Through my doctoral program this semester, we are engaging with books from different starting points of understanding. We have read books on socioeconomic issues, race and ethnicity, and disability. Each of them has offered a different way of viewing what we regularly bump into every day. It has invited me to see and engage our world through another’s way of seeing and experience. I have found the journey truly eye-opening while offering a space to lament the systemic injustices hidden in plain view.
For example, I shared this quote by Rosemarie Freeney Harding in a meeting this week:
There is no scarcity. There is no shortage. No lack of love, of compassion, of joy in the world. There is enough. There is more than enough. Only fear and greed make us think otherwise. No one need starve. There is enough land and enough food. No one need die of thirst. There is enough water. No one need live without mercy. There is no end to grace. And we are all instruments of grace. The more we give it, the more we share it, the more we use it, and the more God makes. There is no scarcity of love. There is plenty. And always more.
Is this statement true for everyone? We trust it is true most of the time. We live in a place that represents abundance and not scarcity for the most part. Scripture states that we live an abundant life.
One of the comments that came up in our gathering was - well, what about those in ________? It is true; many places in the world do not experience a life defined as abundant, even here in the states. It feels like a false statement for those who are starving, oppressed, thirsty, or without a home.
So in some ways, this statement may be true for me but not for everyone.
Does your opinion about the falseness of this statement change when you hear that Rosemarie Freeney Harding was an African American civil rights activist, social worker, and healer? It was her spirituality that allowed her to experience this kind of freedom and generosity in her life.
The difficulty she experienced in embracing this kind of freedom becomes evident through watching movies such as Harriet and Just Mercy. I highly recommend both of them. They offer a glimpse into the way of life experienced by those impacted by the oppressive structures we have used to form our society.
One of the books I have engaged with this semester is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. I can’t recommend this book highly enough because Tisby walks through how the systemic structures have been formed throughout history. He clearly states that when we combine power with prejudice, we experience racism. Whenever we view someone as an object to own or control, we experience a hierarchy that is hurtful and incredibly damaging. Taking another's agency is one of the most harmful and degrading ways of relating to another.
And yet, we do this when we do not see the view or the experience of the other. Throughout history, I am heartbroken to see how this has occurred by people who have stated faith in God. For example, those who enslaved others may have tried to treat the enslaved well to appease the uncomfortableness they felt in their oppressive actions. It made them feel better about it, as if they were good caretakers. Yet, their dehumanization and commodification of human beings is still horrific. No amount of proper care makes slavery tolerable.
Tisby also shared how the White American church wanted to see a gradual change to set things right. This statement can only come from the majority group sitting in a place of power. The understanding of gradual change allows oppression to continue and devalues those being oppressed.
It wasn’t the intention and clearly showed that those speaking for gradual change didn't fully understand the implications of what they held true. Tisby states this as a "failure to recognize the daily indignity of American racism and the urgency the situation demanded.”
Yet, we only know what we know, and we can only learn through our own distorted biases. We have to see the lens we use to understand the world to be able to begin to clear the distortion.
Lecrae, in the introduction in The Color of Compromise, shares, "education should lead to informed action, and informed action should lead to liberation, justice, and repair." This place of healing and freedom is the gift of learning more. As we learn, may our actions include opening ways for others.
So what can we do? We can read and discuss together books like Tisby’s and learn more about those who are different from us in a variety of ways. We can listen to those who are both fearful and angry without judgment, to be able to understand their viewpoint. Essential to this a posture of cultural humility. We can embrace the idea that we do not have all the answers or the full picture. And with humility, we can then confront language, thoughts, and actions that are unhelpful, even within ourselves. We can engage in effective advocacy with a community that already does so. We can risk action, knowing we will make mistakes and learn through them.
As we walk this out, may we find healing because it is only in our healing that we can hold space for others.
If you engage with this book or know of others, I would love to hear your thoughts.
 Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering by Rosemarie Freeney Harding with Rachel Elizabeth Harding quoted in Plough, “Daily Dig for February 6,” February 6, 2020, https://us2.campaign-archive.com/?e=99b263795b&u=a6bd3334790eff8d8da4188b1&id=054a111466.
 Tisa Andrews, “Rosemarie Florence Freeney Harding (1930-2004),” BlackPast, February 18, 2004, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/harding-rosemarie-florence-freeney-1930-2004/
 Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI: 2019), 16.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 214.
One of my favorite things is to host groups for the sake of spiritual formation. There is a gift of walking through deep and vulnerable conversations in community as people begin to trust seeing and being seen by one another. A beautiful image that represents the flow in this kind of space is a pebble tossed into a still and quiet pond. Rings of water spread out from where the pebble touches the still water. The rings grow into larger and larger circles as they flow out toward the edges of the pond. Once they hit the edges, they flow back toward the center where the stone first broke the surface of the water, reverberating back into the continuing circles still flowing outward. This image represents the flow of the Spirit moving amid the participants in a group as they share vulnerably with one another. Witnessing the grace of this flow is a beautiful experience for all involved.
