Reflective Reading and Experiencing: An Ignatian Model for Writing Reflection Journals

Shelagh Larkin
MSW/LISW (Social Work)

Shelagh LarkinField Education is often referred to as the capstone experience. It is where the classroom and real life come together for the student. A critical part of field education is having opportunities to reflect on that which one is experiencing and then integrate that into what they have learned. One of the educational outcomes for field education as articulated by CSWE is a development of the professional self.


Having opportunities to think about what you are experiencing and then talk about it becomes an important part of developing that professional self. Cochrane and Hanley in Learning through Field, discuss the importance of "reviewing your work", they emphases the need for self-reflection and critical analysis of the work that you are doing. They go on to say, "You are responsible, in many ways, for the depth and breath of your learning by how honestly and openly you evaluate your work. This is not only the hardest part of being a student, but the most important part of being a professional" (Cochran and Hanley, pg. 65).They emphasize the need to engage in journal writing and encourage students to find a quite comfortable space to explore the journal assignment and thus learn how to process the work that the student is doing.

Canada and Furman, in their book, Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice, emphasis being reflective as a critical part of both personal and professional growth. They state that "Personal engagement in learning is a transformative experience that requires reflectivity, the practice of introspective self-reflection about how one's inner life reflects on the outer world "(Canada and Furman, pg. xxi). They relate reflection specifically to what they call "reflective reading" and state that the prerequisite is, "... silence-that is, quieting in order to know oneself, the inner stirrings of the heart, and the discerning wisdom of the intellect" (Canda, Furman, pg. xxi). They go on to explain that reflective silence requires, "a willingness to become introspective", to "get centered," and to pay gentle consistent attention to oneself and one's situation" (Canda and Furman, pg. xxi).

Reading and Experiencing

During the semester there will be several articles to read as well as the assigned reading from the course texts. It is helpful to think about establishing a structure for how to approach reading, reflection and journal writing. Canda and Furman's term "reflective reading" is also a useful idea to apply to the experiential aspects of field education and one that I will rename as "reflective experiencing". Canda and Furman discuss the importance of building this skill by being regular, consistent and disciplined. Thus, I encourage you to set a time for reading or experiencing and reflection and keep to that, by building it into your day or week. It is important to go beyond the restating of events, although setting the stage is helpful, your writing should be more than a blow by blow or a laundry list of activities, it should reflect the thinking, feeling and doing aspects of your reading or experiences. Ruth Barton in Sacred Rhythms, discusses the concept of "a rule of life". The author describes it as an important part of the Christian tradition that supports a process of spiritual transformation "day in and day out".

"A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? Actually, it might be more accurate to say that a rule of life seeks to address the interplay between these two questions: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?" (pg. 147)

This idea supports nicely the skill development aspect of reflection whether it is applied to a reading or an experience. Meaning, that reflection is not something that comes easy for all students, thus by approaching it as something that is important and needs to be incorporate into the day to day students will better develop their skills in reflection.

Ignatian Pedagogy

This is decidedly Ignatian in its philosophy and applicable to the process of professional development of self through the field experience. Ignatian Pedagogy refers to a model of education that looks at the whole student and is concerned with developing "men and women of competence, conscious, and compassion" (Traub, pg. 12). This is done by faculty considering several key areas, the context of students lives and encouraging students to reflect on past experiences, learn the skills of reflection and then challenge students to consider their actions. Although, the outcome is not spiritual transformation, the notion of what is it that I need to do daily, weekly; monthly to support my personal and professional growth is an important question to reflect on. How do I want to start and end each day and more specifically each day of field, when and where will I build in time for reading and quiet time for reflection and how does that contribute to my development as a social worker. It is my hope that these will be things that you will build in your student and professional life beyond field and that they will sustain you throughout your professional life.

Discernment and Ethical Decision Making

One of the values of Jesuit/Ignatian education is discernment. Discernment refers to, "a process for making choices when the option is not between good and evil, but between several possible courses of action all of which are potentially good." (Do you walk Ignatian? Pg. 6) The emphasis being on the process, a process that includes thinking, feeling and listening with an open heart, by reflecting on present and past experiences and noticing your reactions to people, events and ideas. All of this is used to help mitigate between two worlds, one, your outside experiences and the other, your inner dialogue. According to George Traub, S.J., in Do You Speak Ignatian?, "For Ignatius the process involves prayer, reflection, and consultation with others-all with the honest attention not only to the rational (reasons pro and con) but also to the realm of one's feelings, emotions, and desires (what Ignatius called "movements" of soul)" (Traub, pg 2). Thus, it becomes a way of knowing oneself and the world which is another important value of Jesuit/ Ignatian education.

