— Karen Guzmán
Karen: As you have engaged with faculty around the country, what have you observed regarding to their spiritual formation? How does the faculty experience bring up issues of spiritual formation specific to that endeavor?
Carrie: What I am seeing as the biggest roadblock to good spiritual formation among faculty — this will not surprise anyone — is busyness and the perception that the state of busyness can't be altered, that there's just not enough time to do good soul care.
Other things I would add to this are the competitive spirit and the pressure to succeed. I think this really messes with peoples’ souls. And there are some control issues that come up — and then I just think fear itself. Fear and anxiety.
"Am I going to get tenured? Do my colleagues respect me? Am I going to be able to keep up? What will happen if I tell people I'm a Christian?" All of that. Faculty live in a lot of fear and anxiety, as well as trying to juggle family life and academic life, and still have a chance to breathe and go to the bathroom and stuff.
Karen: In these circumstances, how does the gospel come to faculty as good news and not just more demands?
Carrie: I think the good news for faculty is the same good news for everybody. They are so very, very loved, and I think if they were clearer on how loved they are and more grounded in that, it would help with the tremendous pressure and competition and status stuff. "Where do I stand?" Well, you stand as a beloved child in the kingdom.
Karen: You said earlier that spiritual formation is often centered around practices that form us. What are some practices that can form faculty in their identity in Christ and serve them as they contend with all the challenges you mentioned?
Carrie: I think good practices to try are any that quiet us down and give space away from distraction and pressure so we can hear from God about our beloved-ness. That it's going to be okay, there is a way to get through the day, and we will find it.
Practicing time apart to hear from the Lord and get centered and so forth, can calm the anxiety and calm the fear and recalibrate perspective so that when we go back out into the workplace, we actually do better work because the dissonance of worrying about stuff has been quieted. This kind of time apart just creates more space for focus on actual work that needs to get done.
Some specific practices ... Certainly Sabbath rhythms. Sabbaths are essential. Everyone will do better with regular Sabbath rest.
Another practice is called lectio divina (Divine Reading). It’s a type of Bible study that is less academically-oriented — i.e. I've got to dig everything out of this passage and organize it. For busy faculty people who are trying to have a devotional life, lectio divina, with its calming simplicity, can be a useful practice. Any kind of reflection, maybe with journaling, is going to be helpful.
Then there is the breath prayer — a very short prayer of only a few memorized words. You get all calmed down in your little devotional for 15 minutes then you go to work and boom! The day gets crazy. The breath prayer of "Help me" or "Lord, have mercy" can bring relief in these moments. A short prayer that re-centers you throughout the day can be a useful practice for living with the pressure and the distractions. So, when you start to freak out, you take in a deep breath and as you exhale, you say your breath prayer. As pressure mounts, you remember to turn to God for help with very short prayers. This is a practice that can help folks stay on track in the midst of a whirlwind.
Certainly, going on retreats or having retreat days is a wonderful practice. I think the busier people are, the more they need that sort of thing.
Karen: I'm curious about the discipline of community, particularly because faculty tend to be introverted and they sometimes stay sort of holed up in their little office or lab. They might be drawn to some of the more individual practices, but what about communal ones?
Carrie: It’s funny you should mention that because I've been thinking about it a lot. In The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley speaks of cultivating the habit of an hour of conversation a week with a friend. That might be a very good practice for a faculty member. Because you're right, it’s often easier to go it alone, and while I think people need to step away from the distraction and the firehose of activity, we also need to be vulnerable and we need to get the support and care and input of others - ideally in a small group. But for faculty, an hour of conversation once a week with a person who is life giving and inspires trust is probably more than many introverted people get. And that could be a very good practice.
Karen: I hear people talking a lot about spiritual direction these days. Can you speak to that a bit? What is spiritual direction and how might people find it helpful?
Carrie: Well, first of all, it’s an ancient practice that got lost for Protestants for a long time and is now being recovered and becoming more and more common in Protestant circles. Thomas Merton said, “A spiritual director is one who helps another recognize and follow the inspirations of grace in his life in order to arrive at the end to which God is leading him.”
It's primarily listening for the Spirit’s movement and direction. The spiritual director can sometimes notice things the directee doesn't and then invite some reflection or attention. I think a spiritual director is especially helpful for people when there's a crisis, when things are hard, or when a person feels stuck.
