A practical exercise in theological reflection by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
‘What does it mean to reflect theologically? Theological reflection is the act of deliberately slowing down our usual process of interpreting our lives to take a closer look at the experience. … and then view these everyday events of our lives through the lens of the character, activity and heart of God’. 1.
So you have experienced something, it may have been traumatic, it may have been wondrous, it may have been complex and confusing. Theological reflection means that we slow down enough to reflect on the experience and then apply what we have learned. Experience – reflection – learning.
We are all acquainted with reflection, but theological reflection is the act of looking at the experience and reflecting upon it with God in mind. Through the lenses of scripture, church history, previous experience and also by engaging your mind. This is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. ‘Scripture, Church History, Experience and Rational Thinking.
‘We must live in the moment: open, undefended, and immediately present’. Dr Gerald May
This takes courage. The next question that we ask is ‘How did I get here and where am I going?’
As we reflect we need to also ask.
- What is the bigger picture?
- How is this event seen from Gods perspective?
- What did I learn from this experience?
- Can I even reflect on this event or is it too painful and am I avoiding it.
- If I am avoiding it why?
Avoiding an experience is also known as repressing.
Repression, is ‘the psychological attempt made by an individual to repel one’s own desires by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious. Repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of the average person’ (Dictionary).
The trouble with repression is that it doesn’t stay repressed. Sure you may be able to avoid it for a decade or two but like the beach ball held under water for a time, it eventually pops up. The event pops up when you least expect it. Usually when you are too tired to hold it down anymore. My advice is that you deal with it, get some professional help if you need to. Then when you are in a safe place you can work through the event and the reasons why you have gone to such lengths to repress it in the first place.
A good exercise in reflection is to get three or four colours of post it notes.
You can use a large piece of card or you can use your bedroom wall.
One: Brainstorm significant people, events and circumstances, (good and bad) in your life. One post it not per event.
Two: Identify which experiences were painful or negative. (replace with a different post it note)
Three: Stick onto cardboard in columns left to right
Four: Group into phases or chapters (not too many) and give each one a title at the top.
Five: On a different post it not, write ‘lessons learned‘ on the appropriate columns/chapters.
The lessons that you have learned from these chapters in your life act as sign posts for the future.
Process and reflect on these lessons and write down in your journal the things that you have learned.
Who or what have been the influences in your life?
Can you identify a fork in the road moment when a crisis, a conversation, a controversy or your own personal spiritual growth caused you to realise that your theology was insufficient.
In other words. The way that you view God or the doctrine that you believed in did not answer or measure up to the experience. This process helps us to understand what is wrong theology and what is the true nature of God.
‘The ability to understand, process and evaluate the building blocks of our faith and life, enable us to develop and grow with intentionality and wisdom’.1.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
We must allow time in our human experiences to process, reflect and understand. Not only the experience itself but what it is that we learned from that experience. When we do this we begin to see that the past becomes the building blocks of our future. We learn from our mistakes, our experiences and we grow and move on from this. In life we have two choices. We can transmit painful experiences or we can be transformed by them. It should be our goal through theological reflection to be transformed or to be formed into something more than or other than we were before the experience.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Love Lisa. Let me know how you go.
Notes taken from class on Spiritual and Theological Formation at Tabor College 2013.