Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God

By Dan Burke and Father John Bartunek

Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012

161 pages; $14

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What did Sts. Paul, Margaret Mary and Faustina Kowalska all have in common?

In addition to having profound personal encounters with Jesus Christ, they all had spiritual directors. It might seem that messages from Jesus would be enough, but as Dan Burke, the Register’s executive director, explains in his new book Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, we live in a world in which God works through people to help us grow closer to him. Burke points out that even Jesus submitted himself to the care and guidance of his Mother, so we should expect nothing less. Burke says that Scripture confirms this. "You won’t find even a hint of the idea of a lone-wolf Christian who is not dependent upon others for their spiritual needs," he writes.

We are surely all connected to one another in the body of Christ, but doesn’t the Church supply enough direction through leadership, teachings and the sacraments? Does anyone really need spiritual direction as well? According to Burke, the answer is yes. "Without a guide, we run the risk of losing our way or venturing down paths that can waste precious time as we seek our eternal destination," he says, noting that, because of our fallen nature, there are blind spots and the pull of mediocrity that keep us from God’s ever-present invitation to go deeper — all the way to sainthood.

Spiritual direction, according to Burke, is "about developing a love relationship with God that inevitably spills into all other areas of our lives." He describes it as a relationship between the Holy Spirit, the director and the directee, with the aim of purposefully, consistently and substantively growing in a relationship with God and neighbor.

As a convert to Catholicism, Burke strove to engage fully with Christ and avoid spiritual sloth. Spiritual direction put him on track to make advances in his spiritual life. Still, Burke desired a definitive guide to uncap the full potential of spiritual direction — but he found none. Necessity became the mother of invention, and Navigating the Interior Life was born. It is the product of hundreds of conversations with people both inside and outside of spiritual direction, in addition to extensive study of the doctors of the Church. Burke, who is a regular co-host on Register Radio, knew he was not the only one seeking clear guidance in spiritual direction. When he co-founded the blog Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction with Father John Bartunek, he expected an occasional visitor. Instead, in just three years, more than 1 million visitors from 190 countries have come to the site.

Navigating the Interior Life is relevant whether one has been in spiritual direction for years or is just considering the idea for the first time. Ultimately, the book spreads an understanding of spiritual direction so that, in the authors’ words, we can access through Christ the "grace necessary to ascend to the heights of heaven in this life (with limitations, of course) and to meet the smile of God face-to-face in the next."

Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.