When I first started exploring beyond the bounds of my charismatic evangelical Christian background, I would save up questions to unleash whenever I met with a particular trusted learned Christian friend who was evidently far more spiritually relaxed than I was. In fact, he tended to pose more questions than provide answers, but now and again he would light little wisdom fuses that would fizz away in my head, stirring things up for a long time afterwards. Such as the time he just casually dropped into the conversation, ‘Well, of course, there’s nowhere that God isn’t…’
I felt both thrown and strangely exhilarated. I recalled all the years of tippy-toeing around dark places and dodgy people my church tradition had warned me to avoid – spiritual ‘dementors’ who could suck up your soul if you so much as came within spitting distance. Yet, even here, my friend seemed to imply, there could still be signs of God for those who cared to change their focus.
Yet since that time I’ve discovered something even more awesome. Not only is there nowhere God isn’t, but sometimes he is more authentically represented in places you would least expect to find him, than in those you would.
Some years ago I began to train in coaching and related fields of human potential psychology. And to begin with, despite my trusty Christian friend’s input, I still found myself instinctively tip-toeing around the edges of some of the content. Somehow, the evangelical ‘Jesus is the answer’ refrain continued to worry away inside, causing me to question at a sub-conscious level at least, the validity of other approaches.
But then things began to get interesting. First, I discovered I was quite good at this stuff. Fellow-students I partnered with were experiencing deep shifts during some of the exercises I took them through, and began to book me to partner with them for the rest of the day. Interestingly, I found that working with them didn’t feel much different from my experience of praying with people. One girl actually burst into tears as she broke through a historical issue, then took me aside and somewhat weirdly asked ‘Who are you?’ She probed, insistent, until I found myself telling her about my work in Christian media – and then pounced on the information: ‘I knew it!’ She explained that she felt she had just had a profound spiritual experience and was convinced I was the conduit. I found myself reflecting again on the ‘nowhere that God isn’t’ idea.
The second thing I noticed was that the approaches I learned really came into their own when used in coaching sessions with other Christians. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, since they had already helped me see off a long-standing issue. People who felt they were failures because despite being prayed for week after week, they still experienced defeat in some area of their lives; those who faced unexpected personal challenges for which they felt they had no coping mechanism; others whose unwanted behavioural issues were hurting both themselves and others… all discovered that they already had the inner resources to overcome their particular challenges – it was just that no-one had ever pointed out what they were and how to use them.
Interestingly, the fact that these people were now able to deal with these issues not only resolved some deep-seated problems, but also changed the way they felt about both themselves and God. Asking for prayer week after week had gradually made them feel victims: unless God sovereignly acted, then they were powerless, defeated. Worse, continuing unanswered prayer began to leave them with gnawing doubts about God’s care for them, or a sense that they must somehow have fallen far short of the mark. Simple strategies involving language and internal processing not only helped them resolve their issues, but in a triple-whammy, also removed stumbling-blocks from their relationship with God and restored their sense of self-esteem.
But it’s the third discovery that’s grabbing my attention just now. From the start, I picked up a huge level of spiritual interest amongst the delegates at my trainings. Somehow, rather than causing them to feel self-sufficient, learning about the intricate way we have been made and the powerful nature of our natural resources such as language, often prompted deep questions about God and the Universe. And it seems that this spiritual awareness is becoming as much of an influence on this area of study as an outcome of it.
At times I am still taken aback by the wealth of wisdom to be found in this particular coaching field. Wisdom that sometimes references biblical terminology – albeit at variance sometimes with its original meaning. For instance, the importance of ‘blessing’ children through our interaction with them so that, along with rest of ‘the Community of Saints’ assigned to their welfare, we protect their vulnerable spirits rather than imply innate badness, and saddle them with ‘curses’. If they are brought up in this way – unlike in some religious establishments, apparently (!) – they will be enabled to grow up whole and healthy and to fulfil all they have been put on Earth to achieve.
There’s more. In fact, there’s a whole movement in transformative coaching based on the importance of ‘awakening the soul’, connecting with and drawing from God, or ‘from wisdom that is beyond the cognitive self… the divine.’ Prayer and meditation are part and parcel of trainings I have come across.
One of the main pioneers of this personal growth model is a Christian, others have a Christian heritage and are on a spiritual journey, while others still come from Jewish and other spiritual backgrounds and find they are unearthing authentic, transformational truths on their travels. Importantly, they originally set out to discover what would work rather than to build a prescriptive model based on their particular spiritual worldview. Over their lifetime they have found much that has worked and had great success. Drawing now on their life’s lessons and discoveries, they have integrated a spiritual dimension into their model, explaining how it not only makes a natural fit with their approach, but explodes its potential for transforming lives. Their personal authenticity, together with their deep grasp of psychology, strong spiritual values and spiritual connection is uncannily reminiscent of Richard Rohr.
Just now it’s beginning to feel as though not only is there nowhere that God isn’t, but that many fields in so-called secular life are undergoing similar shifts, with a spiritual component inexorably becoming identified as part of the mix. And because these areas have evolved organically rather than out of someone’s particular doctrinal template, they can often end up reflecting more refreshingly authentic ‘Kingdom of God’ values and outcomes than some self-consciously Christian approaches.
It’s not just within coaching and related areas. Once the blinkers are off, I believe the evidence can be seen everywhere. What is happening? Why? Is it just me? Or is there really nowhere God isn’t – even in places people have been intent on keeping him out?
I’m an explorer by nature. A couple of weeks ago I finally got around to visiting London’s Sunday Assembly – dubbed ‘The Atheist’s Church’ by the media, curious for more answers. And the plot thickened… TBC