But who should they consult? Their fellow travelers find themselves just as blinded by their corrupt culture. Reminiscent of the words of Moses, they are to “remember the days of old; consider the generation long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
If they are humble enough to seek wisdom from the former generations and discover what their ancestors learned, then they will find rest for their souls—soul care and spiritual direction. Unfortunately, in their arrogance they say, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16b).
A Forgotten Art: Reclaiming Our Historic Mantle of Mutual Ministry
Are we so different? In swiftly changing times, as we desperately search every which way for spiritual solutions, we seem to lack respect for traditional time-tested ways in which past Christian cultures have dealt with personal problems. We prefer the latest trends and newest fads.[i]
After years of saturating ourselves in their life stories, we’re convinced that the history of African American soul care and spiritual direction provides a spiritual root system deep enough to withstand high winds and parching draught so that our souls can be nourished and our spiritual lives can flourish.[ii] It’s our job to convince you. Beyond the Suffering calls for a reclaiming of the ancient gifts of soul care and spiritual direction, a restoration of the forgotten arts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding, and a reformation in how we practice ministry.
Thomas Oden explains that too often Christians conceptualize personal ministry models without the aid of the historic voices of the Church. According to Oden, some Christians are only willing to listen to their own voice or the voice of contemporaries in the dialogue. “Christians have usually been losers when they have neglected the consensual writers of their own history and tradition.”[iii]
William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle present a convincing explanation for our lack of contact with the history of Christian mutual care. “Faced with the urgency for some system by which to conceptualize the human condition and to deal with the modern grandeurs and terrors of the human spirit, theoreticians of the cure of souls have too readily adopted the leading academic psychologies. Having no pastoral theology to inform our psychology or even to identify the cure of souls as a mode of human helping, we have allowed psychoanalytic thought, for example, to dominate the vocabulary of the spirit.[v]
In other words, today’s crying needs drown out yesterday’s relevant answers. Why? Because we lack a sufficient awareness of the victorious ways in which people faced life issues in bygone centuries.
We sometimes overhear students entering our course on The History of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction bemoaning their presence. “Why in the world is this course required in our preparation for spiritual friendship?” Fortunately, we always hear students completing our course applauding their experience. “Wow! I never realized how vital past practice is for current ministry. I love history now!” Keep reading because we want to birth in you a deepening love for African American history by demonstrating its relevance for contemporary ministry.
[ii] Altschul, An Unbroken Circle, p. xiii.
[iii] Oden, Whatever Happened to History?, p. 7.
[iv] Oates, Protestant Pastoral Counseling, p. 11.
[v] Clebsch and Jaekle, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective, p. xii.