14 June 2016

Followup Questions (and Objections) on Sources and Resources for Inner Work

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, I read your article on what you call "inner work" and I have to say that I wonder what it all has to do with a hermit's vocation to union with God and the cultivation of personal holiness. Shouldn't you be praying instead of reading books by atheist psychologists and doing New Age psychobabble like PHR (sic)? Besides if you need that much help how can you claim to have a vocation anyway? Does your spiritual director push this bizarreness off on you? . . . That's why I would want a priest as a director. . .  Also, your personal notion of penance seems really strange to me. You don't mention fasting or asceticism but you mention this "inner work" and journaling. Is this part of an approved Rule of Life?]]

WOW! I hope you've said all you felt you needed to. Your first question is actually a really good one. The rest --- well, I'll take all that as I feel it is or at least might be helpful to other readers --- and as my own irritation subsides. The piece I put up on inner work was pretty clear I think. We are called to personal wholeness and holiness by and in God. Prayer is a huge part of that, of course, but spiritual direction and some forms of inner work can be incredibly important, even indispensable. They can also be forms of worship or prayer. God comes and calls to us in many ways. The yearning for wholeness, for fullness of being is the very essence of that call. Our response may require 1) assistance (as in spiritual direction), and 2) methodical inner work (as in PRH, etc.) as part of that. We use the gifts God gives us. Since we are relational or dialogical at our core those gifts will often include avenues (including significant persons) which help God foster holiness and wholeness in us. If I find a methodology or approach to living life fully, a methodology which allows me to live the silence of solitude more deeply, intensely, and extensively, then I am going to consider using that and I will do it for the greater glory of God!

Your own opinions to the contrary my vocation is not in question --- not with God, the Church, myself --- not with my superiors nor anyone at all who actually knows me, and certainly not because I am still growing and/or healing (meaning coming to wholeness and holiness in Christ). A vocational call is not issued once, answered with definitive profession and then left behind as a done deal. Such a call is issued every single day, sometimes many, many times a day and the dedicated response we call obedience is given in a similar manner --- usually with greater and greater perception and integrity as we grow in wholeness and holiness. No one with any vocation is without need for healing or growth. Holiness may be real without being exhaustive. It is true that I advise someone seeking to live a canonical eremitical life to have their healing mainly in hand before doing so. I believe that and followed that advice myself -- despite discovering continuing needs for healing later on. But my vocation IS a call to holiness and to union with God; both of those things mean reconciliation with all the parts of myself which may not have been appropriately recognized or honored throughout my life. Some of those parts may even be deeply wounded and require healing but it is because I am essentially whole and secure in my vocation that this kind of work would actually be undertaken at this point in time and, in fact, would be able to be undertaken. This kind of work, for instance, is part of my response to this vocation, something I commit to in order to live and to live it more fully.

Eremitical life (like any form of religious life) takes strength, personal integrity, and flexibility. It demands profound listening and the ability to be at home with God and with oneself --- for generally one lives with oneself with and in God alone. The inner work I described, whether that associated with spiritual direction, with Jungian analysis, or with PRH, for instance, help foster those things. They serve God, myself, and my vocation. I believe they serve my relationships in this stable state of life and the eremitical vocation more generally as well. Could I be wrong? I suppose. But given the fruits of the work I have done and am committed to continuing, fruits I will continue to attend to, I think it is extremely unlikely. And of course I would not be recommending inner work to others if I felt it conflicted with an essentially Christian and/or consecrated state of Life.

By the way, it's probably never a good idea to suggest one's spiritual director is foisting stuff off on a directee in a way which infringes on her freedom or judgment unless you truly know it to be the case.  You are, like anyone else, certainly free to go to a priest for spiritual direction but the simple fact is that most priests are not spiritual directors and are not trained to do direction. (On the other hand I suspect there are a number of priests  trained to do PRH should you ever want to try it.) In any case my director is really fine and has NEVER worked in a way which infringes my freedom or my judgment --- quite the opposite in fact. PRH is not something we use much in ordinary direction --- at least not in an explicit way --- but we do turn to it from time to time (e.g., for discernment) and we use it in an explicit and more or less intensive way for growth and healing work. (I use some PRH tools frequently in my own personal work and in preparing for direction but the dynamics of spiritual direction per se are pretty different from the dynamics of PRH accompaniment, for instance. On the other hand,  my director listens and helps me to listen deeply to the voice of God and the call to abundant Life both within and around me in the same way whether she is doing SD or PRH; at all times she works to honor (and enhance!) my own freedom and judgment in Christ. This is what direction should be and do. As I have noted several times before, if a director tries to "bind in obedience", routinely commands the directee to act in one way and another, or otherwise fails to enhance her freedom and judgment in Christ then one should probably look elsewhere for a competent director.

On Asceticism and Penance:

No, I didn't mention either fasting or asceticism --- but I might well have. The work of personal growth in wholeness and holiness, what I called inner work, is precisely what the desert Fathers would have recognized as "ascetical" and fostering the work of ascesis. Remember that ascesis is a matter of "training" --- training the heart, mind, and body to act with a single focus or "purity". The disciplines associated with the forms of inner work I mentioned are explicitly involved with this kind of training. The difference is the impulse which unites and purifies, which makes single in God, comes from within, not from without. There is external discipline involved --- for instance the discipline associated with doing the writing or paying attention as one learns and is vowed and obligated by Rule to do, etc. Still, it is from the inner yearning, need, and Divine call to be whole that everything proceeds and which everything else serves. One comes, over time to attend carefully to the mind, heart, and the body in a way which serves God's will to reconciliation and holiness; the training in this "way of responsive attentiveness"  (obedience)  is profoundly ascetical.

I know you think my notion of penance is a strange one (yes, it is part of an approved Rule of Life; Archbishop Vigneron approved it in 2007 with a formal "bishop's decree"), but, again, the inner work I am describing is ascetical in the best way possible. Meanwhile, what I describe as penance always refers to the tools and activities that serve prayer --- especially in the sense of allowing me to become the prayer God made me to be. Penance and asceticism are so closely related as to be indistinguishable to my mind. You may certainly object, but substantive questions might better help to clarify things instead.