Started this post three months ago and just now discovered it in my draft box as the following quote from David Benner’s new book Soulful Spirituality. As I look over the quote three months later, I suspect I was thinking how little the evangelical churches I grew up (as an adult Christian) did to cultivate wonder in my spiritual life. But maybe that is a bit unfair?? In meeting with my spiritual director last week, I think I shocked her in describing how little I was looking forward to Christmas and how my advent preparation has traditionally been non-existent. I think this relates to the topic of wonder and mystery. Isn’t the incarnation something about which we should experience wonder. After reading the quote, I would be interested in reactions of others.
The person who knows wonder is the person whose soul is deepening and whose spirit is expanding. Wonder enlarges us and draws us out of our self-preoccupation. It attunes us to the sacramental majesty of the world. It softens the ego and creates space within us for awe, surprise, and reverence in the face of the mystery of what is. It is, therefore, the natural source of prayer. But prayer that is born out of wonder is not as full of words as prayer that starts with our needs or desires. In fact, it is often wordless. It is this emptiness that allows it to hold mysteries so profound that the only response to them is silence.
In what way has and does your church cultivate a sense of wonder and mystery with regard to spiritual matters?
David Benner’s Soulful Spirituality may be his best book yet–merging together a lifetime of insights into the psycho-spiritual-physical self with his personal and historical insights regarding soul care from Jesus and the spiritual masters. He brings well thought-out intellectual discussions along side of practical soulish applications for the journey.
He presents a strong (and unique?) argument for the type of community needed among Jesus followers.
“Soulful spirituality invites us to do a better job of recognizing and prizing the otherness of others rather than simply seeing them as extensions of ourselves or using them as containers for our own projections.”
“Honoring otherness is a deep and essential part of any authentic spirituality.”
Benner warns against exagerating the otherness of others and turning them into monsters or gods.
We make people monsters when we treat the “stranger as simply a container for all the parts of our self that we seek to disown. We then dump the despised and feared parts of our self into this container and view the resulting monster as wicked and dangerous.”
But neither should we make others gods, “We kneel in vulnerability before this strangely fearsome god, hoping that by acts of contrition and offerings of one sort or another we might avert the danger that the stranger represents.”
Be means of these defense mechanisms, Benner says we make others “all bad or all good” and justify keeping ourselves at a distance from others.
Benner presents a strong case for being honest and living in reality about our reluctance to relate to others. We do no one (including our own souls) when we are dishonest. “An embrace of reality always supports the life of both spirit and soul. Both thrive in the soil of acceptance of that which truly is and shrivel when we wander from a commitment to such truthful living.”
- Rationalization–we “invent good excuses to cover the real reasons.”
- Denial—we “tell ourselves (and anyone else who might inquire) that we do not, in fact, feel whatever it is that is unacceptable to us.”
- Projection “involves a more substantial distortion of the truth of our experience—attributing to others things that we cannot accept in ourselves.”
- Reaction Formation displays “a feeling that is the opposite of what we actually experience, and by so doing, further convince our self that what we wish to avoid is not part of us.”
David Benner in his book, Soulful Spirituality, identifies Hildegard von Bingen as one who described herself as a “feather on the breath of God.” I like that.
We are creatures made for both the earth and for heaven and so Benner writes, “Authentic spirituality leaves room for mystery and thus helps us preserve the lightness of being that is our heritage as creatures of dust and breath.”
After reading this section, I thought of the following passages that might be used to support these ideas. Other suggestions?
Abigail explains why David should not kill her fool of a husband, Nabal. “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.” (1 Samuel 25:29 ESV)
Jesus with Nicodemus. “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:5–8 NIV)
One of my favorite passages of the NT from Paul “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
Jacob wrestling with God. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”” (Genesis 32:24–28 ESV)
Paul in Athens “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:23–28 ESV)
Have just renewed my subscription to Conversations, a journal with Larry Crabb, David Benner and Gary Moon as the executive editors and Dallas Willard and Richard Foster as consultants. I read this journal when it comes cover to cover–it is that good. Actually, my other favorite is Journal of Spiritual Formation and Theology but that is another post since I need to renew it also.
On the conversations website, you can download for free the first couple of issues and a few other articles. Back issues are available for $10 in hard copy or in pdf. Check it out.
Here is what they say on their website
The purpose of Conversations is to provide spiritual accompaniment and honest dialogue for those who long for radical transformation in Christ. It stimulates hunger and illuminates the path by drawing on classical wisdom and practice, exploring the vital role of community, and illustrating the journey with realism and hope. Conversations is published semi-annually, in the spring and the fall.