Spiritual formation is growing deeper in our relationship with God while discovering who God is and who we are in God. We experience God in solitude through the normal giving and receiving flow of our ordinary life, and incarnationally through community as God flows through each one of us. We may think we can do it alone, but to fully understand life, God, and love, we need community – to be in the physical space of the giving and receiving flow of Love.
As we struggle through relationships, we are invited to greater freedom in our relationship with those around us, God, and ourselves. It is in these very relationships that we can experience the love of God more fully and completely than in our individual relationship with God. We are created for connection with one another.
Authentic transformation cannot fully happen outside of this connection in community. The gift of the transformational journey is evident in an increased capacity of love in all our relationships. It changes everything, even our outlook on the world, without striving to make that openness happen. As we begin to notice that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone, we allow ourselves to see the face of God in the other, and when we do, it changes them and us.
Living this out intentionally with ourselves first and then others is true spiritual formation. One of the gifts of safe community is the healing of ourselves as the plasticity of our minds allows us to adapt and to learn as we create new neural connections and pathways.[i] This beautiful work is walked out in relationship with another as we experience something different than we have known previously. This reshapes the narrative we tell ourselves and clears the distorted lens we created from previous experiences.
This process requires increasing vulnerability. It is essential to have people that we can be completely open and honest with, in a safe space. From a spiritual formation viewpoint, I would say that to live our ordinary life well requires being awake to ourselves without judgment and excuse. For this to occur, it requires a safe space with others and with ourselves to allow us to know and receive God’s full acceptance. Our first invitation along this journey of emotional healing incorporates a lifelong journey through all three relationships: God, self, and others. Very much like an image of a descending circular staircase, we go deeper with one as we go deeper in another.
It is not only vulnerable to be seen in this way but to see another as well. We desire this type of connection, and yet, I believe, we do not know how to make this happen within our own American culture. We don’t know that we hide. We are not aware that our false self, how we want to be perceived, isn’t truly our identity. We don’t know how to genuinely be seen or to host the space to see another. But it is in vulnerable community where we can fully experience the love of God, and in living life this way, we become able to experience God’s love deeply.
Experiencing the gaze and embrace of God allows us to show up in our own lives, to wake up to the giving and receiving flow of Love. We discover a centeredness and groundedness that is stiller and deeper than we ever knew possible, regardless of whatever was or is going on in our world. This is the life we are invited to live, and this is the life we can choose.
When we walk it out in community, we aren’t alone in the process. We all desire to see and be seen, know and be known, and love and be loved. A safe community is vital in that journey towards wholeness. If you are interested in finding more information about spiritual formation groups – please reach out. We are forming groups now.
[i] Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, General Theory of Love, First Vintage (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 98.
I’ve been doing some reading for my spiritual formation doctorate program about how to walk alongside communities of faith. The books span across a range of theological understandings and disciplines, such as theology, sociology, and psychology. I am finding that I am resistant to the traditional models presented. I think part of that is due to my own journey toward wholeness and my prior understandings.
For example, most of my life, I have forced myself to meet the expectations of others. I have grown to understand that complying was part of being responsible and a “good Christian.” Through the last few years, I have been on the journey of noticing when I am forcing myself and then following the invitation of healing and wholeness with gentleness and grace.
When I notice my tendency to force myself to fit in or “do right,” I stop and listen to what is going on internally for me. In doing so, I listen to my desires and woundings to discover the way forward. Listening deeply to my soul requires intentionality. David Benner defines our soul as the reflective space where we make meaning of our experience from the events throughout our lives. Using his psychological lens, he further defines both our soul and spirit as ways of living instead of as traditionally understood as parts of ourselves. 
An essential component in this journey is our tendency for self-deception. The truth is every one of us shares this same struggle, and we are unaware. The Johari window is a means of communicating that struggle visually. It illustrates our inner selves as being divided into four parts. One part we know and so do others, this would be our most visible part. One part we know but we do not let others see our private world. Others can see one part, but we are not aware of its hidden aspects inside ourselves. The last part is unknown to both us and others.
Spiritual writers would use the language of false self and true self. A greater self-awareness allows us to know our own tendency toward self-deception. As we continue to build up what we “should” be like, we tend not to notice our own actions or our motivations. At times, we may choose to not be aware of our internal workings but often we do not know how to live any differently and remain unaware.
