Reflected Love: Companioning in the Way of Jesus
Christopher Brown. Reflected Love: Companioning in the Way of Jesus.
Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2012.
By bringing four contemporary companioning narratives into dialogue with gospel descriptions of Jesus’ encounters with people, this book demonstrates how wonderfully diverse interpersonal ministry—pastoral care, counseling, chaplaincy, mentoring, spiritual companioning and spiritual direction—is active participation in his shepherding, healing, restorative and guiding purposes. Jesus’ invitation, as the true shepherd, master guide and companion, is to embody and reflect his humble, life-giving and restorative dynamic.
With the essence of his way encapsulated in, “Come unto me. . .” (Matt 11: 28-30), and gospel accounts opening to us his person and his interpersonal dynamic, we are invited and gifted to offer pilgrims: profound respect as persons created in the likeness of God; the accompaniment of a gentle and humble heart; welcoming and sacred spaces; relational solidarity; creative and often non-directive entry points into the deeper rhythms and flows of their human experience (noting Jesus’ use of metaphor, imagery, enlivened imagination, parable, paradox, wakefulness, attentiveness to the everyday); and, the prayerful attentiveness that will guide them to find rest for their souls.
The encouragement is to get on the road with this master guide-companion and experience his kingdom breaking through in and around the lives of pilgrims and their companions.
Review by Dr David Benner
This is a very special book. It is written by a man who has long known how to relate his own close walk with Jesus as encountered in the Gospels to his walk with others in various forms of helping relationships. Reading it is not so much an encounter with the ideas of the author as it is spending time with someone whose intimacy with the way of Jesus is so obvious that you suddenly notice that there are three of you in the encounter – you, the author, and Jesus. This is not just a book for those who work with others in formal relationships of ministry, therapy, counselling or spiritual direction – although those in this group will find it offers a particularly fresh and creative way of listening and engaging with those they seek to help. Beyond this, however, it is for all who seek themselves to better understand the way of Jesus and the implications of this for their encounters with others. Read it and be prepared to see through new eyes, hear through new ears, and respond from a new heart. It is, indeed, a book full of transformational possibilities!
[Dr. David G. Benner is an internationally known clinical psychologist and spiritual guide. Author of many books on the boundary of psychology and spirituality, his most recent is Soulful Spirituality (Brazos Press, 2011). He can be found on-line at www.drdavidgbenner.ca]
Review by Dr Charles Ringma
With the paucity of formation in the contemporary church, many Christians are looking to spiritual direction or companioning as a way to deepen their journey of faith. In this winsome presentation of the art of companioning, the author moves us below the surface of the "how to" to the dynamics of encounter between two pilgrims (the companion and pilgrim) in seeking the way of Jesus. Existentially profound, pastorally sensitive, psychologically insightful, this way of companioning is shaped by the heartbeat of the Gospel narratives and the creation of a safe place where the wisdom of God can well up from the heart cries of despair and wounding. No one who reads this book can remain the same.
Dr. Charles Ringma is the author of 'Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton' and Whispers from the Edge of Eternity'.
Book Review: Reflected Love by Christopher Brown
“Those who find themselves in the fires of affliction, I will make nourishment for others” This favorite quotation is meaningful as it illuminates an incarnational truth – the resurrection – with its movement through pain and death to new life. Brown’s book, Reflected Love describes a gentle, respectful and honest integration of spiritual truth with counseling practice, a process he describes as “companioning in the Way of Jesus”.
If your heart’s desire is to seek out for yourself or become for another a spiritual companion who can highlight the presence and action of Jesus in your life, this book is for you. Within its pages Brown describes how companioning another (as counselor, supervisor, spiritual adviser or teacher) is about creating sacred space and igniting shared awareness of the action of God within. This awareness allows insights which become transformational in our understanding of self and others. Brown’s writing instills in his readers a deep desire to watch for the presence and action of Jesus, to make the inward journey not for the purposes of introspection but so one might offer safe passage for another through understanding the journey oneself. Through the twelve descriptive chapters of his book, the reader is invited to look at everyday experience through the lens of God’s present action in this moment. Sub‐titled “Companioning in the Way of Jesus”, and structured around the parables of Jesus and four companioning conversations, Brown’s skill as a story‐teller weaves conversation and spiritual teaching together in a way that brings in‐depth understanding to each parable.
