In Taming the Wolf mediation begins when the mediator asks “what happened?” It begins when parties “tell their story.”
Mediators understand that listening to a dramatic narrative, in which the party casts themselves in the role of hero or heroine, is important. They understand the value of listening to an open-ended exposition of events that conveys emotions, perspectives, aspirations, beliefs, and worldviews.
In faith-based reconciliation, a more in-depth process, we start with a similar narrative but one that is less focused on specific incidents. In this “spiritual conversation” a party shares the story of their spiritual journey, they speak of “matters of the heart” that inform and guide their lives.
However, most of us have given little serious thought to our spiritual journey. It is possible that we have never engaged in a spiritual conversation; we may have never had the opportunity to share our deepest concerns with others.
Nonetheless, when we are invited to participate in a spiritual conversation, though initially we might be reticent, typically we come to embrace the process with growing enthusiasm. Rarely have we been invited to speak openly about matters most dear to us, matters that touch our heart deeply. Rarely have we been asked to share views that tap into our spiritual essence, rarely have we shared views regarding “who we are” in the most fundamental sense. Thus, we begin to see the conversation as a unique opportunity.
As our spiritual narrative unfolds we discover emotional texture previously unacknowledged; we uncover conflicts long ago buried in our efforts to appease others; we dust off views hidden even from ourselves; and we shed new light on the spiritual passions that fire our heart.
At the same time, gaps appear in our story and we recognize a need to continue our pilgrimage in a more mindful state. We may recognize we stopped along the spiritual path to rest for a moment, then we never moved on. We may stretch spiritual muscles that have atrophied; we may find we need a new “walking stick” or other aid we can lean on to cushion our weight. We may find our old maps are tattered and faded; we may recognize a need for new directions. Perhaps while we were pausing to take a breath bramble bushes accumulated on the path, making our future journey more difficult, more challenging; we may need help clearing the path.
Most daunting of all we may discover we lack the words to describe that which typically defies description. Lack of facility with language may hamper our early attempts at a spiritual conversation but soon we discover the language of the heart most closely approaches the language needed to describe the divine.
We may be in need of inspiration and example. We may need to prepare to tell our story by reading about spiritual journeys, as seen through the eyes of others. We may need to listen to experienced pilgrims who demonstrate how we can begin our story.
For guidance we can turn to the gospels: we may study Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; or the trials the Apostles underwent, recounted in Acts, as they gave life to the new Church; or we may study Paul’s letters narrating his spiritual journey as he brought order to the young Church.
When we read Luke we may learn about spiritual gifts granted by the Holy Spirit. We might inventory the gifts we have received and consider how those gifts have contributed to our journey. Or we might consider the trials we have endured within our faith community and speculate what our experience might have been if we had lived during the formative days of the early Church. We might read stories of the Fathers of the Church and ponder their journeys.
Or we may join Francis of Assisi as he seeks to imitate the life of Christ. We may follow Francis in the short stories found in The Little Flowers as he gains new companions and renews the Church, or we may read Thomas Celano’s account of the life of Francis and wonder what role we might have assumed had we lived then.
We might ask ourselves if our story is filled with adventures in evangelism or the challenge of a shared faith community mission. Would we cross enemy lines to offer witness about Jesus to a Muslim leader? Would we strip naked in the public square if our soul was being challenged by the threat of coercive materialism?
We might let our thoughts wander and ask how we might fit in with the Order of Friars Minor as it grew under the tutelage of Francis. If we had been a minor friar how might our story have read? If we were a citizen of Assisi how might we describe Francis? Would we have ridiculed him? Or would we have supplied him with bread to feed the lepers?
As the spiritual conversation continues, we may turn to St. Bonaventure in The Soul’s Journey Into God (Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum) to better understand Francis’ mystical spiritual journey to union with Christ. We might ponder Bonaventure’s words:
Here it is that, now in the third stage, we enter into our very selves; and, as it were, leaving the outer court, we should strive to see God through a mirror in the sanctuary, that is, in the forward area of the tabernacle. Here the light of truth, as from a candelabrum, glows upon the face of our mind, in which the image of the most blessed Trinity shines in splendor.”
We might ask if we have arrived at this third stage of the spiritual journey or do we find ourselves in another of the six stages of the soul’s journey into God? Perhaps we have we given little thought to the mystical aspect of our journey. Is striving to know God something we have to consider anew?
We might seek guidance from a contemporary pilgrim, perhaps an inspired and wise companion like Thomas Merton. We may consider his description found in The Seven Storey Mountain:
The soul of man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something that it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.”
Are we a crystal “left in the darkness” or at times have we been able to receive the light? What has been our experience with grace? How might we describe our spiritual journey in terms such as those used by Merton?
Once we mine our recall and chart the path we have trod, we may find defining episodes in our spiritual journey have arisen out of conflict—of either an internal or external nature.
Conflict, we might learn, frequently generates heat that can be transformed into light that allows us see our way on the journey; but we also learn the heat of conflict can consume us with its flames and leave us in the dark. The spiritual conversation allows us to better discern the nature of the flames that have burned in our life. We learn that how we manage the conflict, how we integrate the conflict into our spiritual journey, does make a difference.
When persistent unresolved conflict causes us to worry, the spiritual conversation prepares us to see the bigger picture. We learn to place our conflicts within the context of our overall earthly pilgrimage.
We may see the current conflict as a lesson, as a stage we must pass through—not as the overwhelming intractable barrier we once conceived it to be. We may find the conflicts in which we are embroiled are simply a call for us to recognize the divine in the other. The presence of unresolved conflict may focus our attention on a difficult passage in the journey, and may motivate us to seek help.
We all need to spend more time sitting around the table, perhaps over a cup of tea or coffee, engaging in spiritual conversations, charting our respective spiritual journeys. There may be no better way to prepare to resolve conflict and no better way to enhance “the soul’s journey into God.”