TRAINING IN THE ART OF BEING A SOUL FRIEND
Three Kinds of Language
Within the New Testament three different styles of language are utilized. These language motifs have been mimicked over the centuries with varying degrees of regularity. Generally most Sunday mornings from the pulpits is Kerygmatic language of proclamation when the good news of the Gospel is proclaimed and brought forth as reminders for weekly worshippers. In the class room groups of all ages and homogeneity gather around their open Bibles to hear the Didactic language spoken in bible study.
Monday through Friday it seems a different language is needed. A Christian walking out of the doors of church into a world system, with its structures that operate in a dehumanizing and fundamentally polar manner, creates a different need to hear from God. On the streets of Monday morning the Parakletic language of encouragement, comfort, discernment and exhortation is needed.
The embodiment of the Parakletic language has been traced from its biblical roots in the second half of many of the Pauline epistles. Paul’s general outline for many of his letters was to take the first half of the letter to reorient the readers back into a Kingdom of God view of life. Using prayers and theological brush strokes Paul invigorates the readers to love of the Trinity. Transitioning into the second half Paul moves to encourage his readers by way of practical gospel living based on their particular situation and need that he has hear about. It is this “second half” that is filled with the Parakletic tone and ministry.
Beginning in the third century, starting with Abba Anthony, an informal movement of the Spirit begins to form and shape with the rise of the desert tradition. In their attempts to escape the corruption of the world system as it invaded the church many earnest followers of Christ fled the cities and moved out into the desert. Here attempts to detach from temptations and sins were engaged through many ascetic practices. Over time, wisdom was gained and others began to flock to these desert hermits to learn. Communities were built up around them and formed the early monastic cultures. The wisdom learned and passed on in Parakletic experiences to these eager and hungry souls came to be called spiritual direction.
Not long after, but with no connection, the Spirit of God began a similar movement to the north in upper Europe and island of Britain. The Celtic tradition, as it has become known as, developed monastic lifestyle of its own. While the desert tradition evolved into a more hierarchical structure the Celtic movement was much more decentralized and seemed to move and grow through geographical relationships. But the ethos and need of the Parakletic language was ever present. Whether in the highlands of Scotland, the coastal shores of eastern England, or grassy hills of Ireland daily life contained questions of practical importance for the soul. The anamchara, or confessing soul friend, was the embodiment of Parakletic lifestyle for the Celtics.
Through the centuries the Catholic Church has maintained its understanding of pastoral care through the ministry of spiritual direction. The Celtic tradition, though formally concluded with the Council of Whitby, has remained true to its longstanding tradition of soul care founded in geography/local and relationship. The Protestant reformation altered the landscape of spiritual vitality. It was a needed correction in its day. With the many sweeping changes, some things were pushed aside that have in recent decades been rediscovered. The need for Parakletic ministry is now almost in epic proportions as the baby boomer generation hands the baton of leadership on to younger generations. What this older generation generally has missed, in the western cultures, and what they stand ready to be accused of missing by the next generations, is the ministry of being a soul friend.
There is a great need to reclaim this Parakletic language. To attempt to bring a balance to the great Kerygmatic and Didactic voice, the Parakletic voice of the soul friend, the anamchara, the spiritual direction completes the triad of voices needed for the health of the human soul.
The Paraklēsis Project
Our attempt to help meet this need is a training we call the Paraklēsis Project. Its primary outcome is the ability to move alongside another follower of Christ to help listen for the voice of God in their life. A participant will have been exposed to the practical theology, tools, skills, and gifts that make for a competent spiritual friend. Their love of others will be enhanced by a form of care and spiritual counsel that enables them to listen with ears that are different than the ears of psychotherapy.
The Paraklesis Project is now joining with The Leadership Institute in providing a comprehensive certification program to assist in the training of individuals who feel called to the ministry of spiritual direction. Go to http://www.spiritualleadership.com/spiritual-direction/ to learn more about this program.