Thursday, May 10, 2012

Booknotes on The Contemplative Pastor

Eugene H. Peterson, 1989, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the art of spiritual direction, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

This book should be read concurrently with his memoirs, The Pastor (2011). Peterson’s thesis that pastoral work is spiritual direction is like a breath of fresh air in the numerous books on spiritual direction which focus on techniques and processes. Here, Petersen defines pastoral work as spiritual direction which is also known as soul care. Throughout the centuries of Christian history, he argues that

[T]he [pastoral] work was the same: discovering the meaning of Scripture, developing a life of prayer, guiding growth into maturity. This is the pastoral work that is historically termed the cure of souls. The primary sense of cura in Latin is "care," with undertones of "cure." The soul is the essence of the human personality. The cure of souls, then, is the Scripture-directed, prayer-shaped care that is devoted to persons singly or in groups, in settings sacred and profane. It is a determination work at the center, to concentrate on the essential. (p.57)

I find this refreshing. Spiritual direction (soul care) is helping people to pray, to understand the bible and grow spiritually. A simple and precise definition. Peterson underscores the way we are running the church as compared to spiritual direction (soul care)

In running the church, I seize the initiative- I take charge. I take responsibility for motivate and recruitment, for showing the way, for getting things started. If I don't, things drift. I am aware of the tendency to apathy, the human susceptibility to indolence, and I use my leadership position to counter it.

By contrast, the cure of souls is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is provenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets things going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do.

The cure of souls is not indifferent to the realities of human lethargy, naive about congregational recalcitrance, or inattentive to neurotic cussedness. But there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything (and I mean, precisely, everything) we do is a response to God's first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed (p.60-61).

He rewords it so that the contrast is obvious:

Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?

Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on? (p.61)

This gives a new perspective on spiritual direction (soul care) and on the contrast between competitive and contemplative pastoral care. God has already taken the initiative and is active in the world. Our job as spiritual directors are to discern what God is doing in our lives and that of our directees and get on bound. It is a job of grace discernment and appropriation.


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