I live in my head and I feel deeply. For me, the challenge to cultivate the ‘inner life’ is really no struggle at all. Believe me, my inner ravines are deep enough. The reflective gumboots of my soul are caked with enough introspective mud to bog a four-wheel drive.
It’s why I find the constant invitation of contemporary pastoral theology to ‘know myself’ exhausting. Oh, I know its truth. Those with minimal self-awareness are dangerous beasts. Set free on congregations, pastors like these can do untold damage. And I know, too, the hazard of the activist spirit that allows no space for silence and solitude. No doubt, a dry and busy soul will soon crack down the middle. We need our quiet days. But this call to be constantly peeling away the layers to find the ‘real self’ in ministry? I don’t know.
As I reflect on the formative influences in my pastoral identity, it is the out-of-my-head stuff that wins the tally. It’s in the doing. The real self is not a thing we discern and then bring to ministry. It is fed and shaped by it. The truth is, I cannot know myself apart from knowing you. And I cannot know God or who I am in relationship to God in a sphere set apart from my neighbourhood. Increasingly, I find the models of spirituality that minimise this truth wearying.
For my soul to flourish, I am ever more conscious that I need to get out of myself as much as into myself. While North American writer Rebecca Solnit makes no claim for theology, she certainly challenges mine. In her beautiful book The Faraway Nearby, she says this:
The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest. Being able to travel both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond.