Spiritual Formation and Extroverts

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about spiritual formation and how it happens in an educational environment. It’s a fascinating conversation, and in the process I’ve had the opportunity to look at what a number of other churches and institutions do in that area.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that much of what is being practiced (solitude, silence, Scripture meditation, journaling, prayer practices, etc.)—all good things, mind you—seem to be best suited for people who are introverts (see this helpful article for more insights).

Now, I understand that reflective practices are, by nature, quiet and personal. They are ways that we center our consciousness toward God in order to be present to him. I’ve done those kinds of things and found them very helpful.

But they’re also not easy for me. I suppose that’s why they are called spiritual disciplines.

I am an extrovert, but I have come to recognize that I do have an introverted aspect to my personality. As I get older, I appreciate time to be alone more than I did when I was young. But I’m not energized there. I am energized with others, and I think most of my extroverted friends would find that to be true for them as well.

My friends who are introverts say that being with others for too long drains them of energy, and they find that they recharge by being alone. We extroverts are just the opposite. Being alone can be good for us, but being with others is where we come alive.

In education, learning theory takes seriously the differing learning styles of people, recognizing that one size does not fit all when it comes to education. Perhaps, in a similar way, we can look at how we are spiritually formed—formed by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit—in ways that take our mental wiring into consideration. I know that I struggled for years over my apparent inability to remain focused in prayer for extended periods of time (still do—you can take the boy out of his ADHD, but you can’t entirely remove the ADHD from the boy. Or something like that). But I’ve become more comfortable in appreciating what is natural for me and what must come through disciplined intention and action.

Some years ago, a friend and I spent a couple of days at a Catholic retreat center. We ended up being the only ones in attendance at a morning mass, and the priest was gracious enough to allow us to partake in all aspects, including the Eucharist (imagine!). After we shared the Scripture readings for the day, he said, “Let’s talk about what we’ve just read. I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in community.”

That worked for me. I was energized by that.

I like it that, along with Jesus’ admonition to pray in secret (Matt. 6:6), there are lots of “we” and “us” statements in the New Testament. There seems to be a place for both introverts and extroverts in this journey of being formed in the likeness of Jesus. But one size does not fit all.

Mike McNichols

Jumbled Emotions: Resurrection Stories, Part 1

As I sit in my peaceful Sabbath after Easter Sunday, on the heels of multiple Holy Week services, loads of activity, public exchanges with God and my church community; tears stream gently down my face as I sip my coffee. I don’t try to stifle, restrain, deny or judge the undefinable emotions that produce these tears. I know they are what they are – a jumbled mixture of the ups and downs of my soul.

I’ve relearned over the years to befriend my emotions. Reared with a threat of punishment for expressing emotions and churched in a community that prized heroic stoicism wherein emotions were denied, or thought unspiritual and not to be trusted, I found no place, value, no way to interpret my emotions. Like many, I learned to judge and disdain my emotions. So I disconnected from them, splitting myself from my Self. However, this is inconsistent with the Scriptures. Psalmists and Prophets alike as well as Jesus’ first followers display a prolific range of articulated human emotions. In Jesus too, we see one who is completely self-aware, appropriately emotive with his own human condition and unapologetically emotional as he empathizes with the fallen condition of humanity around him.

In the Resurrection story (Matthew 28:1-20), both men and women were a jumbled mess of emotions! The women, discovering the empty tomb, deeply grieved and bewildered hours before, where now in fear, than heightened joy and reverence, falling to their knees in shock and awe at the sight of Jesus. The men feared and worshiped him, yet some doubted even as they worshiped. Grief, fear, joy, doubt, awe muddled together all part of the story being told. Jesus stands in the mix, without judgment of all these emotional human beings! His word to them: “Greetings!” A word of welcome. And, “Go…make disciples of all nations…” No one gets disqualified but rather commissioned in trust. Jesus embraces our rational, logical, selves as well as our emotive, intuitive selves.

So what do we do with our emotions? I wonder if the Resurrection, which at its core ushers in the redemptive ways God makes us whole integrated humans, includes the befriending of our emotions. Might our emotions be employed in the process of our formation into Christ-likeness? If so…how? What if emotions are more like triggers toward self-awareness indicating that something in the soul needs attention, care, recognition, and prayerful dialogue with God? In Christ, we are invited into a life of freedom from the tyrannizing effects of judgment and denial of our emotions. The Resurrection commits our unique and varied emotional expressions, whether chaotic or refined, and utterly human to the story being told.