The ability to engage in ethical decision making and resolve ethical dilemmas is at the heart of discernment which is a critically important skill in a professional social worker. However, moral decision making is not always innate and often complicated by the development of the student themselves. During late adolescence students are coming to grips with who they are and how they see themselves engaging in the world and particularly how they see themselves as a professional social worker, thus it is necessary to develop this skill through a process of listening, reflecting through attending to thoughts and feelings and then acting. Thus, developing this skill is critical. It is critical to be able to take in information and sit with it and integrate it with that which you already know or have experienced and then make some determination about that information. It is as equally important to be truly open and listen to the experiences you are having. One of the tools that can help develop this skill is writing reflection journals. Thus, each week students will have the opportunity to sit down in a quite place and think, feel, ask questions, make determinations and take action about the experiences they have had and then write about them. This is such an important part of the educational process that students will be able to count 1 hour of field a week toward this endeavor.

On-going Reflection Process

Trudelle Thomas has articulated a four step process for ongoing reflection that I think is an effective model for students to use to enhance their reflection journal writing as well as contribute to the larger process of professional development. I will lay out the four steps and then incorporate information relating to professional development of self as a social worker.

ATAS: Attend Think Act Share
1. Attend (paying attention to experiences in my own life, in field and in the world around me including "current events")
This is closely aligned with the Ignatian value of "knowing the world". In professional development this is so important because one of the measures of a true professional is the ability to fully understand the whole client system. Similarly, Ecological System theory suggests that the self is the result of the interaction between the individual and the environment, thus it is important to be as aware as possible of both the individual and the environment.

This also relates nicely to the value of listening and having dialogue for the sake of understanding and not attending to things with an agenda. However, at some point in the helping process the professional social worker must have an agenda, a goal and a plan; however, in the initial engagement phase this skill is very helpful.

One might pay attention to:

  • Content of the reading for a course
  • the specific experiences or tasks of that week
  • various successes, concerns and challenges.
  • that which stood out to you
  • that which has stuck with you during the day or over the week
  • feelings, thoughts, ideas,

2. Thinking through ("critical analysis", seeking insight, and finding significance)...
The skill of critical thinking is at the heart of Jesuit education as much as it is an outcome for Social Work education. Thus, some of the questions that one might ask as they are thinking critically about their experience could first be related to the self:

  • Choose a focus, retell the idea or event, and explain how this is important to you.
  • What do you recall was your reaction at the time?
  • What do you think about it now as you look back?
  • What is it about you that make this stand out?
  • How does this relate to you? (for example, does this relate to your areas of interest, life experience, strengths, limitations, feedback you have been given before.)
  • Try to connect this experience to who you are and why it is you are focusing on this.
  • What does this tell you about who you are as a person and a social worker and what does it tell you about further growth and development.
  • What are the systems and structures that have shaped and are shaping my life, who I am, and who I am becoming as a person and a professional?
  • Then apply these same questions to your field site, supervisor, peers, and client systems.
  • What forces are working to create wellness (peace, good will, satisfaction, freedom, social justice, human rights)
  • What forces are working against it?
  • Lastly, how might I create wellness?

3. Action (the "doing")
Often writing a reflection journal leads to the need to act or the "doing" of Social Work. Thus, that is the next step.

  • What is it I am being called to do in my personal life or as a professional social worker?
  • Set a personal of professional and plan of action

Separating the personal and professional can often help in areas where people feel conflicted as to how they should act personally versus professionally. It is also critically important in professional development to understand the self and see the intersection of the personal self and professional self. Some things that a professional does will be easy and closely align with who they are as a person while others may be hard. It will be through this process that one will better illuminate that distinction and thus become a more aware, fully integrated professional self.

Sometime just the writing is the "doing" or action and results in a deeper sense of the self and your work.

4. Share
The last step in the process is to share. The pre-placement and senior seminar provides an excellent opportunity for students to share that which they are noticing and attending to about themselves, their client systems, placement sites and the world around them. It is important that the sharing happen in a safe environment, free of judgment, so that one can fully share.

In my teaching I have worked on how to create such an environment and I think it takes a commitment by all participants and a willingness to be open and accept the diversity of ideas that will be shared. In Father Graham's diversity Paper he speaks of "listening' for the sake of listening or listening without an agenda. I think this is a useful concept to bring to life in seminar, by encouraging all members as well as myself as the teacher to just listen creates a new environment.

