I dislike being brought to tears. I stubbornly refuse to choke up during sad movies. I sit stoically reminding myself that I am being manipulated by the movie director. So when I first met with another kind of director--my spiritual director--I just knew she would say something that would make me cry, and so I braced myself.

Sure enough, about half an hour into the meeting, she gently suggested that perhaps God wanted to communicate with me just as much as I wanted to communicate with God, and the tears welled up. Not for long though, because I changed the subject to the safer topic of general theology.

God is a master of subtlety--no bolts of lightning, only quiet reassurances...a feeling of peace.

That was six months ago. Now when we have our monthly meeting, I reach for the tissue and keep talking through the tears as we explore the possibility that God might want me to feel comforted, encouraged, and even loved. Together, we look for ways that God might be communicating this message to me.

I've decided that God is a master of subtlety--no bolts of lightning, only quiet reassurances, words spoken through a stranger, a feeling of peace with a decision made, an inner nudging toward a life focused on the spiritual.

My spiritual director listens as I grapple with my own resistance to God's intimate presence. Sometimes, she points out a correlation between my journey and that of Christ when I ask her for help in seeing my struggles in a larger context. I want to be brought out of the isolation chamber of my own self-centered mind and into God's presence, and she companions me along the way.

Last fall, I entered the Spiritual Director's Institute at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, California, to start a three-year training program as a spiritual director. That first Saturday morning, 30 of us gathered in a room to begin, as the program director, Sister Lorita, put it, "the process of discernment."

Although the program directors are nuns, and the Mercy Center is Roman Catholic, we find as we get to know each other that we are a diverse group. Among us were three Protestant pastors, a brother, Catholic nuns, a few therapists of various denominations, and some whose spiritual practices are from Eastern traditions.

We are married, single, partnered, celibate. Our willingness, even eagerness, to explore ways of discerning the presence of Spirit in our lives, and learning how to help others do the same, is our common bond.

A good director acts as a kind of trail guide, pointing out God's presence along your path.

Spiritual direction for many people means meeting with your priest or pastor to figure out whether you have a "calling," or it might summon up an image of pastoral counseling as you reach important milestones like marriage or terminal illness. Spiritual direction can be those things, but it can also be much more. Over the last 30 years or so, spiritual direction has blossomed as a discipline by which those who encounter God in the fabric of their daily lives act as companions to others seeking a similar encounter. As they say at the Mercy Center, "We stand poised and attentive to the movement of God in our hearts."

So what does spiritual direction look like? Typically, you meet once a month, sometimes more, depending on need.

Somewhat like therapy, you meet for an hour to talk about family, work, or other life issues. Unlike most traditional therapy sessions, however, the emphasis is not on solutions to problems but rather on discerning your relationship with God through these matters. The focus remains on the spiritual. A good director acts as a kind of trail guide, pointing out the signs of God's presence along your path.