A Cure for Burnouts (by Tony Campolo)
posted to God’s Politics
Friday, January 11, 2008
Far too often, activists do little to nurture their souls. Consequently, they “burn out.” Ignoring the need for spiritual revitalization to sustain their zeal on behalf of the poor and oppressed, they wear out and fade into oblivion. Often those who were one-time dynamic spokespersons for social justice while living out countercultural values become exhausted from working hard with very little sense of accomplishment. Becoming cynical, they sometimes say disparaging things about those who still remain in the fray.
It was out of deep concern for the spiritual condition of social justice activists that I teamed up with a young professor from Spring Arbor University, Mary Darling, to write The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism and Justice.
In this book I, along with my co-author, endeavor to present ways to renew the energies of social activists by tapping into spiritual practices of Catholic mystics that we Protestants often ignore. In particular, we focus much of our attention on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius whose directives can help us move beyond the often shallow and mundane prayer styles that are common among Protestants.
First, we explore what Ignatian spiritual directors call centering prayer. Centering prayer is something I do each morning for at least 15 minutes. During the early hours, I take time to center down on Jesus as I say his name over and over again. I do this until everything else is driven out of my mind and I am almost totally focused on Jesus. In stillness I wait for Jesus to reach out from the cross and absorb into his own body the sins that mark my soul. Then, in the midst of quietude, I wait for the Holy Spirit to flow into me and saturate my personhood. I have learned from experience that “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Secondly, I practice Lectio Divina. This is a spiritually informed way of reading scripture in which there is no reliance on scholarly interpretations, such as Bible commentaries. I read some carefully chosen verses, shut the Bible, close my eyes, and wait patiently for the Holy Spirit to tell me what I need to hear from God through what I have just read. There is something mystical in recognizing how verses that I have read many times before speak to me in new ways when practicing Lectio Divina, bringing new meaning that is especially relevant to my existential situation.
Next, there is a practice called “The Prayer of Examen.” This I do at bedtime. With my head on my pillow, I reflect on all the ways God used me to do good during the past day. I think of all the things I did that were “honest … just … pure … lovely … of good report … and worthy of praise” (see Philippians 4:8). Only after such “feel-good” self-affirmations am I ready to review the day for a second time–this time remembering the ways in which I sinned and fell short of what I should have been and done. I confess and wait for Christ’s cleansing.
Of course, there is much more to the spiritual exercises that have proved so essential in keeping me alive spiritually and revitalizing my “first love” for working for justice and doing evangelism. In the book Mary and I go into these exercises in depth and attempt to show how biblically prescribed and spiritually valid mysticism has motivated leaders such as John Wesley and George Whitefield to proclaim a holistic gospel.
I hope you get this book and find it useful in making spiritual renewal a daily practice. Developing spiritual depth through such exercises will enable you, in accord with the teachings of Jesus, to bring forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold (Matthew 13:8). Without such care of the soul you are apt, as the scriptures tell us, to “wither away” (Matthew 13:6).
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.
A Cure for Burnouts (by Tony Campolo)