Understanding that a safe space and facilitated reflection on inner awareness create moments of insight, Brown provides questions to draw out and illuminate this awareness. “What is it that is in front of you that would be useful to attend to in our time together?” communicates a respectful invitation to focus on what is of greatest importance at the beginning of a session. Further questions invite exploration of what is emerging in the present moment as feelings find words and connections are made between past and present experience. Never interpreting experience for the other, companioning means being a midwife/observer to what is unfolding, gently facilitating the other as feelings are birthed.
Birthed feelings connect us to inner pain, and from where do we find the answer to the problem of human pain? It is transformed when we are companioned by one who can “hold hope in the face of despair”1. Having created a safe context for encounter through manifesting a calm, gentle, attentive and attuned presence, companions ‘move with’ as those they companion move forward towards and through the place of pain. Companioning means helping the other to be attentive to what emerges, confronting the pain and stepping back only when there is a deeper knowledge of God. Holding hope in the face of despair is made possible to the extent to which we understand pain is transformational when it deepens our understanding of our acceptance by and security in God.
What would it take for us to make the journey inward, without flinching from the pain? Strategies employed to maintain avoidance of pain deplete our very soul, and with great understanding Brown uses storytelling to acquaint us with these false guardians of vulnerability. In the reading of this book, Brown gently brings to our understanding that we too, are wounded healers, with permission to enter into the Presence of Jesus, to be made secure, comforted, equipped and inspired not only that we may offer the same nourishment to those we journey with, but because we too are His beloved children.
In reading Brown’s book, we are invited to ‘taste and see’ the action of God, and to experience the goodness of the One who holds in perfect tension grace, truth and mercy.
Editor, CCAA Journal
Counseling Connections Across Australia
Contents of Reflected Love
- Passing Under the Low Lintel 1
- Living Beyond the Rim 9
- Following the Golden Thread of Grace 15
- Treading the Air of Mystery 29
- Drawing Near the Well 39
- Enlivening the Senses, Waking the Heart 53
- Transforming Wounds into Windows 66
- Bidding the Soul Welcome 74
- Seeing into the Life of Things 82
- Light Shall Arise into the Darkness 90
- Like a Peasant Called Before a Great King 102
- Proclaiming the Year of the Lord 106
Conclusion: The Living Flame of Love 115 Epilogue: Returning to the Well 121 Afterword 124 Bibliography 127
Part of the Preface of Reflective Love
About fifteen years ago, I wrote a reflection on the first four Beatitudes from a position of close proximity to friends who had experienced serious mental illness.[i] As I immersed myself in the stories of my friends while at the same time engaging with Jesus' teaching, I discovered how the gospels—and all Scripture—enliven the contexts in which we are planted, since Jesus' teaching not only transforms the pilgrims of the gospel pages, but it also transforms us. Engaging with the Beatitudes, I realized that significant walls were within me—not just my friends—and Jesus was inviting both of us to attend to their dismantling.
As I began to introduce these gospel encounters with Jesus into personal reflections on my practice and also in my teaching, supervision and formation work, my context, or “praxis,” became more and more alive. By engaging in everyday human experiences, including places of pain, suffering and death, Jesus manifested his life-giving and restorative purpose in the world, gifting us with a wealth of stories, images and metaphors that keep us searching for more of his way. Most of my classes now begin with a reflection on a gospel encounter or a psalm, and participants can enter them in ways which bring them far closer to their own lived experience than can pastoral care and counselling theory, important as these are.
As these reflections found their way into workbooks for students, I began to wonder if it was time to offer a more comprehensive book that might inspire interpersonal ministers to walk more deeply with pilgrims while also engaging more intimately with Jesus as their guide and mentor.
