The Journey Invites Reflection
What I enjoy most about hiking and camping is the opportunity to reflect upon my life. The pilgrimage provides quiet moments for introspection. Reflection is an important spiritual practice in theology as Nouwen encourages:
I propose here the discipline of strenuous theological reflection. Just as prayer keeps us connected with the first love and just as confession and forgiveness keep our ministry communal and mutual, so strenuous theological reflection will allow us to discern critically where we are being led. (Henri Nouwen. In the Name of Jesus. p. 65.)
Reflection through journaling is often missing in seminary curriculum and yet is so helpful for spiritual growth, both for ourselves and others. Elisabeth Elliott, in Through Gates of Splendor, writes about five missionaries, including her husband, who were killed while attempting to reach the fierce Auca Indians. Throughout the story she refers constantly to the journals these men kept. Sometimes they were writing on tiny scraps of paper, whatever was available to them in their frontier situation, but always they were praying and writing down their thoughts and experiences as a spiritual discipline. Pages found on their bodies after their deaths told the world part of the story of what happened to them on their last jungle journey. Their journals lifted the faith of millions of people who were able to read about their reflections and the things God was teaching them in this difficult time.
Because the trail is unpredictable and each turn provides challenges and new opportunities, we must carefully evaluate what God is up to in each situation. Difficult circumstances and tragic events become part of God’s curriculum for our students as they are challenged to reflect theologically while the outside world asked such questions as “Why did this happen?” Life events are lab experiences we can share with fellow students, church members, and a watching world the reassurance of God’s presence, grace and love. Nouwen writes,
The Christian leader of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained—through prayer, study, and careful analysis—to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time.
Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.
To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.
The task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to a new land of freedom. (Nouwen, p. 68.)
What recent event or tragic circumstance caused you to ask, “Why did this happen?” What did you learn about yourself and God through your reflection?