Traveling the Path: Getting to Know S. Donna Steffen
How would you define spiritual direction?
The term itself is almost a misnomer because one is actually not directing another person or telling them what to do. I would say it’s the process of attending and paying attention with someone to their inner journey with God. God’s communication with us is in all the realms of our lives. A person brings where they have experienced God or what they feel is important in their spiritual journey at this time, and the director helps them notice more about their experience. It’s an ongoing process of paying attention to the unfolding of their relationship with God.
How did you begin this ministry?
In my early 20s, I did my first directed retreat and first received spiritual direction. From that time, I wanted to do spiritual direction, but I always felt like I was too young and that I should wait awhile. So I did wait, but in 1988, the first summer that I had some time available from teaching, I completed my internship in spiritual direction, at what was then called the Jesuit Renewal Center in Milford. During that internship, I felt this big opening in me, and felt that this was where I was called. So I began doing spiritual direction along with my other ministries. I would say that it’s really the most important ministry of my life right now.
Where do you offer spiritual direction?
I live on the East side of the city and offer spiritual direction where I live. I see a couple people here at the Motherhouse who live in this locale, but I see most people where I live. It would be a challenge time-wise for them to come to the Motherhouse, so it works out well.
Does spiritual direction come into play in your role as director of novices?
It’s a different process; however, I learn to listen well, and I’m attentive to dynamics that are unfolding in a person. It’s different because with the novices, I’m at times bringing up things about the program or needing to challenge them. So there are some different aspects, but the basic skills are helpful.
What is the Enneagram, and how do you use it in spiritual direction?
I first learned about the Enneagram in the 1970s through my own spiritual direction, and since then, I have become a trained teacher in the Enneagram. I went through formal training with Helen Palmer and completed that in 2000. Some people think of the Enneagram as a personality system, others as a spirituality system. It’s thousands of years old, and had been an oral tradition until the human potential movement in the 1970s. The word “Enneagram” literally means nine points. It describes nine different ways of interacting with life. It seems to be pretty human across cultures that we each have one of these types. It defines habitual behaviors, our inner patterns of what kinds of things occupy our minds. I don’t impose it on a directee if they don’t know it, but I’ll often ask in the second or third session if they’ve ever heard of the Enneagram and if they’re aware of their type, because sometimes I can see the dynamics happening and then it gives us a common language. If they don’t know it, I don’t impose it. If they know it, it helps them see where they’ve gotten stuck in their tracks of how they think and process, and sometimes it can open them up and give an objective way of naming what’s going on in their mind. It’s about self-understanding, but also understanding of others. Beneath that, in spiritual direction, what we’re paying attention to is their relationship with God, and this can help them see where they might get stuck at times.
What is most rewarding for you in this ministry?
First of all, it’s a privilege to have the trust of someone to allow you to see them as they really are, and that they’re willing to be open and honest about what’s going on inside of them. It’s a real privilege to be in that position. I think being in that inner realm with people is what’s nourishing to me. So, of course, if someone has a breakthrough or you can see a moment of grace happen, those moments are just wonderful gifts. A person allowing you to be with them as they really are before God – that’s where God can then open and come through. It’s just wonderful.