Thursday

Living life on the edge


Bailout. Every time I watch the news and hear of yet another request for bailout, the hair on the back of my neck bristles. Since when has it been an American trait to depend on the government so heavily? What happened to that pioneer spirit?

While I do not equate being an American with being a Christian, that attitude of entitlement could seep into the church if we are not careful. And wouldn't that be the ultimate slap in the face to the God who "owns the cattle on a thousand hills"? (See Psalm 50)

I remember the title of a book that Dr. James Dobson wrote long, long ago when I worked at Focus on the Family, "Life on the Edge." Do you remember it? It was a book for college-aged students that encouraged them to trust God. Since I have a pretty morbid sense of humor, I applied that title to everything that made me uncomfortable and, ironically, at that time much of my discomfort was derived from finances. "Where's the fun in life if you can't live it on the edge?" I would ask after trying to balance a checkbook that often came up short (my husband was in Bible College at that time.).

So I ask the same thing today. "Where's the fun in life if you can't live it on the edge?" Living life on the edge gives God time to act. This doesn't mean that we can spend our money foolishly and wait for God to bail us out. It means that we trust Him while using our resources wisely and wait for him to act when there are holes, or when there are no resources.

"Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me," God says in Psalm 50: 15. That is how we're supposed to live. On the edge. It's part of that abundant life that Jesus talked about in John 10: 10. Read it. Think on it. Live it.

Monday

"Living the Biblical text..."


Bowe, Barbara E., Biblical Foundations of Spirituality (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc., 2003), 1-31.

Living the biblical text is the focus of Barbara Bowe’s chapters in “Biblical Foundations of Spirituality.” According to Bowe, spirituality should never be an abstract concept in the life of a Christian, it should be a living reality, or a response to the spirit of God “mediated” through Jesus Christ (12). Bowe states that the Bible is not the Christian’s source of spirituality, it is the source by which we prove or disprove real spirituality (13). Since God speaks through scripture, we use scripture as a guide toward godliness. God also speaks of his/her love for us through scripture (14).

While Scripture can bring about positive transformation in people’s lives, it can also be used to destroy one’s spiritual life. For this reason, Bowe said that reading scripture requires a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (15), or a critique. One should not take Scripture at face value; one should analyze it and discern what the text is saying in light of its entirety rather than developing an entire theology around one verse.

Bowe discusses two forms of spirituality. One form is that God is unknowable or apophatic; the other is that God is knowable or kataphatic (16, 17). Christianity is kataphatic spirituality. Kataphatic spirituality is then split into contemplative and apostolic spirituality (17, 18). Contemplative spirituality is when one turns away from the world for the purpose of growing closer to God. Apostolic spirituality is when one moves toward the world in an effort to take God’s love to others (19). Both are equally important and cannot be separated from the other.

Even though God is knowable, Bowe writes that we will never truly discover all there is to know about God. God is a mystery. Our many names, or metaphors, for God only describe who he/she is. These descriptions are interrelated and should not be separated (27). Bowe also emphasizes that although God has both masculine and feminine qualities, we tend to exclude those feminine qualities and only concentrate on the masculine. This is something that needs to be addressed in the church so that we don’t exclude or dominate either sex.

Bowe’s argument about the “ineffable mystery” of God is strong (24). God is knowable but there is much about him/her that we will never know because our minds cannot completely grasp God. In his/her grace, God has chosen to reveal him/herself through Scripture and in Jesus Christ.

Bowe’s statement that “no one” spirituality either Christian or non-Christian is the exclusive way to God sounds like she is saying that all religions are worshipping the one true God (12). A better way to explain this might be to say that Christians should not condemn someone of another religion because God, who is not limited by anything, is working in each person’s life to draw them to him/herself. God will only judge people according to the light that they have been given. Our attitude should reflect God’s love and our love will help God draw people to him/herself (John 13:35).

Saturday

On "church growth"

A "small groups" program offered within the confines of the Church and organized with a primarily ecclesial agenda of inclusivism (e.g., evangelism, church growth [become one of us]) is not a faithful replication of Wesley's Classes and Bands as contexts for significant spiritual direction.

I began to minister to the church as an adult in the late 80s and 90s. During that time “church growth” was what it was all about. Everyone was so thoroughly concerned with the numbers board that it became difficult for pastors to focus on much else. I remember one pastor’s goal in my home church was to change the sanctuary so that it would comply with all of the “church growth” formulas. He accomplished that and did some other things, but that’s all I remember about his ministry. When my first husband became a pastor, the two churches he led were very concerned about numbers. They complained a lot because numbers weren’t up to where they thought they should be. It seemed like they were more concerned about numbers than spiritual growth in the church. As a product of the 80s I was affected by this too and sometimes wondered what we, my husband and I, were doing wrong.

