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July 2013 Vol 52 No 3


African Spirituality


Evolving Approaches to Spiritual Direction in South Africa

Two decades after the collapse of the apartheid system, much of South African society is still divided. ‘The suburbs are still predominantly white and affluent’, while ‘people living in the townships are mostly black’. The two authors of this article have trained spiritual directors to work in both settings, and here reflect on how the kinds of direction offered have changed to meet contrasting needs.

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The Spiritual Director as a Cultural Translator

A competent translator must know two languages well: the one of the original text, and the one of the resulting translation. Analogously, spiritual directors must be familiar with both the spiritual tradition in which they have been trained and the cultures of those they are directing. Here Festo Mkenda spells out the implications of this understanding in an African context.

Ignatian Discernment and the Search for an African Identity: Ministering to a Protean African

In Greek mythology, Proteus was a shape-shifter, able to adopt different forms to suit different circumstances. Many African cultures have been deeply marked by the experiences of slavery and colonialism, and by recent exposure to postmodern relativism. One result is that African identity can be seen as protean, fluid. Litoing asks what this means for attempts to discern in an African context.

Spiritual Directors in a Time of AIDS: Bearing Witness to Suffering and Grace

Since the 1980s much of Africa has been severely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The practice of spiritual direction cannot be, and has not been, uninfluenced by this fact. At its best it is perhaps able to help those suffering from the disease to come to terms with, and even perhaps find some meaning in, their affliction. Phillips offers examples of how this can be done well, and approaches to avoid.

Hospitality and Spiritual Direction

Hospitality is a concept that was taken for granted in the cultures which produced the Jewish and Christian scriptures, to the extent that it has, until recently, been given little explicit attention. Carloyn Butler, a native of the United States who has spent decades in Africa, has been struck by its importance in the cultures she has encountered as a travelling spiritual director.

A Turbulent Journey in Turbulent Times: Freedom, Companionship and Fullness of Life

Spiritual direction as practised in Europe and North America has tended to focus on the individual and his or her journey towards God. The authors here argue that the more communal nature of many Afrcan cultures call for a different approach, one which lends itself more readily to promoting the forgiveness that may be especially needed in fractured societies.

African Worldviews: Their Impact on Spiritual Direction, from the Perspective of Healing and Transformation

Many Africans who seek spiritual direction are led to do so by the desire to solve perceived spiritual problems and promote their own spiritual well-being. The way in which these problems are understood depends largely on the world-view of those being directed, which can differ markedly from that of their directors. Juma looks for ways in which these differences can be overcome.

Spiritual Direction and African Indigenous Spirituality

It is clearly a mistake to think of there being just one African culture or spirituality: the continent is marked by a great variety. Reflection on this variety can, Mosha believes, help the spiritual director to appreciate more deeply such concepts as the inter-connectedness of all life, the example expected of the director, and the place of silence in the direction process.

Listening to Your Story: A Narrative Approach to Spiritual Direction in the South African Context

The transition to a post-apartheid South Africa was greatly aided by the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which offered participants from all sections of that divided society a safe space in which to tell the stories of their own experience. Correia argues that story-telling of this kind has a key role to play in spiritual direction in such a setting.

From the Foreword

R EGULAR READERS of The Way in the last few years will have gained some familiarity with different approaches to spiritual direction as it is practised in Britain and Ireland, the United States, Australia and even, to some extent, in mainland Europe and Latin America, through articles published in translation. Little has been written to date about the topic from an African perspective, however. A recent conference held in Johannesburg has enabled us to remedy this situation, and we are proud to present in this special issue for 2013, entitled ‘African Spirituality’, a number of the key papers presented there.

A first fact made clear by these essays is that the title of the issue might perhaps have been made plural: ‘African Spiritualities’. Africa is a continent rich in variety—of culture, language and faith—and this is becoming more evident as the era of European colonialism recedes. Such variety calls for flexibility on the part of spiritual directors, to enable them to respond appropriately to what they hear. Norbert Litoing addresses this need directly; while Festo Mkenda likens the resulting approach to the process of translating a text effectively from one language to another. James Juma situates the whole debate against the wider backdrop of the many different world-views to be found among Africans.

Despite its cultural richness and its abundant natural resources, the African continent has been marked in recent decades by war, famine, disease and other major problems. It would be a mistake to think that spiritual direction can somehow simply ignore these realities or sit lightly to them. Ann Wigley and Tshifhiwa Munzhedzi find in the communal nature of traditional African societies a resource on which people can draw to provide strength when facing these truths. In the article by Susan Phillips one particular crisis, that of the HIV/AIDS pandemic currently being experienced in much of the continent, challenges spiritual directors to discover adequate responses.

The experience of life in Africa, whether for those born there or for those who have chosen to live there over decades, can give rise to particular understandings of issues that find a wider resonance. So, Raymond Mosha believes that the personal example of Christian living offered by spiritual directors themselves (something little considered in European or North American presentations of the topic) is highlighted by African experience. Carolyn Butler argues that the notion of hospitality similarly has an especial resonance in this context.

The conference on which this issue is based was held in South Africa, and the first and last contributions deal with the particular circumstances of that country. Annemarie Paulin-Campbell and Puleng Matsaneng have trained spiritual directors to work both in poor black townships and affluent white suburbs, and they find that the kind of direction offered needs to adapt itself to these very different settings. Finally the article by Frances Correia discovers in the work of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission a use of storytelling that is directly relevant to the cultural context in which her own work as a spiritual director has been conducted.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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