For example, let’s consider the practice of gratefulness. If someone from my spiritual direction practice came in and spoke about being restless or discontent, I would not encourage a practice of gratefulness. That would devalue what was going on internally for them. If someone felt restless or dissatisfied, I would wonder what is underneath those feelings. What is the invitation for them?
Often, these seemingly negative feelings are an invitation to greater freedom in our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. I would encourage someone meeting with me to share more about their struggles. I might even walk them through a healing prayer where they take their feelings or an image that represents that feeling to God to discover God’s view. It is in a place of non-judgment where we can begin to understand what is going on inside of ourselves and to begin to see our own belovedness in God’s gaze. I trust God to meet each of us in our struggles. Through our experience of being met by God, we can realize all of us belongs in God’s intimate gaze.
I would say that the practice of gratefulness would only enforce our false self. Experiencing God meeting us in our ungratefulness, discontentment, or restlessness, allows healing, integrating our false self and true self. I’ve seen experiences like this bring peace to people, and their presenting problem falls away to a greater understanding and a deeper intimacy with God.
Often, the lies we believe in our core are replaced with a core truth, bringing gratefulness that arises organically within and can’t help but be expressed externally toward others. We don’t have to act it out when we don’t feel the truth of it – being grateful when all we want to do is complain because of pain, hurt, or a core lie we have held for our lifetime.
Practicing gratefulness isn’t the problem but pretending to be grateful when all we feel is discontent isn’t helpful. We do not need to “fake it till we make it.” When we discover ourselves as restless and ungrateful, a practice we can embrace, instead of complaining, is first to notice what is going on in our hearts without judgment. Non-judgment means not assigning a value of good or bad to our noticings. Once we notice, we can listen with God about what is going on in our soul and allow God to show God’s view. As we experience the grace and gentleness of God, we can encourage others in this open, gentle, and compassionate way.
 David G Benner, Spirituality and The Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 121, 137.
I recently re-read Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. It was first published in 1999, just as I was beginning full-time pastoral ministry. Twenty years later, after retiring from being a pastor and with the benefit of life experiences over the past years, this book provided an entry for cultural and personal reflection. I appreciate Rolheiser’s humility in stating upfront his focus on Christian spirituality and “acknowledges God speaks in many and diverse ways, and no one religion has a monopoly on truth.” My experience of listening and experiencing God in different cultures and through different people has resulted in greater freedom, joy, and awe. I have caught glimpses of God in a variety of pools of wisdom in and outside the Christian tradition.
Foundational to this book is the belief that everyone has a spirituality, but it is not clearly understood as to its meaning and source. Rolheiser uses the word eros to describe the fiery energy at the center of our lives – a sacred fire of creative energy that drives our spirituality and Christian practices. He suggests we are not restful or serene creatures, and eros is connected to our seeking and searching. For me, the words wrestling, passion, desire, intimacy, and longing come to mind.
Twenty years ago, Rolheiser already recognized our cultural context was post-Christian and post-modern. I was certainly not as aware of this shift as I am now. In hindsight, the significance of this transition for individuals and religious institutions in the West means we are navigating new terrain and traveling off-the-map. Phyllis Tickle described an every 500-year cycle of historical upheaval as rummage sale. We take furniture out of the attic and decide what to keep and what to let go of to make room for new acquisitions.
A key quote from Holy Longing continues to resonate with me for its relevancy in our current cultural context:
“Each generation has its own dark night of the soul, its own particular temptation to despair, as it tries to find peace of soul and make peace with its God. Our own dark night of spirituality is very much shaped by our naiveté about the nature of spiritual energy; by a conspiracy against death and prayer caused by narcissism, pragmatism, and unbridled restlessness of our age; and by our inability to hold in tension a series of dualities.”
My experience of carrying tension within myself and with others during this rummage sale moment feels vulnerable, risky, and isolating. Rolheiser writes, “Accepting to carry tension for the sake of God, love, truth, in principle, is the mysticism that is most needed in our day. Almost everything within our culture invites us to avoid tension and resolve it whenever possible even at the cost of some of our more noble instincts....Waiting in frustration and consummation is not our strong point"
Connecting mysticism with holding tension in our off-road terrain is a hopeful insight regarding a way of faithfulness with only enough light for the next step. For some, mysticism is suspect, but the writings of the mystics have shaped my spirituality and the Quaker tradition. For instance, the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, recounts many mystical experiences in his journal. Friends across time and places have gathered together in the silence of Waiting Worship to listen together seeking guidance, comfort, and encounter with Presence in their midst.
Some of my favorite Christian mystics include Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and the unnamed author of the Cloud of Unknowing. These mystics offer a language of interconnection and hospitality toward themselves and others. Their understanding continually disrupts and invites us to expand our framework regarding the how and why of God and how we make meaning of our world. I find the notion that we must all be mystics and live in mystery, to be life-giving and expansive. This mystery is not something to be solved but a mystery that continues to unfold and suggests we must wake-up to all the different ways of knowing. This unfolding invites us to trust our inner experience in addition to the certitude often valued in statements of doctrine and belief.