Over the past decade and a half, these insights have become foundational to my practice, supervision and teaching in the field of interpersonal helping, which I refer to throughout this book as “companioning.” As I have engaged with the gospel accounts of Jesus journeying with pilgrims towards inner healing and revelation, I have come to see that Jesus does not offer a program, method, practice theory or series of steps, but invites us, through his self-giving, other-receiving and sacrificial love, to indwell his person and to be transformed into his likeness. Though formation in the likeness of Christ is our basic faith priority, it is often neglected in our interpersonal ministry training and development. Moreover, though many faith-committed interpersonal workers would acknowledge Jesus as the Master Therapist, not all would explore his life-giving way as much as they would contemporary theory and method. It is important to constantly remind ourselves, that in speaking of the deeper life of pilgrims and what it is to be human, “we have not said enough until we speak of God.”[ii]
In our interpersonal work, as we journey with people into their experiences, life events, crises, pains, joys and sorrows, the Holy Spirit will gift us with the life, truth and way of Jesus, empowering us to embody and reflect these gifts to those with whom we walk.[iii] By reinstating Jesus, and indeed the community of the Trinity, right into the centre of our companioning, we can extend a relational space to burdened and oppressed pilgrims, where their worried-filled and overwhelming stories might come to a place of rest and safe communion with their Creator. Speaking for his Father in Heaven, Jesus said:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.[iv]
These words of Jesus offer us a window through which we can explore what Jesus is doing in his encounters with people and how he is going about it. This book uses this window to bring people involved in personal ministries as close as possible to the life-giving dynamic that is found in the person of Jesus and in his way of ministering. His ‘Come to me. . .’ invites us into the flow of self-giving love—the giving of self and the receiving of the other, which is at the relational heart of the Trinity.[v] Categorizing ministers as problem-solvers, advisors, classifiers of life’s difficulties, or assistants to troubled pilgrims falls short of Jesus' transformative and restorative purposes in the world and sidelines his invitation for our active participation in the renewing of his kingdom on earth.[vi]
But these words of Jesus also raise many questions, such as:
- How does this work out in the relationship we might offer a pilgrim?
- Can we really invite a person who is overwhelmed and in pain to a place of rest?
- What is it to offer a gentle and humble heart for the journey?
- Can we actually journey with people towards a place that offers real and substantial rest for the soul?
- Is Jesus really inviting us as companions to “become” his “invitation” and to extend the flow of the self-giving and other-receiving love of the Triune God to the pilgrims with whom we walk?
In this book, we will interact with these questions as we move closer to Jesus, our mentor and master guide-companion, by engaging with the gospels and considering how we might embody his life and reflect his restorative way in the work of companioning. The book is structured around four main companioning stories: Carol Compton’s story in chapter three, Sandra Stark’s in chapter seven, David Davison’s in chapter ten, and Marjorie Meyer’s in chapter eleven. These companioning stories are composites, in that they bring into single accounts experiences that have occurred in many different encounters.
For us as companions, as for those to whom we offer guidance, coming to know the fullness of the person of Jesus also means coming to know ourselves, an unfolding discovery from the inside-out. As a companion and guide, Jesus is not foreign to us, because through him we were created and given life. Deep within the sanctuary of our soul we know his voice.[vii] To draw close to him is to encounter the giving and receiving flow of God’s Spirit, where we are fully loved, fully known, and invited to participate in his life and vocation.
Little-by-little, as his light illuminates our innermost being, Jesus leads us from ordinary, everyday levels of awareness towards inner revelation, calling us to wake up, look, listen and learn. In this book we will refer to this call towards wakefulness as “attentiveness.” Always sensitive to our unique history and capacity for growth, Jesus mirrors back to us how we can be reconciled—brought from fragmentation, disunity and disconnection into unity, wholeness, holiness and communion—as his humble, gentle and wounded heart accompanies our divided and fearful hearts along this transformative life journey.
It has been wonderful to engage with so many people around these themes. In every group where we have reflected upon the companioning of Jesus, I have emerged with new insights and challenges, and so am myself in the ongoing process of becoming a companion in the gentle, loving, life-giving way of Jesus.
[i] This was published in a small discussion paper entitled, "Dismantling the walls that divide." Brown, Zadok Paper S78, 1-14.
[ii] Laird, Martin. Into the Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2006., 9.
[iii] John 14:6.
[iv] Matt 11:28–30, NRSV.
[v]Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, 127.
[vi] Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23.
[vii] John 10:14 & 16.