The contemplative way is about listening deeply to God. The way of reconciliation entails listening deeply to each other. The way of interior examination is about deeply listening to ourselves.
After covering some difficult terrain on my pilgrimage through The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas, I finally felt like I was on level ground—maybe even coasting downhill somewhat—when I reached the chapters on Interior Examination.
The emotional side of life interests me and I have walked fairly closely with a friend working the 12-step recovery programme. I, therefore, felt I knew the lingo of ‘inner work’, of ‘being triggered’ and of the formative effects of our ‘family of origin’. Yet, working through these chapters (particularly the discussion guide questions) uncovered some interesting insights.
Firstly, Rich pointed out that as Christians we are often prone to compartmentalising our lives and avoiding inner investigation. We particularly do this with emotions we deem ‘unacceptable’, such as anger, rage, fear or anxiety. Rich writes:
“To follow Jesus in this world requires us to embrace a fully human life, alive to the dimensions of our interior worlds that often are repressed, ignored and explained away with Bible verses and in the name of respectability. A rebellion is indeed needed—a rebellion marked by truth, integrity, and wholeness.”
He points to the raw, authentic language of the Psalms and the range of emotions expressed in them. David’s words in Psalm 139 are filled with confession and interiority, as he asks God to bring him self-awareness: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me…” (vv. 23-24).
“The goal of self-examination is freedom—freedom from destructive thought patterns, inner messages, and the ways we wrongly perceive things. Christian spirituality involves acknowledging all our part-selves, exposing them to God’s love, and letting him weave them into the new person he is making.”
I had some real Aha moments as I worked through this chapter. Firstly, I realised that the effects of my fairly undemonstrative Dutch upbringing, was a reticence to express emotion, as well as the false belief that I have to ‘get myself together’ before approaching God. As such, I seldom invite God into the ‘messier’ parts of my life.
The other big Aha moment was facing some deep-seated anxiety that I had not often acknowledged because I had falsely told myself that “I’m the calm, non-anxious one in the family.”
These two chapters honestly shifted something in me and I’m grateful for that.
Through self-examination, we can open ourselves up to more of God’s presence and grace. We can also untangle ourselves from webs of dysfunction and confusion, honouring our own feelings in the process. All of this leads to better and more peaceful relationships. As Rich says, “The world is in desperate need of people willing to examine their own selves before examining others.”
And I’m discovering that facing and honouring your inner world is an ongoing, but truly liberating journey.
Ultreia et Suseia. Further and Higher.
This is Part 5 of my Pilgrimage Blog series.
Read The Storytelling Pilgrim (Part 1), A Call to go Deeper (Part 2), Building a Contemplative Rhythm (Part 3) Racial Reconciliation (Part 4) and Towards Sexual Wholeness (Part 6)