Care of Mind/Care of Spirit by Gerald May

Care of Mind/Care of Spirit by Gerald MaySummary: A psychiatrist explores spiritual direction. 

This is another assigned book from my spiritual direction class. The focus of this semester’s class was spiritual direction and psychology. So assigning Care of Mind/Care of Spirit makes a lot of sense. Gerald May was a psychiatrist who became disillusioned with psychology and became a spiritual director.

My reading of Care of Mind/Care of Spirit was tainted by having his Addiction and Grace book assigned the same semester. I really did not like Addiction and Grace. My problem was mostly with his messy definition of addiction. But my frustration with May in the Addiction and Grace book did not give me a lot of charity in reading Care of Mind/Care of Spirit.

There is value here. Because he was a psychiatrist he understands that spiritual direction and psychology are not the same thing. There is a temptation for spiritual directors without much training in psychology to over psychologize the spiritual direction.

…all of life’s experiences can appear legitimately in spiritual direction, but they need to be seen in the light of spiritual concern, and at all costs they should not be allowed to eclipse that light.

He also cautions the spiritual directors to understand their role. They are a facilitator of the work of the spirit, they are not the ones doing the work.

In spiritual direction however, the true healer, nurturer, sustainer, and liberator is the Lord, and the director and directee are seen as hopeful channels, beneficiaries, or expressions of grace for each other. This is a radical difference, and one that cannot be overemphasized.

One of the points that is most helpful is his distinguishing between psychology that diagnoses a patient and spiritual direction that assists a person in discernment.

“Discernment” (or the Greek diakrisis) refers to an act of separating apart. “Diagnosis” refers to distinguishing through knowledge…Diagnosis, in Greek, refers to “through knowledge” or even “thorough knowledge,” emphasizing knowledge or even authoritarian judgment (c.f. Acts 25:21, the diagnosis of the emperor). I have previously indicated that diagnosis looks to label disorder so that it can be corrected, but discernment seeks to discriminate among inclinations so that a proper direction can be followed….Discernment, however, is generally seen as more of a gifted process than diagnosis, a graced charism that happens through the relationship.

and then a bit later

Ideally, there should be no need for extensive labeling of any kind in spiritual direction. Whether labeling assumes psychiatric or religious trappings, its overuse is likely to objectify the person and unnecessarily reduce the wonder of his or her reality. Somehow it always seems difficult to label an attribute without carrying it too far and labeling the person. Labeling is all too often a reductionistic process, causing us to focus on one or a few characteristics of a soul to the exclusion of others. Therefore, while it is very good to know something of how we come to be the way we are and the kinds of things that can go wrong with us, we must be vigilant not to let such knowledge get in the way of our wonder.

I still have frustration with the book. But there is good wisdom here. One last quote:

The temptation is to try to answer the person’s questions from your own knowledge, but how can you answer such things? We have all had times of feeling like Job or Job’s friends in the face of such questions, and no matter how much theological education you have, rational answers usually just don’t work. Personally, I think I do have some appreciation of why there is such suffering and injustice in the world—and God’s place in it—but I find I almost never try to express that when I am with an anguished person. In my own prayerfulness with the person, I usually sense an invitation to be lovingly, responsively present rather than to try to provide answers. What strikes me most clearly is that when a person in great pain is screaming Why? that person is really looking for God. She or he is really praying. These are holy moments, albeit very rough ones. I usually find myself encouraging people to express how they feel, and I hope there can be a little quiet listening on my part and theirs.

You can see all of my highlights here.

Care of Mind/Care of Spirit by Gerald May Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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