Theological Reflection – Connecting Faith and Life Review

The reflection, right from the preface, reaches out to you in such a manner that it begins to explain theological reflection and its impact as it pulls you into the “water.”  It tells of the existence of the bridge between our human reality and the spiritual side of life.  The challenge for the reader is to learn and understand the components and the methods, and how to connect the two; thus making it a must have book in understanding theological reflection.

We reach a point in life, all at different times, to begin to understand even more the meaning of life, along with wanting desire to deepen our relationship and closeness with God. The book in a very logical manner, begins to lay out the components and the methods of finding those intersection points of our life along with the exercises of how to put it into daily practice.  I believe many people, myself included, was unaware of these various intersection points, as we live and compartmentalize all the different aspects of life, work, and family. We are faced with managing all the struggles and challenges that come our way. Through this theological reflection process, we can advance and achieve the integration and peace we are looking for by understanding and residing in those intersection points. It brings faith alive in our everyday life with the many surprises of reciprocity.

“The prayer of one who engages in theological reflection is: “Lord that I may see.” Through this prayer you begin to see more, and as the adage goes, the more you notice the more you see. Not unlike, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Prayer is the key to seeing more.

Within theological reflection, the areas or poles for entry are experience, tradition and culture. Experience is all that we are from our past to the present, is what happens to and around us, things in and out of our control, all which makes us who we are as a distinct person living our life. Tradition incorporates all the scriptures, the teachings of our faith and the doctrines of our church.  Culture is who we are from our thinking and mores, where we live and our environment and all of the idiosyncrasies; the ways things are understood throughout the geographies of the world that has developed in its own unique ways and means.  We share bits and pieces of all cultures by virtue of what we do, where we reside, what we believe, and the values we bring along with us. This then is our start to begin to find and understand our many intersections points.  By making these points part of an active daily life, we then begin to define ourselves differently.

From our understanding of the above, we then need to understand the methods to bring into play; the means to pull it together. These methods are attending, asserting and decision making. Attending brings into play the listening and giving undivided attention to the speaker or group and withholding all judgments of others.  Critical importance is applying attending to listening on an introspective level, giving attention to what is going on inside our own heart and mind. This is a crucial area as we begin to see changes and viewpoints of our thinking and begin anew with a different perspective of the world and life.  “This is our call to pay attention.” Secondly, asserting by definition is claiming something to be what we believe.  Asserting is proclaiming a truth or understanding to another, but by this process of theological reflection, we may find what we believe may not be true, something different from what we’ve come to understand or what we were taught. We may come to know or believe a new truth which can have a major impact on us in how and what we believe.  This is the main area where our moral fiber and foundational beliefs are challenged, revised or changed. This then impacts who we are and what we may assert differently. This is a place we aspired too as we develop different and challenging tenets which is our path to theological reflection.  Finally, decision making is the third method of the process.  It is area where we decide and bring together all that we’ve learned, studied and challenged. It is where we make decisions to bring these truths into our life, make it part of our daily life and share with others. It is the place we aspire too and the place we want to continue to build upon. This brings along the models and the methods to allow us to come into peace and harmony.

So how do you put all of this into place? How do you proceed? As noted earlier, you can begin from any pole. From the starting pole you decide, you need to lay the associated groundwork and questions to bring the group together and begin their thought process. You then need to bring the remaining poles into play by the kinds of questions you ask of the group. The exercise of bringing these three methods into play, leads us to the various intersection points. Understanding the meaning of these points, the relation to our life, allows us to start taking these results and putting them into action. Stated differently, it is “taking faith and putting it into action.” This is accomplished and furthered by the facilitators techniques of “So What?” and “Therefore.”  This allows us to be brought to a proper conclusion for the individual. This conclusion then can personalize further by exploring what does this mean to me? How does this change my thinking? How does this impact my life? “What does this cost me, and what am I suppose to do.” These are the questions, as noted earlier, bring our faith to life and change who we are and what we do. As we become transformed, our life takes on new meaning with greater perspective and depth. We bring us to our faith thus bringing life to our faith.

Key to bringing closure and success to the exercise is being prepared with the right questions. Tying the probing questions to the components of experience, tradition and culture brings out the best from the group. Employing the conclusion questions of so what and therefore, brings relevance to the individual.  Utilizing silence not only to our advantage, but a time for the participant to reflect and gathers their thoughts. Having the participants understanding of what they have learned and what they need to do is their takeaway.

It’s noted in its own category, but the question of reciprocity comes up in the writing of the seminarian bringing the Eucharist to last person on his schedule for the day. The theological reflection begins from the seminarian’s experience of his day, the repetitions, stress, and generally just an exhausting day. What seemed like an ordinary review and exercise in reflection, pointed something out very unknowingly to the seminarian.  What he came to realize in this exercise, was not what he was doing for this elderly person, but what she taught and gave him while visiting and giving her the Eucharist.  He realized he was seeing the love and face of Jesus in her, who had not only lost much, but was suffering in pain and dying. She was the one with the gift as she reached out to him. The seminarian thought he came bearing gifts, which he was, but he was not expecting to receive the most treasured gift from her. She is the one who gave the gift of our Lord and his love to the unknowing seminarian. This is the gift of Ministry, and this seminarian was fortunate enough to learn and see this gift in his ministry of caring for the sick and dying. 

Advice on being a facilitator, which is also so very applicable in the business world. Creating a safe environment, keeping focused and on task leads to results.  Making sure the parties in the group use the word “I” when talking about their experiences and sharing their messages.  A key part which we talked about earlier is being a good attentive listener. Through these techniques, you are able to bring out and clarify what the individuals are saying, especially when it has to do with feelings and thoughts in the deepest parts of their hearts. There are five different types of listening and noting the purpose of each and good examples of questions are aides in the process to a conclusion. This would be key to have as part of your notes as a facilitator.  They are Clarifying, Restatement, Neutral, Reflective and Summarizing. These areas assist the facilitator in the mode of listening, rather than trying to solve problems.  As far as the participants, the facilitator needs to be sure the members of the group are following their guidelines to be effective and have no detrimental effect on the overall group. These areas of Sharing is voluntary. Sharing is not interrupted, Sharing is not contradicted, Sharing is done in the “I” language and Sharing is confidential. Furthermore, they need to understand they are not here to be right and prove their point. This is where one needs to insure the understanding and difference between debate and dialogue.  This is key and should be not only pointed out, but discuss to some degree so all participants understand the stark difference between the two. This leads to the components and personality make-ups within a group. All people with different experiences and confidence take a different dynamic role within a group. They need to be identified, managed, and in some cases, gently poked to participate or quietly reviewed in private. However, look for the good. Identify the morale boosters and conciliators. Call on them when needed. Know your elaborators when more need to be discussed and understood and make sure you identify your synthesizers so as meetings and sections come to a close, their actions can further bring success to individuals in the group.  As can be seen, the facilitators are required to have a vast skill set to bring success to the various groups so individuals are the best they can be.  In addition to impeccable preparation, facilitators need to be those attentive, deep listeners and totally knowledgeable in the tradition of scriptures. Facilitators are the lynch pin to this process.  They are the ones that need to know our thanks.

By embracing theological reflection and making it our daily life and asking our Lord to let me see, ones perspective on the world on what and how we see will change. Once we see, we will begin to see more. Once we see more deeply, we will see to greater depths. The visions and glimpses of the holy and sacred will become more often.  When one sees a sign with optical illusions, it takes time to figure it out and see it, but one you see the sign, you will never see it the way you always saw it. Never.

In summary, “Reciprocity is The Nature of Ministry” It is a gift from God showing his presence, love and acknowledging what you have learned and embraced. 

_Connor.

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