Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Are each of us stories of this mystery some call "God"?

Mystery, memo on mentoring, 4. How we see, spiritual context, Wayne Oates, and a proposed key for effective mentoring.

From “Finding a Common Language: Spiritual Dynamics in Caregiving”conference of the Oates Insititute for health care personnel, chaplains, counselors and nurses, online Nov 1-16 2002

“Our purpose is to provide an awareness and beginning skills for those who seek to be spiritual nurturers in a pluralism of faiths and professional disciplines.”

I propose to continue the discussion on Mystery and make connections for the sake of suggesting a framework and some steps for Being a Spiritual Nurturer for our colloquium. First I want to offer some striking observations about human nature, how we learn (therefore how we heal..), connect this with my experience of Wayne Oates, what I think was his charisma, and then outline some beginning steps for interviewing.

I take it from Andre Girard that we always learn to see through the eyes of another. The desire of another actually directs our seeing and make available to us what is to be seen. We learn to see ourselves through our parents eyes. We desire according to the eyes of another, and learning to value what they value. That is to say, the eyes of another teach us who we are by teaching us what we want. I propose this is a simple anthropological fact of no great difficulty.

The critical point is who is the other though whose eyes we learn to see? When it is our society, the crowd, our culture, then what we see is what is given value by them. The persona or “self’ becomes the incarnation of what the valued others in our society desire, and so we end up jostling for reputation, security, success, goodness. Thomas Merton refers to this in a number of places as a kind of collective hypnosis. He is on to the same thing as Girard. We too easily value ourselves according to the values of our society and our culture. Therefore we value ourselves by what we do, perform, own, not by intrinsic worth. Since we have seldom, if ever, been valued for being, then we have little basis for valuing ourselves from inside out.

When we talk about seeing in a spiritual context, Christian or otherwise, then we are talking about a specific kind of seeing. We are talking about learning how to be given our desire through the eyes of another. When the other is, for example, Jesus, then we are being taught to look at what is through the eyes of the One believed to reveal this mystery we call G*d, that is, to be inside the mind and heart of this Mystery. We are taught to receive ourselves and all that is around us through this perspective. “We are taught to be loving lookers at what is, by the One who is calling into being and loving all that is. We are being taught to see and delight in what is by the One whose delighting is what gives it, and us, to be.” (James Allison). But we cannot do this unless we are taught to do it. So where do we begin in being spiritual nurturers?

An anecdote. One of the first things I did in the late 1960s when I began as pastoral psychologist in the Comprehensive Care Centers in Lexington and Central Kentucky was to go to Louisville to visit Dr. Wayne Oates. He was already a respected national figure in pastoral care and I wanted to meet him. I saw him once for about an hour. Years later, in a talk to either psychologists or marital therapists, he mentioned my name. He had apparently followed my career. Wayne genuinely liked people. In that gentle liking, they felt affirmed. I heard later that he used the term “trialogue,” to explain the presence of the Spirit in this caring. I suggest that one of Wayne’s gifts was that he not only liked others, but they felt affirmed in his presence.

Allison suggests the most staggering thing in the shadow of the violence we are experiencing, the most extraordinary fruit of a prayerful presence, is this: G*d likes us. All of us, just as we are, even in all our addictions, pretensions, and lying to ourselves. This has nothing to so with whether we are good or bad, in fact, he knows how he made us and takes all of that for granted. God likes me and I like being liked. In all the Wisdom traditions, we find similar truths. Inspiration teaches us to learn to desire through the eyes of another. This is the effect of prayer to put us in this frame. But it greatly helps when we are hurting if we can feel that another real person will listen and like us despite all the mess we find ourselves in. This affirming can hardly be over-stated.

Therefore, the key dynamic to being a spiritual nurturer is, first, to like the person you are with. Some are more a challenge than others. Over thirty years of being a psychotherapist, I met some that in the first several minutes there were obvious things to dislike. But the rule I had was that I had to find something to like, genuinely like, about that person, or I would not see them. Perhaps this seems banal, but the word “love” is so over-used, and its connotations are too powerful here. There seems something more gentle, more relaxed, less needful, more considerate, more of the I - Thou respect in liking. That Wayne was so able to do this, in his own humble way, was, I believe, the source of his calling what he did a trialogue: he recognized a Mysterious Presence in the respectful listening he did. Which others found affirming. It is, I suggest, the first summons in learning to be a spiritual nurturer.

A correlative to this is that we cannot begin to do this with others, unless we really like ourselves, not just as performers or doers, but intrinsically, for who we are. That means, for who we are as spiritual beings, already embraced, fully accepting the total dependence of ourselves on this Mystery, despite all our accomplishments. (Given the way we are, the more accomplished we are in the ways of the world, the harder will be this humility.) When we are living this way then we will be less fragile in our ability to relate to others with genuinely liking, as I - Thou. If not, no matter what we do, others will sense that there is some technique being employed, and they are being somehow objectified. The Wisdom of the Heart will not be present on the part of the caregiver, no matter how great is the technical excellence.

It helps that we are living in some grateful amazement of this Mystery in whom we live, and move and have our being.

Allison, James. “Contemplation in a world of violence: Girard, Merton, Tolle, by James Allison. A talk at Downside Abbey, Bath, 3.xi.01.

Girard, Andre. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Stanford, CA: Stanford Press, 1987.