It is also equally important to create an environment in which people can challenge one another with the goal of helping one another come into what Elizabeth Liebert refers to as "internalized and self-validated moral principles." This is the ability to internalize your values such that your actions flow from within as apposed to doing something because you are told that that is the right things to do. It is the result of self-awareness and ultimately moral or ethical decision making that finds it core in both the personal and professional self because it is always important to look at your actions and decisions form both perspectives.

It is important to note that this is not a hard and fast linear process; obviously these four steps could occur in any order. I have laid them out in the order that fits the best, however, sharing could be the trigger that leads to attending, thus it is more important to become comfortable with the four concepts and discover how the process enfolds for you. The primary purpose of the 4 steps is to facilitate deeper reflection journals, and better develop the skill of discernment but it is my hope that all four areas will be equally developed and thus contribute to ones overall professional development.

Reflection Journal Writing Guidelines:

  1. Read the assigned reading or engage in an experience.
  2. Find a quiet place and get comfortable.
  3. Title, date and number the journal, including the actual question if applicable. Hand write legibly or type, if it cannot be read it will be returned and you will need to type it.
  4. Although the length is not as important as the time and content, a general guideline is as follows a minimum of 2-3 pages hand written or 1-2 typed pages (single spaced).
  5. For Pre-Placement seminar respond to the reading and worksheet questions or ideas in full and explore the major concepts in detail as they relate to field. The purpose of the specific worksheet questions is to trigger you're thinking about the reading.
  6. The reflection journal is for you, it is a place to, process, ask questions, and explore your thoughts and feelings about the specific content areas, the placement/field process, field experiences, and general questions concerning field. My hope is that you will chose to use the journal in this way as apposed to simply completing the specific reflection piece.
  7. Additional areas that a student could write about would be:
    • diversity issues,
    • legal or ethical concerns
    • organizational or systemic concerns
    • role
    • process and content of supervision
    • overall learning
  8. Read the Field Education Coordinator comments. One of the purposes of the feedback is to improve your journal writing skills so that you will get the most from the readings, discussions and experience and be well prepared for seminar.

Canda, E. R., and Furman, L. D. (1999). Spiritual diversity in social work practice: The heart of helping. New York: The Free Press.
Cochrane, S. F., and Hanley, M. M. (1999). Learning through field: A developmental approach. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Conn, J. W. (1996). Women's spirituality: Resources for christian development (Second ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Derezotes, D. (2006). In Quinlin P. (Ed.), Spiritually oriented social work practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Mooney, D. K. (2004). Do you walk ignation? A complication of Jesuit values expressed in the work day (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Xavier University.
Staral, J. M. (2003). Introducing ignatian spirituality: Linking self-reflection with social work ethics. Social Work and Christianity, 30(1), 38-51.
Thomas, T. (2005). Spirituality in the mother zone: Staying centered, finding god. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Traub, G. W. (2002). Do you speak ignation? A glossary of terms used in ignation and Jesuit circles. Cincinnati, OH: Xavier University.

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Rethinking Magis

Trudelle ThomasTrudelle Thomas, Ph.D. (English)
working with Mentee Shelagh Larkin, MSW/LISW (Social Work)


During the past year Shelagh Larkin and I met regularly to talk about Ignatian principles, particularly in regard to her seniors in Field Instruction, and juniors in Pre-Placement for Field. I supplied her with several articles on spirituality, some from a feminist perspective and some from a Jesuit perspective, and she supplied me with several readings about the pressing need to integrate spirituality in Social Work. I found our exchanges to be intellectually stimulating and spiritually provocative, as well as a lot of fun. We both felt that our mentoring relationship was one of the best professional development experiences we've had at Xavier.

We shared similarities and differences. We both embrace feminism, and she allowed me to realize I too have "the heart of a social worker" toward the needy. Also the difference in our spiritual orientations was an asset; I view myself as a "post-denominational Christian" while Shelagh described herself as a "spiritual humanist." My training as a writer/writing teacher and her training as a social worker allowed us to form an especially interesting partnership.

As a result of our mentoring relationship, I developed three graphics that I plan to use with my students that I hope will be helpful to others interested in Ignatian spirituality:

  • Rethinking Magis in an Addictive Culture: A Less-Is-More Approach
  • Rule of Life: The Wheel of Practices for Creating a Personalized Rule of Life
  • An Array of Healing Packages: Finding God in All Things Healing

All of these are especially suitable for using with seniors or others preparing to begin professional life. I have used them with students preparing for Service Learning Semesters and with pre-service English teachers. Shelagh used "The Wheel" with her seniors in Field Instruction in connection with their capstone paper, "Professional Development of Self."

