Alan, it sounds like you wrote this book with a specific audience in mind.. those who have either left the “organized” church or those who for whatever reason feel they can’t pursue their journey within the church. Can you comment?
Alan: In this book I hoped to update and make more readably available the material in â€˜Journeying in Faithâ€™ and the 8 years Jenny McIntosh and I worked with people in faith (and church) pain. Chrysalis was written for those who leave organized church but also those who loyally stay when the lights have gone out within (Internal leavers). But there was also one other major reader in mind â€“ the church leaders/pastors. I wanted to include them so they might understand, validate and be able to accompany people in the midst of faith transformations.
You frame the transition to a deeper faith along five lines: disenchantment, disillusionment, disengagement, disidentification and disorientation. You also relate these five to a classical experience: the dark night of the soul. How and when did you make this connection to St. John?
Alan: I read St John of the Cross for the first time in 1997. His depth captured me. He knew real struggle, real faith dislocation and dissolution; but he never lost the sense of God alongside. He offered a compelling mix of gut wrenching reality and hope for continued faith.
Somewhere a classical theologian.. it might have been Barth.. speaks of disengagement in order to reengage. This echoes for me the whole monastic movement, which has been described as an attempt to flee the world in order to save it. Is this part of what we are seeing in the revival of monasticism?
Alan: I Know Bruggemann speaks of disorientation and re-orientation. To do this he draws on the framework of many of Psalms. The Psalms, of course, are the prayer book of the scriptures and are much beloved and utilized by the monastics. Certainly many today also have to flee church in order to find andÂ form their faith.
Many of us, when we first “left the church” or left some expression of it, found ourselves blaming the church. Eventually we discover that there is as much church in us as outside us, and we leave blame behind. But both these movements are painful.. pain and blame, and pain and shame. But perhaps both movements are necessary?
Alan: Drawing on Sharon Parks work I have argued that the move from dependence to a true interdependence of faith necessitates intermediary steps the move through counter-dependence and then later to inner-dependence before becoming at home in relationships of interdependence. The counter dependence stage involves pushing against everything we might have previously depended on. Inherently it involves some anger, some rebellion, some over stating of everything that is wrong with the church. Further down the path we may come to a point where blaming ourselves or the church becomes less important in comparison to finding a deep inner sense of self, of identity, or connection with God, of connection with others, of â€˜callâ€™ and role and place and significance. I call this inner-dependence. Both counter-dependence and inner-dependence are necessary steps on the path to being able to live securely in relationships of interdependence.
Sadly many people get stuck in the counter-dependence phase and seem eternally angry and eternally anti the church and their past expressions of faith. Sadly they are unable to move beyond this place.
I love your Nouwen quote (46) of claiming our identity as “the beloved” as a very personal and core truth. When I made that claim for myself, not only did my internal world change, as if I suddenly had new lenses.. but it also awakened me to see the loneliness and pain of others in a new way. Did you have a similar experience?
Alan: Yes. My experience of seeing myself, a little more as God sees me has opened me to greater compassion for myself and to others. Knowing my own pain and failure and knowing I am loved within it does seem to make me more aware of the pain of others and more compassionate to them. It is as if I feel less threatened by their pain than I would have once. Of course I also have a long way to go in the journey of compassion.
About half way through you mention the role of spiritual directors. Do you have a spiritual director, or have you had? If so, what has that experience been like in terms of your own faith journey?
Alan: Yes. I went to the same spiritual director regularly for the last ten years. This year we have moved cities and this, sadly, has meant I see Jim (the spiritual director who I have met with) far less frequently. Jim is in his sixties and has been part of a Catholic order for more than 40 years. He has been directing people, especially the professional religious, for many years and has an enormous amount of experience. Primarily though he loves people and sits comfortably with people regardless of how angry, hurt, or confused they are. Meeting with him over an extended period of time has provided a wonderful resource for me to draw on.
You describe re-emergence.. or re-engagement.. as an inward movement that has two dimensions – toward self and other. Is this an almost universal experience for those who re-emerge, who pass through this dark night into a brighter day?
Alan: I believe it is and the spiritual giants of suggest it is universal. However I donâ€™t have any hard data on it.
On page 85 you describe a paradox I have been living lately: I feel small and insignificant, yet somehow I am also aware of largeness, of an expanse in my soul that is spirit and life when I live my own life. Is this experience of paradox another characteristic of reemergence?
Alan: For me the ability to live comfortably with paradoxes that are integrated in our faith and life is a sign of personal growth of faith. One aspect of this is realizing we are both very insignificant in the grand scheme of things; that the world does not spin around us but also realising we are loved by the God of all and the way we live is enormously significant. Few, if any of us, will change the world but we can all be far more significant than we could ever grasp.
In chapter ten you refer to the classic stages of faith development, similar to work done by Fowler. You mention that many believers never make this journey in the later stages. What do you think stops or blocks them?
Alan: Fowler says higher education (that teaches us to think independently, to critique and to question) and personal suffering are two spurs to continued faith development. Of course they can also cause faith to stagnate and become entrenched. I believe our journey in faith is fundamentally determined by the matrix of our experiences, friends and mentors, our courage to follow our inner lives & truth (voices) and most significantly the drawing and pushing power of the Holy Spirit. We canâ€™t untangle this matrix or produce a fertilizer that will guarantee quick growth.
You advocate “waystations” (102-103) as strategic places we must create to support faith journeys through the dark night. Are you seeing such places come into being in response to the growing need?
Alan: Yes I am. Spirited Exchanges groups in NZ and the UK are examples of this; as are groups with similar ethos that I occasionally hear about. Alongside these groups are many churches who are also becoming actively welcoming to those in the midst of faith struggles.
On reflection, I love the chrysalis metaphorÂ :)Â But I also wonder if the book would have been stronger if you had followed a classic outline of the journey, like that of Fowler’s, and let it shape your reflection. My guess is you intentionally avoided that option. Can you comment?
Alan: Yes. I choose to stay away from the academic language of psychology and Fowlerâ€™s stages and use an image that is more readily known. I was trying to reach a more â€˜popularâ€™ readership and avoiding the debates around the stages/styles of faith.
Looking back now, is there any story you wish you had added, or any other elements of reflection on the hidden transformation of faith?
Alan: I would like to say more about how we re-construct and what the journey of re-construction is like but to do that I sense I need to interview a wider group of people who have walked that part of the journey. But that would be fun to do and may yet be the basis of some later writing. Iâ€™d also like to reinforce the two cautions with the book. Firstly that the faith journey is more of a spiral involving many significant transformations (chrysalis spaces) than this metaphor implies and secondly no stage on the journey is any better (or more saved) than any other. Those at what I called the caterpillar phase are often wonderful Christian people, people we can all learn from no matter where we might be on the journey.