What would happen in our churches if we concentrated very little on numbers and focused on growing our congregation through the Classes and Bands approach? It might take a while, but as people witnessed their own spiritual growth through the classes and were delivered from habits, I bet numbers would jump as people became more excited about their faith and began sharing it with others.

My Philosophy of Spiritual Direction

The aim of spiritual direction is to help others know God more fully by way of attentive listening, prayer and encouragement. Spiritual direction is also a process. The growth of an individual’s relationship with God takes place over a lifetime and directors can help a directee enhance his or her relationship by encouraging the use of spiritual disciplines. In this paper, I will define spiritual direction; explain what I believe a spiritual director must do and what spiritual disciplines and activities a director can encourage to help enhance a directee’s relationship with God. I will also give special attention to John Wesley’s class meetings as a means of spiritual growth.

Spiritual Direction is defined as soul care (Moon, 11). It asks another “How are you and God getting along?” (Bakke, 17). This soul care involves “nurture and support as well as healing and restoration” (Moon, 11). Unlike pastoral counseling and psychotherapy, “spiritual directors are not professionals, but amateurs who aspire to reflect Christ’s love,” (Guenther, 30). Like professional therapists and counselors, spiritual directors hear their share of pain and joy in sessions with directees, but they do not remain professionally detached. They do not “prescribe” answers or solutions; they take on the pain as their own while listening attentively (Guenther, 30). They pray for their directee and listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. They ask questions and try to help the directee hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. In short, spiritual direction is an act of holy listening; it is a “gift of disinterested, loving attention” (Guenther, 3). Through a program of spiritual direction, either in individual or group form, Christians will grow exponentially as they release the cares and burdens of life and learn to look for “how the Spirit of God is present and active” in the circumstances of their lives (Bakke, 19).

In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard wrote that a teacher must “bring the apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that ‘heavenly Father’ made real to earth in Jesus (and that there is no limit to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out.” A teacher must also “remove the automatic responses against the kingdom of God, to free the apprentices of domination, of ‘enslavement’ to their old habitual patterns of thought, feeling and action” (Willard, 352 – 353). These goals, as defined by Willard, do not have to be reserved for teachers; a spiritual director can also use them as objectives as well. In fact, this is what spiritual directors must do. They must point the way to Jesus and help the directee overcome “enslavement,” as Willard says.

This can be accomplished in several ways. The first is through individual direction versus the group experience. In this method a director and a directee meet for an hour (Guenther, 16) and allow the Holy Spirit to move the direction of the meeting. The director sits and listens and asks questions that further insight. The goal is to allow the directee to explore the depths of his or her heart, depending on the Holy Spirit as the “true director” (Moon, 27). This method would be quite effective for Christians who carry heavy burdens, who desperately need time to talk (Bakke, 140). A director will have to determine whether or not a heavily burdened directee is in need of psychiatric care, but this does not mean that the spiritual direction relationship has to end. The director and the directee can continue meeting, should the directee need professional counseling, or they can continue the relationship at another time. Once goals are achieved through professional counseling, if it is needed, the directee’s heart and mind will be freed to grow spiritually (Bakke).
The group method is for people who want more of God, who may not require the intensive care of individual direction (Bakke, 140). John Wesley depended on group spiritual direction in his class meetings during the early days of the Methodist movement. “The class meeting was where (the early Methodists) came to share the bumps and bruises of (discipleship), to comfort and strengthen one another, and to provide a mutual accountability for the task in hand,” (Watson, 68). There are many aspects about the class meeting, but one of their main priorities was to “watch over one another in love” (Watson, 62). Indeed, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer” (Bonhoeffer, 19) and Wesley felt the same way. Wesley felt that Christians could not survive alone. He also maintained that the Methodist movement should remain part of the church at large for accountability purposes (Watson, 27).

Wesley’s method of spiritual direction sounds necessary in the American church today, where Christians are often individualistic and where fellowship is lacking. By implementing a contemporary version of Wesley’s class meetings, the church can help Christians become accountable again and can help deepen their discipleship through confession and promotion of Wesley’s idea to “watch over one another in love” (Watson, 62). Through the practice of confession in a trustworthy setting, Christians can find the joy “of fellowship, the Cross, the new life and certainty” (Bonhoeffer, 118). They will also find that when they go to a Christian brother or sister that the person to whom they are going is a sinner like themselves, “a godless man (or woman) who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness” (Bonehoffer, 119).

