As I conclude my series of reflections on the Spiritual Directors International’s Engage 2022 Conference I attended last month, I’m well aware that I’ve only scratched the surface of what I heard, the conversations I had, and the challenges and inspiration I received. It’s likely that I will dip back into this material in the future, but to at least attempt to bring some resolution, if not closure, to this series, I’m going to focus on a riveting talk given by Pamela Ayo Yetunde about the call to bear witness.
I began this series by focusing on Cornel West’s recognition that there’s nothing wrong with feeling despair. His point was that it’s often a necessary steppingstone on the journey. The problems arise if we stay there. Dr. Yetunde began by recognizing that point of despair, saying, “Our hearts have broken so many times over the years.” She then went on to recognize the inherent resilience in spiritual guides who keep showing up to do this work, even when our hearts are broken over and over by the stories of the people with whom we meet.
I’ve been engaged(!) in the ministry of spiritual guidance since 1995—more than a quarter century! In that time, I’ve been privileged to bear witness to many powerful and painful stories. It is that call to bear witness that formed the foundation of Dr. Yetunde’s challenge and charge to us.
She noted that many of us are bearing witness to the rise of authoritarianism and the destructive forces and cultural coercion that are distorting people’s true selves. She then cautioned that both we and the people we serve might be responding to current cultural challenges by seeking security or refuge in what she calls “insecure introversion.” She noted that those in power want us to separate and disengage. I find myself thinking about Juvenal’s commentary on ancient Rome distracting the populace with “bread and circuses,” and how the oligarchy is doing an excellent job of separating us today over issues like guns and abortion.
In contrast, Dr. Yetunde calls us to “extraordinary extroversion.” She spoke of recognizing that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” She referenced Martin Luther King Jr., who realized that he couldn’t be who he wanted to be if others couldn’t be who they wanted to be. She stated that “each of us, without exception, is an innately precious and luminous node where strands of the cosmic net interconnect us to each other.”
Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans: “For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
If I’m to be part of the solution rather than the problem, I’m called to bear witness to all of us being “one body in Christ.” I know I do this through spiritual guidance, through posts like this, through my church’s antiracism discussion group, which has been together for two years now. There may be other ways that are still unfolding in me.
Will you join me? How can you embrace extraordinary extroversion and bear witness to what unites us in the cosmic web of God’s love?