, 2014

  2. Chris Baker

    Hi Fred,

    Actually, we still use the word sanctification quite a lot in spiritual formation circles, so I don't know that the word has been replaced. And one could argue that actually spiritual direction as a concept and practice in the Church has been around at least as long if not longer than the concept of counseling.

    So I don't think there's any cause for concern. If anything, the church needs to recover our own tradition and history and realize the many great resources, concepts, and practices that we have often lost touch with in the context of 21st century American Evangelicalism.

    Peace to you. April 16, 2014

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