Wesley’s class meetings also spurred its members onto good works. Wesley saw helping those in need as a “common courtesy” (Watson, 84). He encouraged the Methodists to practice acts of compassion. This included feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and helping the sick or imprisoned (Watson, 84). “Acts of justice” must be performed alongside acts of compassion. “We must not only meet people’s needs, but ask why they are in need in the first place” (Watson, 85). If encouraged by a spiritual director, practicing acts of compassion and justice will help directees look outside of their own lives and change their focus to the needs of others. The result will be a healthier body of Christ because it is focused externally rather than internally.
A director must encourage the spiritual disciplines because a “Christian’s journey toward wholeness in the image of Christ … progresses by means of spiritual disciplines” (Mulholland, 75). Disciplines such as prayer, fasting, study of scripture, journaling, physical exercise and spiritual reading must be emphasized by the director because he or she will not always be there for the directee, due to frequency of the meetings, or because the relationship has ended. Practicing spiritual disciplines will help the directee focus and rely more on God than the director as he or she experiences the help and power of the Holy Spirit in daily life.

The aforementioned disciplines are also important for the director as well. The director cannot recommend scripture or spiritual readings if he or she has not read or studied them. The director cannot effectively pray during the session unless he or she spends time in secret prayer with God. A director cannot encourage fasting unless he or she has tasted the joy surrounding this discipline. A director cannot lead others closer to God unless he or she has strived for closeness as well. To keep spiritually fit, a director must see his or her own spiritual director and friends who will speak plainly to him or her (Guenther, 12). Writer Margaret Guenther also recommends that directors should keep journals and go on spiritual retreats. A director should also try to exercise and encourage directees to do the same. While exercise improves physical health, it also improves mental health as well. Plus, during the time of exercise, the mind is freed to pray. As the body protests, discipline to keep going is learned. In 1 Corinthians, Paul equates running with spirituality: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” 1 Corinthians 9:23-25 (New International Version).

A director must also develop a rule or rhythm for life and encourage directees to do the same. W. Paul Jones said: “Since spirituality is related to one’s full personhood, a rule should oversee one’s time and space, one’s doing and being, one’s significant relationships, and the use of one’s resources. The rule is an intentional spiritual plan, undergirded by sufficient disciplines, support and accountability for ‘growth in grace’ to be ongoing” (Carrim, 1).“Blessed are those who find God’s hand in the aesthetic: music literature and art keep us joyful and proportionate” (Guenther, 14). While Guenther uses this statement to advocate a balanced life for the director, a director can also encourage spiritual growth through the arts because “artists learn discipline from the daily grind of making art” (Wuthnow, 24). Not only do artists have to carve out time to create, they also learn to be attentive and patient. If a spiritual director is artistically inclined, he or she may wish to engage in making pottery or weaving with the directee so that the mind and heart can be freed for conversation or prayer as the body relaxes. In my Sunday school class, I frequently ask one of my artistic students to draw her impressions from the scriptures we are studying. This helps her connect visually and kinetically. Spiritual director Sally Palmer said that she took up weaving because it helped her learn to focus her efforts on something for a long period of time that, at times, “yielded infrequent results” (Wuthrow, 25). She equated this discipline with learning how to live the a spiritual life (Wuthnow, 25).The same discipline can be used in knitting an afghan or learning to play or sing a difficult piece of music.

In conclusion, I believe the spiritual director should use a variety of methods such as individual or group direction in his or her effort to help people draw closer to God. Emphasizing and practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, study of scripture, journaling, physical exercise and spiritual reading will help directees draw closer to God and will help directors stay spiritually fit. Directors can utilize the arts to help directees gain wisdom about life as they learn discipline by practicing a craft and to maintain a balance in their lives as well. The use of group direction by developing a contemporary version of John Wesley’s class meetings can strengthen the church as its members grow spiritually. Above all, I think a spiritual director must remain focused and point directees toward a loving relationship with God and help directees by moving them from old habitual practice to an abundant and free life in Christ.

Sources

Bakke, Jeannette, A. Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction. Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 2000.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community.
New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1954.

Carrim, Rhonda. Developing a Personal Rule for Life. Lecture on Blackboard. http://online.nnu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_15635_1%26url%3D (accessed November, 2008).

Guenther, Margaret. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1992.

Moon, Gary W. and David G. Benner, eds., Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A
Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices. Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2004.

Mulholland, M. Robert, Jr. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation.
Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Watson, David Lowes. Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual
Accountability. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. London:
Fount Paperbacks/HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.

Wuthnow, Robert. “Weaving the Life of the Spirit: Art for the Soul.” Christian Century
(May 3, 2003): 24 – 29.

