The following story appeared in the June 25 Idaho Catholic Register.
Rachel Gehring, pictured with her family, has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut. (Courtesy photo/Rachel Gering)
by Emily Woodham
COTTONWOOD – Rachel Gehring believes that the key to spiritual growth is spiritual direction. For more than 20 years, she has received graces through her monthly meetings with her own spiritual director. For the last eight years, she has been a spiritual director herself, sharing her gift with others.
“My favorite thing about spiritual direction is listening to hearts and witnessing sacred encounters,” Gehring said. “I find joy in walking with others toward the Lord along the winding path of life.”
Gehring is a certified spiritual director, receiving her certification in 2013. She devotes about 20 hours per week to providing spiritual direction in addition to her duties as a mother and as an adjunct professor for Divine Mercy University, based in Alexandria, Va.
In a world focused on tangible things and immediate gratification, the spiritual life can be a difficult walk. For as long as the Church has existed, those who walk closely with God have helped others with their spiritual journey. However, the general acceptance of spiritual direction for and by laity is a more recent movement in the Church, gaining momentum from Vatican II and the papacy of St. Pope John Paul the Great.
The need for the laity to be trained as spiritual directors has grown as parish priests become increasingly busy caring for their parishes.
The purpose of spiritual direction, Gehring explains, is to accompany someone on his or her spiritual journey as a support and a guide.
“Sometimes we get weary or lost. A spiritual director can keep us going in the right direction. Counseling addresses problems; life coaching addresses goals; and Confession addresses sin. Spiritual direction addresses growth and relationship with the Lord, which encompasses our entire life,” she said.
Gehring completed a bachelor’s degree in Theological Studies from St. Joseph’s College of Maine in 2016 and a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut in 2020.
Her website, transformedbymercy. net, is designed to help those seeking spiritual direction. On her website, she publishes articles and provides other resources to promote spiritual growth. Transformed by Mercy is a “ministry to Catholics and Christians who wish to know the Savior Jesus Christ, be ignited by the Holy Spirit, under the mighty hand of the Father,” the website states. A goal of the ministry is to awaken and facilitate inner growth “at the intersection of wholeness and holiness through sound accompaniment and formation.”
Gehring was raised in a devout Catholic family in Cottonwood, but it wasn’t until after her marriage, in 1998 that she began pursuing a more intimate relationship with God through spiritual direction. “It has been such a lifesaver for me. It has kept me going, and it has been such a beautiful source of support in my own life,” she said.
Soon after beginning spiritual direction, she went to Portland with a group of women for a retreat on the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Although tempted not to engage fully in the retreat, she made a personal commitment to God to remain open. Through her vulnerability, she says she came to know Jesus at a deeper level. “I made a profound confession in Reconciliation. The retreat was so powerful that it set me on a trajectory of wanting to know the Lord and serve Him in the Church,” she said.
Over time, with the help of her spiritual director, she discerned a clear call to pursue a certification in spiritual direction.
She chose to study spiritual direction with the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence School of Spiritual Direction in Clearwater, Fla. The amount of in-person time, with an emphasis on Marian and charismatic spirituality, appealed to her, but she was especially drawn to the school’s practice of incorporating healing into spiritual direction.
“I had developed a hunger and interest for healing,” she said. “Healing has come to the forefront of ministry in the Church because we are wounded people. The Lord just wants to touch our hearts, and heal those places, those memories, and bring truth to life. He wants to restore us to Himself.”
As part of the study, participants could choose either a 30-Day Ignatian retreat or to do the “Nineteenth Annotation,” which spreads the 30-day retreat across six to nine months
for those who cannot leave behind their daily lives to attend the 30-day retreat. With three children at home, she chose the Nineteenth Annotation and found the experience to bring immense healing in her life.
After having her fourth child, she felt called to pursue her master’s degree while, at the same time, teach theology at St. John Bosco’s Academy in Cottonwood.
It is difficult, she said, to do so much while keeping her primary vocation as a wife and mother at the top of her priorities, but she has continued to discern a strong call to help others through spiritual direction. She no longer teaches at St. John Bosco, devoting most of her time to offering spiritual direction and serving as an adjunct professor for the Divine Mercy University Spiritual Direction Certification.
KEVIN LAUGHLIN of Boise is also a lay person who is certified as a spiritual director. Retired from his work for the Ada County Extension office, he devotes about 40 to 60 hours each week to spiritual direction. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and the Idaho Spiritual Direction Network. Each year, he spends at
least 80 hours in professional development. He is also a member of the “Anam Cara” (Gaelic for “soul friend”) Spiritual Direction Ministry of Holy Apostles Parish in Meridian.
In 1996, while working on his Ph.D. at the University of Idaho in education with a focus on mentoring, he met Father Joe Schmidt, a priest in the Diocese of Boise. Father Schmidt began giving him spiritual direction and sponsored him for Cursillo, a lay apostolate. Receiving spiritual direction led him to want to accompany others. Laughlin has been a spiritual director for 11 years.
His style of spiritual direction is not conventional, he said. As a Master Gardener through the Idaho Extension Service, he often uses examples from his garden to help people discern God’s call.
A favorite practice of his is to accompany people on long walks along the Boise Greenbelt or in the foothills above town as they talk about their relationship with God.
“Last year I walked 218 miles with over 60 different individuals during COVID,” he said. “Listening, exploring and inviting each to choose to share their gifts, explore their light and dark-ness, and uncover their dreams and to more deeply discover their relationship with God,” are his objectives.
“I want to know how much you love God and what the Holy Spirit has in store for you,” he said. He focuses on the directee’s relationship with God, not theological dialogue, he said.
Laughlin’s varied experiences in education from his time as a volunteer in Peace Corps to teaching in a university have given him an appreciation and respect for each directee’s gifts and style of learning.
Finding the right fit in a spiritual director is crucial, Laughlin said. If he and another person do not fit well together, he helps that person find another spiritual director. With his many contacts in spiritual direction throughout the United States, Laughlin has helped people find spiritual directors. He also helps directees discern the spiritual discipline most suited to them, such as Benedictine or Ignatian spirituality.
To contact Rachel Gehring about spiritual direction or the Nineteenth Annotation, visit her website or email email@example.com.
To contact Kevin Laughlin, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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