Traveling the Path: Getting to Know S. Joan Deiters
How would you define spiritual direction?
It’s finding what’s already there in the person that’s leading them to live a deeper life, guiding them in their search for God. It’s a discovery of what’s already there, and then going forward with that. It’s very different from person to person, because people are different.
How did you begin this ministry?
My first introduction to the possibility of being a spiritual director was through Creighton University’s master’s degree program in Christian spirituality (Omaha, Nebraska). I studied there for six years during the summer and loved it. Then, I did an internship at the Jesuit Renewal Center in Milford; it was a three-or-four-month program in the fall of 1985, I believe. I also studied psychoanalysis at the Westchester Institute (Bedford, New York), because I wanted a stronger psychological background for spiritual direction. So that was my preparation. I usually direct one or two retreats every year. Next year, I’ll be directing five or six at the Gloucester retreat house in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
How has your psychoanalytic training fit into spiritual direction?
What I learned in my psychoanalytic training helped to some extent. I particularly explored Carl Jung in how he works with dreams, and some of that is relevant to spiritual direction. Carl Jung believed that as people grew, they had a greater and greater desire to be in relationship to God. That’s very relevant to my work in spiritual direction.
How did your past ministries prepare you for doing spiritual direction?
Seemingly, it was a huge stretch from teaching chemistry and doing research to doing spiritual direction, but one way I can describe it is that I was always interested in what’s going on inside the molecules. When I was teaching chemistry, I was striving to understand at a very fundamental level what’s going on, what makes things react, and what makes things take a certain geometry. So, I’m just more interested in what’s going on in the depth of a person’s life. What’s holding things together? What are the forces that are active in their life? It didn’t feel like a huge shift to me. It felt easy.
How do you help a directee feel comfortable to share their thoughts?
I don’t actually think about that, but people do feel comfortable with me. One thing is that the vocabulary has to be theirs. It’s not like I introduce new words, concepts, or ideas. I help to explore the ideas that are already there. Usually, when people are exploring their own ideas and feelings, they seem comfortable.
What is most rewarding for you in this ministry?
Seeing the different ways that God acts with every person. It’s totally different. I just finished directing an eight-day retreat in Gloucester, and each of the five people I directed had a totally different experience; their days were different. God acts in a way that just perfectly fits each person. To see that gives me joy.