A rhythm for life

Throughout this course I have been writing a rule for life, or a rhythm of life. I believe that I like the term rhythm better because the beat of life is comprised of Christ flowing through me abundantly. The things that I do to draw me closer to God are the notes that I play.

Just like in the discipline of music, living a godly, disciplined life takes practice. As we grow, and learn how to play, the score becomes more challenging. The “notes” that I must play to remain in communion with God are daily Scripture reading, prayer, contemplation and forgiveness. As I mentioned in my last paper, the parameters are to love those around me and far from me, in order to participate in the abundant life, as Jesus described in John 10:10.

Through my work at the newspaper, I participate in the discipline of social justice. Recently, I was able to write a commentary for the religion page with suggestions about getting away from the commercialism of Christmas. I encouraged people to remember what Christmas was about and wrote about simplicity. The article was well received by the community, so I pray that God will give me more to write about that will help others.

When I spoke with my mentor about this rhythm of life, she liked the idea of including forgiveness in my rule. In that meeting we talked about the challenging relationships in my life and how God was asking me to pray. We also discussed how we would like to continue the relationship after my classes were over. We are both enjoying this and we are considering how we might make it a more balanced relationship. By balanced we mean that we will consider each other’s spiritual walk in alternating meetings. To do this we will have to meet twice a month rather than once.

Since my last paper, I have thought of ways to incorporate spiritual direction in my Sunday school class. One of the members and I are going to walk through the book “Connecting with God, a Spiritual Formation Guide” from Renovare. We still have to decide how often we will meet and when, but I am confident that once this begins we will grow together. Another way I have been thinking about incorporating spiritual direction into my class is to have two separate meetings. One will be less formal in which we discuss how we’re doing and look to each other for encouragement. The other meeting will concentrate on biblical study.

With my prayer partner, I need to reestablish communication. Once this is accomplished, I will find ways to incorporate more intentional questions in our discussions.

My relationship with Christ is growing in so many ways through the disciplines I am learning to incorporate and by meeting with my mentor, prayer partner and Sunday school class. I cannot begin to thank God enough for all God has done for me. WC 491

Developing a Rule for Life

In beginning to write my Rule of Life, I asked myself what was most important. My answers were my relationships with God, my husband and my children; exercise, pleasing God in my work and in my writing. I want to live as Christ wants, live abundantly, as described in John 10:10 and love those around me and far from me. To live the abundant life, the first step is to remain in communion with God through daily Scripture reading, prayer, contemplation and by “forgiving my debtors,” as Christ spoke about in the Lord’s Prayer.

To live an abundant life, I must also participate in community. Right now I am doing this by teaching a Sunday school class and through my relationship with my prayer partner. I am also attending weekly church services.

Working at the newspaper is a large part of my life. At times it seems overwhelming due to scheduling, but I am fighting to keep my time spent with family and work balanced. Writing for the newspaper is how I participate in Social Justice. By writing editorials of things that are not quite right in our city and by writing informative articles that both educate and dispel rumors, I feel that I am doing the work that God has called me to right now.

Because of my schedule, my life is unbalanced in the area of self-care. I do not exercise regularly like I was before taking the newspaper job. After graduating from this course, I intend to exercise regularly. I am praying about this and trying to eat less. I want to grow old gracefully and allow God to use me in any way, so keeping my body healthy through exercise and simplicity in eating is part of my rule for life.

Family is also important. I feel a great responsibility in teaching my children about the Lord and in making sure that they are capable adults. I also want to love my husband unconditionally and make our home a welcoming place for him and for my children. This can be accomplished through the practice of disciplines such as prayer, contemplation and study. It is through these disciplines that the Lord examines my heart and makes me aware of sin or wrong thinking. It is only through prayer and through the infilling of the Holy Spirit that I can exercise compassion on my family and the people around me.

I practice other disciplines such as tithing and generosity. I am not faithful in fasting, nor do I write in my journal regularly. In the area of fasting, and in all the other disciplines, I will trust the Lord to continue educating me and making my heart soft. As part of that abundant life, I will pray for further opportunities to practice social justice, discipline in exercise and I will seek to pray continually. I trust that God will help me to continue developing a Rule for Life throughout the years that I am given. WC 497

Comments on “Holism in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction: A Course Correction"

Sperry, Len and Erik Mansager, “Holism in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction: A Course Correction.” Counseling and Values 48, [January, 2004]. Holism in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction: A Course Correction (accessed November 19, 2008).