At our faculty conferences, we offer spiritual direction as a service for our conference delegates. Each time I have served as a spiritual director, I wind up with at least one person who is new to the experience. It has opened some doors of insight, discovery, and awareness of possibilities of what God might be trying to do and say and new places he was wanting to take them.
Karen: What's your recommendation for someone who might be interested in learning more about spiritual direction?
Carrie: Gordon Smith has a book called Spiritual Direction that gives a great overview of the practice. Talk to anybody you know who has a spiritual director and find out how they got theirs and that usually generates some places to look. I bet if someone needed help finding a spiritual director, they could contact the good people at The Well and receive help there! [Note: If you're looking for a spiritual director, send us a message! There's a good chance we know someone who knows someone almost wherever you are.]
Karen: Are there challenges for women that might differ from men — either in type or degree? If so, what do you think those might be? Are there spiritual habits and practices that you think are particularly helpful for women?
Carrie: This is not true in every case, but in general, I find women to be more open to spiritual questions and growth. They're already asking questions and thinking about their inner lives often.
I will say this — I think what women struggle with all the time is anxiety and fear. That's just across the board. It's like somebody told women it's okay to be anxious because there's just no way not to be. Everybody has drunk that Kool-Aid. And they just live in anxiety and worry and fear.
And that is not what the Lord wants for us. The women I speak with are often unaware that there's actually help available, that the Holy Spirit can actually do some transformative work in us to help us be less anxious.
The big thing I would want to say to women is that we have to begin to develop a belief system that has space for a God who could actually speak into your anxiety. And there actually is such a God. He really would like to talk to you about this. And he would like to be a catalyst for change in your soul on this. Did you know that?
That's where I think the rubber meets the road with women. There's also all the identity stuff that comes with the challenge of being in a man's world in academic circles. Dealing with all that nonsense calls for extra effort grounding our identities in our beloved-ness. I think both men and women need that for slightly different reasons. Everybody is insecure and strutting around presenting with their academic expertise. But inwardly, everybody is dying. Knowing and admitting that, realizing how insecure we feel, and coming to a place where we can work on it is important.
Karen: How about your own spiritual battery? How do you stay spiritually sharp yourself even as you seek to walk with and provide resources to faculty around the country?
Carrie: Good question. I know that I am tightly wound, intense, dramatic. I can wear myself out pretty fast just with how I'm wired. For me, time alone that is quiet and not pressured is very important. I have noticed over the years that the “not pressured” part is really important. I need an unpressured, uninterrupted space where I don't have to worry about stuff and I can talk to God. So, when I can, like to get up before my husband and my dog and have an unhurried, quiet space. I do a variety of things in there. Sometimes I study Scripture. Sometimes I do Lectio Divina. Sometimes I listen to music and I always pray.
I have a prayer partner that I can call about anything, anytime. She does not live in my city, but we hold each other accountable and pray and that's really helpful. I have a spiritual director I meet with once a month, and that's very helpful. He calls me on stuff when I start becoming self-deceptive, which is very helpful.
And then rest. I just finished a vacation that had a lot of unhurried, unpressured quietness to it. I've learned that those are the kinds of vacations I need to have or at least within the vacation, there needs to be some of that. But that's also true of the Sabbath. There needs to be some actual time of rest on the Sabbath. I also like to do retreat days once a month. I'm not very good at keeping up with those, but they are very helpful, too. So it's breaking away from the performing and the do-do-do in the to-do list and the email and all that stuff and being quiet.
For me, it's recalibrating. It's hearing again that I am loved. It's hearing again that it's not about my performance. It's hearing again that failure is not the end of the world, all of those things. That's how I do it.
Karen: Your rhythms sound so refreshing. Some people might think that your life affords a great deal of space and free time. Is that the case?
Carrie: No, actually. I travel quite a bit and spend a lot of time in national meetings as part of my position with InterVarsity. I also live near my kids and grandkids and spend a fair amount of time with them as well. My life patterns are different now than they were when we had kids living at home, but the main thing I would say is that I’ve learned to prioritize time for my own spiritual health and personal reflection.
If someone feels that creating this kind of space is impossible, I would encourage them to take just one small step at a time. Could you find five minutes in the day to sit outside and breathe fresh air? Can you choose one breath prayer to come back to during the day? Can you set aside one hour of rest on a Sabbath?
Karen: Thank you — to you and to your team — for your attentiveness to faculty and your desire to bless them. Faculty, in general, can be pretty misunderstood in the culture and in our churches. So, it is great to have someone who is praying for them and thinking about ways to care for them and their souls.