Peter Ball. Anglican Spiritual Direction. Boston: Cowley Publications, 1998. xii + 209 pages. $12.95 (paper). Reviewed by Dan Prechtel.
Over the past two decades we have witnessed an enormous growth in the request for spiritual direction, from those within the church and from spiritual sojourners alike, in England and the United States. Training programs are proliferating as those who have benefitted from individual or group spiritual guidance also desire to offer that ministry themselves. The body of literature about spiritual direction is increasing in proportion to the demand for this ministry. However we have gone a number of years now since anyone has attempted to articulate a distinctively Anglican approach to spiritual direction. Peter Ball, a canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in London and an experienced spiritual director, has taken on that challenge and made a helpful contribution to the discussion of what are distinctive features of Anglican spiritual direction drawn from the experience of the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.
Peter Ball's Anglican Spiritual Direction will read well to the broad audience that he intended: those in our respective churches who in any way provide companionship and support to others in their faith pilgrimage, lay people and clergy who offer a formal ministry of spiritual direction or are in training to do so, and for those seeking a resource within the church to help them find their way in their spiritual lives. His understanding of what may fall under the general category of spiritual direction encompasses a wide range of relationships and names for those relationships, and embraces both catholic and evangelical dimensions of the church.
So what does he see as primary elements that shape an Anglican approach to spiritual direction? Ball contends that the Anglican spiritual direction tradition is one marked by being humane to people. It is a tradition that has deep pastoral roots with a focus on healing and growth, a sense of moderation and practicality, and an ethos that allows for a wide variety of styles and approaches to spiritual direction. Ball supports his description of Anglican spiritual direction by dedicating four chapters to an historical survey of English spiritual guidance running from the fourteenth century to the present. This survey is uneven in presentation but there are ample rewards for the reader in his selection of excerpts from the writings of many Anglican guides of the past or correspondence about them. There is a question of balance and proportionality when Ball devotes sixteen pages to his beloved former spiritual director, Reginald Somerset Ward, eleven pages to Evelyn Underhill, two-and-a-half to The Book of Common Prayer, and one page each was focused on Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love and the anonymously written The Cloud of Unknowing.
His chapter surveying the American side of Anglican spiritual direction does give us a sense of historical and contemporary developments, especially when augmented by the final chapters of his book. These final chapters explore the influence of psychology and the personal growth movement on spiritual direction, looking at the development of formal training programs and professionalism, and describing some of the communal practices of spiritual direction. Ball notes that distinctions between British and American approaches to spiritual direction are more drawn around a greater overlap between spiritual direction and counseling and psychotherapy in America, and the growing movement to having trained professionals in the United States rather than the English preference for gifted amateurs.
His description of the community dimension to spiritual direction evoked in me both a deep appreciation for what is largely overlooked in our highly individual-focused dominant cultures in America and England, and a yearning to hear the untold stories of what spiritual direction might be like with many other members of Anglicanism outside the circle of predominantly white, middle-class Anglos. What is spiritual direction like for Anglicans on the African continent or in Asia, or for our Native American, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Carribean parishioners living in a multicultural society? How has Anglicanism encountered and honored deep cultural differences and provided models of spiritual direction appropriate to the people's cultural roots within an Anglican ethos? Peter Ball acknowledges that he is a product of the Church of England and that "there are many other Anglican streams" but his study will be on England and the United States. That is a legitimate limitation but I wish the title and claim would reflect the limitation.
Canon Peter Ball's work is helpful, it does give us a very broad historical and contemporary understanding of the major influences in spiritual direction within the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church. His style is warm, loving, and exceptionally humane--exhibiting those very qualities of pastoral presence that I suspect he takes into his own spiritual direction ministry.
(This review first appeared in OPEN: Journal of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, Vol. 45 No 1, Spring, 1999. It is reprinted with permission from the journal.)
here to return to Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries.