Bob Whorton - speaker at Ministers' Conference 2014

Notes on ‘Paths of Reflection’: Southampton Methodist District Conference  28-29 January 2014

Session One: Eyes to see

  • Reflection means having eyes to see – through, beyond

  • There is much in John’s Gospel about seeing – who Christ is, that we may believe in him

  • In John 20 there are three words used for ‘seeing ‘( see Jane Leach and Michael Paterson, ‘Pastoral Supervision a Handbook’). When John arrives at the tomb, first he looks into the tomb and sees (blepo) what is there. Peter then arrives, goes in and sees (theoreo) the graveclothes and the napkin lying by itself – and develops a theory about what may have happened. Then John, goes in, sees (horao) and believes. This final level of seeing is gift. Insight. it is seeing through to reality, to the life at the centre of all that is, seeing that life is more powerful than darkness and death. It is what may happen to us on our reflective journeys – but it is grace and we can’t make it happen.

  • There are three elements of any Christian reflective practice: Christian faith and Scripture/our experience/our inner being or soul (which is the place where the divine and the human meet in us)

  • We can describe our reflective paths in a Trinitarian way –we share in the creativity of God the Father, God the Son says to us ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place’ – and the Holy Spirit is the connector (Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones), connecting up our soul and our experience with our Christian faith.

  • Sometimes when we have a ‘reaction’ in our ministry we may proceed as follows: reaction – I must not have this reaction – shine the persona – become less real.

  • Another way of responding might be: reaction – this is interesting – adopt a playful, imaginative stance - play with the reaction – reflect with someone I can trust about what is happening – discover more wholeness

  • Definition of Soul Reflection: ‘The process whereby the soul of the practitioner is gradually transformed through engagement with reactions to pastoral experience. This transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.’ (By discovering more inner space and wholeness the practitioner is able to offer more inner space and wholeness)

  • Why don’t I reflect more? I don’t think it’s going to be much fun/It’s self-indulgent/Habits, tread-mills, no time/I might get lost in it…. and what then?/I might find out something about myself and my ministry that I would prefer not to know.

Session Two: Reflecting with the Vulnerable Self

  • How much of me turns up when I turn up? (I think this is a Michael Paterson quote) Walter Brueggemann on the psalms – orientation/disorientation/new orientation. There are no short-cuts to the new orientation. We have to live disorientation first. This seems to be the example of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

  • Let’s be honest about our experiences of being overwhelmed in life and ministry

  • Burnout is subtle and can creep up on us: 'difficulty in sleeping; somatic complaints such as weight loss, lack of interest in food, and headaches and gastro-intestinal disturbances; a chronic tiredness of the sort that is not repaired by sleep or ordinary rest and only temporarily alleviated by vacations; low-grade, persistent depression and a nagging boredom'(J Sanford: ‘Ministry Burnout’ 1982,  p.1).

  • I find Jungian psychology helpful in terms of understanding my inner being. Ego is not necessarily ‘bad’, but must be in charge and keep the show on the road at all costs. Ego does not give way easily to soul. Shadow is not evil, but everything in me I do not wish to own. Persona is the mask I put on to perform my role. Wholeness comes through embracing our ‘shadow selves’.

  • ‘what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?’ (From: ‘Dr C G Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul’)

  • I have found that my wounded inner child especially needs my attention and love

  • We can talk with the parts of our selves which we do not wish to own – and write down the dialogues.

  • For me resilience is a mixture of: our life experience, attending to our vulnerability, and grace

  • As Christ, we are wounded healers.

Session Three:  Images that work for us

  • Images can literally work for us, on our behalf, resulting in more freedom and wholeness

  • Dreams can contain helpful images for us. They can sometimes tell us what we do not wish to hear.

  • In the Psalms pit and refuge are root metaphors which I find very helpful/challenging

  • Scripture is not only to be read but experienced (eg through an Ignatian approach to Scripture)

  • The labyrinth is an ancient symbol/pathway which can help us to reflect prayerfully

Session Four: Writing stuff down

  • Writing can help us: To experience what we are experiencing; to try to make sense of that experience; to experience what we are experiencing in the light of the Gospel

  • Journalling is a helpful way for many of us to find some distance from our experience and to seek meaning it. John Wesley used his journal as a way of accounting for how he used his time.

  • Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow. Julia Cameron ‘The Artist’s Way’

  • Writing poetry – especially short poems - is a way of putting a boundary around what we are experiencing, as a frame contains a picture.


There are

worse things

than falling.

Not falling

for one.

Raindrops fall

on the thirsty ground,

and sunlight

falls on your upturned face.

So if it is not so bad to fall

you may as well jump

and if you are lucky

you will land in a heap

in your very own soul.

Bob Whorton

For further thoughts and exercises see Bob Whorton: Pastoral Caring: imaginative listening to pastoral experience, SPCK, 2011

Please click here for a PDF version of Bob's notes

General Resources
Webpage icon BIBLEFRESH
Webpage icon Lent resources
Webpage icon Presentation from Doug Swanney, Connexional Secretary
Webpage icon Table Talk
Webpage icon Theology and Culture
Printer Printable Version