The target audience for Conversations is purposefully broad—all thoughtful, seeking followers of Christ who long for a complete transformation of soul and full restoration of His image within. It is the intent of the editors to produce words that will inspire both those who seek help themselves and those who are helping others. The audience is also envisioned as being international, ecumenical, and interdenominational.
A large part of the vision for Conversations is the image of a table where representatives from each of the major tributaries of Christian spirituality can sit and talk openly and honestly about what matters most, authentic transformation into the life and character of Christ.
Last week, I naively took off for a 24 hour silent retreat at a retreat center. What was I thinking? Did I expect that I could spend a day alone with God and come away unchanged? It just does not work that way does it? Not that I am complaining or am disappointed.
I am not sure that I ever truly settled down and enjoyed being still, alone and quiet. I think the ability to maintain an inner silence even when there is an external silence along with solitude flows out of a regular discipline and practice and I have definitely been out of practice. I was continually fighting a desire to be “doing” something besides listening.
But, the Lord was kind and revealed glimpses of grace. I met with someone at the retreat center and it was suggested I read Isaiah 43:1-8 I got as far as verse 1! “Fear not. I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine.” I knew that I had felt an unsettledness headed into the retreat but I didn’t think it had anything to do with fear. Guess I was wrong.
During the retreat, I “happened” to bring along David Benner’s Surrender to Love. Benner is saying that Christian transformation is only possible as we surrender to God’s love. But, he is also saying that our fear will keep us from receiving and giving love–from God and from others. And yet when we surrender surrender our fears to his love, changes begin. Do you sense a pattern going on here? Benner writes,
“How terrifying it is to face my naked and needy self–the self that longs for love and knows it can do nothing to manipulate the universe into providing the only kind of love I really need. The crux of the problem is that i cannot feel the love of God because I dare not accept it unconditionally. To know that I am loved, I must accept the frightening helplessness and vulnerability that is my true state. This is always terrifying.” 78
Part of facing this naked and needy self is identifying those fears that prevent us from receiving love and the fears that need healing by his love. What did the Lord help me to see? I fear failure and seek to avoid it by compulsive over-achievement. I fear intimacy and attempt to minimize this fear by keeping people at a distance, neglecting certain relationships, holding back on my emotions etc. I fear losing control and I avoid this by trying to do everything by myself. I fear being alone and neglected and counter this by showing off, being funny, doing stupid or controversial things (hmmmmm). I fear insignificance and loss of respect and so may refrain from speaking up when I am not sure or am just silent, do not attempt something new and/or delay activity.
Fortunately, along with these insights, there was the more than compelling words of Is 43:1 into which I was able to insert my various fears and bring them to God. Fear not failure, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name. You are mine. I think you get it. Fortunately, this is a process and God has been at work and continues to relentlessly pursue me with his love. Some days I get it more than others. Benner says that when God says “Fear not” he is issuing us an invitation rather than rebuking us with a command. “God understands our tendency to fear. And in gentleness he invites us to let him rid us of our fears and heal us by his love.” 47
Ok, a final Benner quote,
“Transformation occurs when we bring all parts of ourselves into the banquet of love provided by our divine host. Our fearful, angry and wounded selves can never be healed unless they are exposed to divine love.” 82
“For love to transform us, not only must we meet in vulnerability, we must also linger long enough in it for it to penetrate our woundedness.” 83
This week I received a long lost book back from a friend and was delighted. Free at Last by David Benner is one of the most helpful books I have read over the past few years, one of which I have made a number of copies and given to friends (as far as I can tell it is out of print and not available anywhere). He has helped me understand the pain of my own emotional woundedness and makes some valuable suggestions in the movement towards healing.
I just flipped open a page and saw these notes I made from his book. When we are emotionally wounded, there is often a sense of loss which bring feelings of vulnerability, sadness, aloneness, abandonment and isolation. Healing of these losses comes through grieving. We must grieve our losses in order to leave them behind. When we fail to face these wounds (losses), we may experience anger and depression, guilt and anxiety. I wrote down in the margin, “I do not grieve my losses well.” Worth a read.
I also received back another book I had loaned out, Wounds that Heal by Stephen Seamands. My friend asked me if I had written a review of the book since it was in conjunction with one of my classes at Asbury Seminary. So, I found it and ended up posting my reviews of all the books from my Theology of Minstry class. Perhaps they will give someone a hunger to read one of them or my journey through these books will encourage honesty in the journey of others.
FYI, I know there are some typos and editing that needs to be done on these reviews, my apologies to the English teachers out there.