In “Holism in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction,” authors Len Sperry and Erik Mansager, who teach in counseling departments at their respective universities, address the counseling community saying that psychotherapy and spiritual direction are related. The authors explore the sources of spiritually oriented psychotherapy and conclude that an “interface” between spiritual direction and psychotherapy is “desirable and important” (155). They examine the word holistic as a better way to bringing the two disciplines together and say that a dualistic or monistic viewpoint is inadequate.

According to Sperry and Mansager, a holistic person is one who is unified and “self-consistent in his or her movement toward a goal …” (153). They say that once humanity left its quest for spirituality by listening to psychologists such as Freud, who overlooked religious desire, people eventually became mentally unhealthy and turned to psychotherapy (149 – 150). In this article, the authors recognize the need for spirituality and a purpose for life that exists in human beings. Christians would say that God put that desire in his/her creation, but I’m not sure from what angle Sperry and Mansager are speaking. They use illustrations from Buddhism, but then quote Catholic theologian Hans Kung heavily. The important thing is that they recognize that there is a need in psychotherapy to realize the spiritual dimension of life. It is good that they are exploring ways to bring the two disciplines together.

Consciousness is the link between the two disciplines because “both spirituality and psychotherapy provide methods for exploring, deepening, and expanding consciousness” (158). This consciousness rests in the desires that all humans have for absolute justice and the search for meaning, for example (157). Only God can provide absolute justice and meaning in a person’s life, so Kung relates these to religious yearnings. Kung said that belief in God cannot be proven, so “belief in the Divine Being … necessarily must rest on quite different grounds” (158). I believe that this “ground” is comprised of faith. Hebrews 11: 1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. So in Kung’s mind and in the opinion of the writer of Hebrews, the fact that faith exists means that God exists. Faith is what links the unexplained aspects of spirituality, such as the existence of God and the truth of the Bible, with our consciousness so that we believe and experience God for ourselves.

Will a return to spirituality negate the need for psychotherapy? Yes and no. Yes, in instances where individuals are healthy spiritually. No, when things happen in life that create road blocks in a person’s spiritual development. By road blocks I mean the fall out from stressful and traumatic experiences that people suffer because of disaster, either personal or on a large scale. Because of our world’s fallen state, humanity will have to deal with brokenness in some respect until Jesus comes. When this happens psychotherapy teamed with spiritual direction, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit can help people return to that sense of wholeness. WC: 506

Observations on Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling

Ref: Galindo, Israel, “Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling,” in Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, edited by David G. Benner and Gary W. Moon, 205 – 218. Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004.

Although spiritual direction and pastoral counseling differ in focus, each discipline can benefit from the other. In his essay on “Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling,” Israel Galindo, an author and professor of Christian Education, writes to people who are interested in how different traditions of Christianity approach spiritual direction. His essay discusses similarities and differences between Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling. Foundationally, both disciplines address the needs of the spirit (216) but spiritual direction focuses more on “mutual accountability of directee and director,” the role of the church in the directee’s life, faith orientation and the “legitimacy of conversion experiences,” and the work of the Spirit in the directee’s life (217). The goal of pastoral counseling “is to isolate the problem and remove it” (214).

Though different in focus, the disciplines have commonalities. In both disciplines knowledge of psychology is needed to help a person “come to terms with aspects of the past that hinder growth … or make engaging in mature relationships problematic” (208). Personal history can help us understand a person’s views of God and why walls are erected in the heart. For instance, when I was a child, one of my parents was very critical. This translated into my view of God and made me think that I could never please God. A spiritual director who has knowledge of psychology would have helped me realize the problem and then would have helped me experience the love of God through prayer and spiritual reading. When problems arise, a director and directee can use these experiences to examine the directee’s faith, discern his or her relationships and achieve self-understanding (212).

There has to be a balance between psychology and spiritual direction. One should not rely too heavily on psychology, but one should also take care not to over spiritualize issues. Bad things do not necessarily happen to people because of personal sin. A woman suffering from menopause is having problems because of a physical change in her body. She may not understand this because of the chemicals clouding her brain, but if she is with a spiritual director who knows about “all dimensions of the person’s life structure, body, psyche and spirit” (207), the director can help the woman understand what she is going through and suggest that she see a doctor. A spiritual director with experience in life as Jeannette Bakke suggests, who has faced life’s challenges with honesty, and has an understanding of psychology and spiritual matters is invaluable to a directee.

Galindo writes that people are seeking spiritual direction more because they feel a need for personal growth, want to develop a Christian worldview, and feel that psychology often dismisses spirituality (205 – 206). But are people ready for spiritual direction? Westerners often want quick results. Are people willing to submit themselves to the time consuming direction process? If one feels God’s call to spiritual direction, he or she may need to practice the disciplines of simplicity and solitude in order to obey. It would certainly be worthwhile. W.C. 503.