So back to my stream of tears this morning. No need to judge them, I let them be…a friend, a gift of release…a story that is mine uniquely told to Creator of all of me.What story are your emotions telling about where you are, who you are, and what’s going on in the depths of your soul?

– Elizabeth Khorey

Epiphany: A Striking Appearance

I packed up the porcelain wise men, camels, and baby Jesus which were prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle with fresh Christmas greens, now stiff and tarnished by dryness. The lights adorning my house taken down and stored. The trappings of Christmas have slipped back into my upstairs storage closet as I prepare for the liturgy of annual January house cleaning. I’ve spent most of my life learning to inhabit the Christmas story well, with all its intrigue, gift-giving, and ‘tis-the-season-ings. I’ve traveled far and wide seeking how to celebrate Jesus and his gift of Presence-With-Us. But now I ask myself, as the Church pivots into third season of light and wonder known as Epiphany, how do I inhabit Epiphany as a follower of Jesus?

January 6 on the Church calendar marks Epiphany, the twelfth day and end of Christmastide and the beginning of a long season also known as Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday. During these weeks, the Scriptural readings recount stories of those who travel far to see Jesus, those gathered to hear Jesus’ teachings, those who experience the heaven’s open with descending Spirit-dove resting on Jesus and the Divine Voice revealing Divine Love in Jesus.

Epiphany, as a seasonal theme in our Christian faith and practice, is meant to train the soul to attentively detect the sacred “aha” moments; those uncanny conscious explosions of senses and spirit when we are caught in the cross-fire of Light, Truth, Love, known as the Incarnation as heaven intersects earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In awe, we continue to breathlessly behold the striking appearance of Jesus – with and within us – right in the middle of our everyday rhythms and routines.

Another facet of the season engages our love of for the childhood classroom activity of show and tell. Epiphany is a season of witness. Mary Oliver, an American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner captures the heart-beat of Epiphany as she succinctly writes:

PAY ATTENTION
BE ASTONISHED
TELL ABOUT IT

So how do I personally inhabit the Season of Epiphany? I take my cue from one of the traditional Epiphany passages in Scripture: John 1:36-39. I look and listen for the unusual things and people that point me to the striking appearance of Jesus…those eye-catching glimpses which cause me pause, lead me to inquire, open my understanding to the new, the wonder-filled, the Divine – to who and what Jesus is among us. They come in all shapes and sizes and descend on my day like doves from heaven. A friend’s forgiveness of my inconsistencies in love. A mentor’s caring advice for rest. An employer’s acceptance of my failures. A sunset walk after work. A tender hug from an unexpected acquaintance sensitive to my human need for affection. These pointers all lead me to grasp a Reality that is both simple and striking – God comes in tender human graces that embrace and enfold me and help me along life’s way. I, than in turn, changed by the moment, the touch, the Epiphany aha…share what I’ve encountered with others. I too, get to enter the seasonal activities of show and tell as I become a pointer to others; helping them see Jesus more clearly and experientially.

In the Season of Epiphany we might want to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked his first followers: What are you looking for? (John 1:38). And then, invite others to Come and See (John 1:39).

– Elizabeth Khorey

Genealolgy

Christmas Eve: A Really Long Story

A really L-O-N-G Story leads to the Eve Of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. When did you last read the book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mt. 1: 1 – 17)? I always feel tempted to skip over those verses too. Listening yesterday to Pray-As-You-Go I was given some language for my feelings: I am never sure what to make of the list. I even can feel a bit alienated by it. The names of old guys don’t sound like the names in my family or among my friends. What do the fourteen generations from Abraham to David and the fourteen more from the deportation of Israel to Babylon up to the birth of Jesus have to do with us who live many generations later?

But Matthew is not senseless. As an author of a tract written to convince people to trust and follow Jesus, he began the way he did for a reason. As Pray-As-You-Go suggests:

Perhaps Matthew was giving us a sense of heritage, of history unfolding through the generations, of the coming true of Israel’s hope that a Savior would come from the house of David, of the promise being fulfilled?

For the people of that time, family background was very important, it meant, “this is where you come from”, “this is who you are.” That wouldn’t necessarily be the case in every part of the world today, but where do you get your sense of identity from, your sense of who you are?

Amongst the forty-two male names – this long line of fathers – four women and three mothers are mentioned: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth and Mary. [As you think of Matthew’s genealogy], what do you think it is telling you about who Jesus is, and even who you are?

This Christmas Eve, at the hinge point between Advent and Christmastide, maybe you could sit for a moment with the story told by Matthew’s genealogy and let it refine your sense of person, of history, and of a future that never ends as one of the people of God.

– Todd Hunter