What helps us wake-up? How do we make space for our new understanding of experience and learning? What allows us to hold tension as we seek connection and meaning within the pressure of unanswered questions and shifting times? A word closely associated with the mystics is contemplation, which describes a way of life that allows for inner stillness and silence that opens up and syncs the knowing of the head, the heart, and the gut. This movement of integration allows us to heal our distorted and limited vision and wake-up to experiences of Divine encounter all around us. We will take a more in-depth look at this invitation in the next blog post.
 Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality, 1st Ed. in U.S.A (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 41.
 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).
 Rolheiser, 40.
 Rolheiser, 224.
 Rolheiser, 216.
Have you ever been in a discussion or listening to a presentation where one word or phrase sends you down an unexpected direction? I suppose that the new direction in your mind could be considered helpful or maybe not so helpful, but your mind follows the path ahead.
There is research that states that we can only understand or take in whatever we encounter through our current lens. This lens is defined by our current set of knowledge, including both conscious and unconscious understandings. We only know what we know, and new information comes through that filter.
I had an experience where I brought a quote to a gathering. It was from a mystic that spoke deeply to me about community and shared contemplation. It had words in the quote that at one time would have triggered my own feelings rooted in past religious understandings. In my current understanding, these words don’t cause that kind of reaction for me because I have redefined them. I’ve had to work through the implications of often viewed exclusionary terms through a different lens. For me, the phrase was open, free, and inclusive. I understood the words based on the author's mystical understanding of God as Love, which is evident in his other writings.
Others struggled with the words and reacted to the exclusion evident in the phraseology present in the quote. I had missed it, and they reacted to it. If we are only able to understand through our own lens, the acceptance or reaction to a phrase tells us much about the lens we currently use.
In an undergraduate class I teach, Christian Faith and Thought, I use a slide of the words kindergartners use for the Pledge of Allegiance. The young students use “Richard stands” instead of “Republic Stands” and “the library down the hall” for “liberty for all.” These familiar words make much more sense than the words they have never heard before. We only know what we know, and we understand through that lens.
One of the gifts of teaching this course is allowing students to discover the lens they use to understand the world without judgment of themselves or others in the room. As they begin to trust the space we create together; they begin to identify their own lens. Then they can allow others in the room to help them redefine it in some ways and to further define it in other ways.
This kind of understanding is the gift of noticing where we get triggered. It allows us to take notice and to look deeply into what is going on in us, just beneath the surface. This process requires letting go of judgments toward those who disagree with us. We can only let go of our judgments when we notice them without judging ourselves in the process. Those who disagree with us aren’t the enemy, and neither are we. The dissonance created by being triggered helps us to take notice of our lens and surface how we make meaning around what we hold to be true.
The gift of doing this in community is allowing others to help us notice what we aren't able to see ourselves. Maybe it is more significant than we have understood previously. Often, this gift happens as people who live in a place of privilege listen to others who are part of an oppressed people group in some way. When we listen to the other, we can hear the full story and begin to hold the space that our view is only one facet of the larger picture.
My experience offered an invitation to listen without becoming defensive, as others were triggered. I could discount their experience, or I could follow the invitation to notice and allow their understanding to further refine and define my own. It gives me a broader perspective of community and walking alongside others.
That said, some words trigger me due to my background. When I encounter those words, the invitation is to take notice and allow the fuller perspective of the community to refine and define my understandings. This process is the gift of doing this work in community. It is part of the contemplative life - living in the giving and receiving flow of the Love of God. It is a beautiful thing and flows from a small group of people, through the one meeting, and way beyond into all the world. That is living in the flow of goodness and Love.
We don’t often have opportunities for this kind of discussion in our current political climate. We tend to debate, deciding who is right and who is wrong, instead of a public discourse that allows all those involved to be transformed. This work can not be done in isolation. The invitation is to allow disagreements and let the one in front of you speak into your life and you into theirs.
I will be teaching a series through the Companioning Center this fall - Discovering Your Lens. We will travel through 6-week courses designed to take a look at what has shaped what we hold to be true about faith. The first session will look at how our faith has been shaped through history, and the following one will be what we hold true about Scripture and the impact of our beliefs. These 6-week courses will be an opportunity to share in community what we believe and allow the community to help us look at the implications of those beliefs as well as redefining them. It isn’t about changing someone else’s lens, but it offers an opportunity to learn from others who might not believe the same way we do. In the journey together, we can notice ourselves, our lens, and others as we are all transformed together.
Check out companioningcenter.org for more information in coming weeks.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!