Other faculty are welcome to use any of these three graphics provided you give proper credit. I also welcome correspondence about them at

The Problem with Magis

Though I have an abiding appreciation for Ignatian principles, I have always felt ambivalent about the concept of Magis, a commitment to excellence, or "the more." When I read the "generosity prayer" of St. Ignatius, these words make me uncomfortable: "Help me to give and not count the cost . . . to toil and not seek for rest." Because we live in a society that often rewards addictive behavior (especially workaholism and materialism), defining Magis simply as "the More" can reinforce compulsive activity, particularly in the realm of work. It can also lead to exploitation of those on the lower rungs of any organizational hierarchy. Our mentoring relationship gave me a chance to devote some reflection time to my discomfort with Magis.

As a female faculty member trying to find a sustainable balance between my work life (teaching, research, and service), my own interior life, and my family life (parent, spouse, daughter to aging parents, etc.), I have often been haunted by the sense that no matter how hard I work or how carefully I manage by time, I will never possibly accomplish enough to fulfill my responsibilities according to the high standards I set for myself. Defining Magis as "the More" or "the spirit of excellence" has reinforced this guilty feeling that I should be doing more, especially early in my career.

In time, I came to realize that this was not simply a personal problem, but rather a problem faced by many people who are tending families while building careers in academia and other fields historically male. I discovered there is a psychological term for this feeling of "never-enough": "insatiability" is a psychological term used to refer to people who compulsively seek more possessions, more money, more stimulation, etc. It is also applied to those who compulsively seek more activity and productivity. Whatever the object, insatiability undermines job satisfaction and can work against spiritual well-being. Unfortunately, U.S. culture reinforces the insatiable search for more consumption, work, and a narrow kind of productivity.

As a result of my discomfort, I have begun to articulate another way to think about Magis. Now, for me Magis means a life of service that is sustainable and balanced. It is a life that is marked by quality and intentionality, rather than simply by quantity. I'm inspired by the Benedictines' emphasis on a life balanced between study, work and prayer. A more contemporary example is that of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life... How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, who divided their lives among "bread work," cultural work, and community involvement, devoting four hours a day to each. Shelagh explained to me that the question of "work life balance" is explicitly addressed in the professional literature in Social Work. Certainly the huge influx of women into the paid work force over the past thirty-five years makes the question especially significant.

My new view of Magis led me to develop Figure 1 below, "Rethinking Magis." It can help our students as they transition into the paid work force and parenthood.

Rule of Life: A Sustainable Professional Life for Our Graduates (and Ourselves)

Closely related to Magis is the idea of developing a personalized Rule of Life. Shelagh invited me to give a talk to her Senior Seminar (which runs concurrently with Field Instruction) on the need to find spiritual practices and habits as they transition into professional life. I explained to students that "practices" refers to habitual, intentional activities (also known as disciplines) that an individual or a religious community chooses to observe in order to deepen its openness to God. A "Rule of Life" refers to a set of such practices that serves as a sort of template for living. Historically a "Rule of Life" has referred to a set of communal practices but in recent years many lay people are developing a personalized rule of life adapted to their individual circumstances.

The professional literature in Social Work addresses the need for self-care. Social workers are at risk for burn-out and compassion fatigue, so it is especially important for them to practice self-care. Yet often self-care is defined too narrowly as stress-management or commercialized "me-time" (vacations, shopping, exercise, manicures, etc.) without any attention to spiritual needs. We both felt the Ignatian tradition had something to offer soon-to-be social workers. I wanted to offer them a way to think about self care that was rooted in a sense of interiority that included listening to God and paying attention to daily experience as a place to encounter the Divine.

This desire led me to develop Figure 2 below: Rule of Life: The Wheel of Practices for Creating a Personalized Rule of Life. This "wheel" grows out of the Ignatian tradition and also out of a renewed interest in the United States in contemplative "practices." It includes six different types of spiritual activities. These activities appear in different world religions and are adaptable to different faith traditions or to a spiritual life apart from organized religion.

In my presentation to Shelagh's seniors, I described the six types of practices, with special emphasis on two: Silence and Solitude; and Home-front Economics (the use of resources of time, money, energy, etc.). Students were quite enthusiastic about the talk, and about my emphasis on these two categories. My presentation was followed by breakout questions, and Shelagh went on to tie Rule of Life presentation to the seniors' capstone paper, "Professional Development of Self", due a month or so later (at the end of spring term). She reports on this assignment elsewhere in this volume of Teaching to the Mission.

This graphic on "Rule of Life" grows out of my own research for a book-in-progress. My research led me to discover several practical, beautiful books on the spiritual disciplines geared to contemporary readers. Although not all are explicitly Ignatian, they all offer valuable guidance on "finding God in all things" and developing an interior life. They are listed at the end of this essay.

Healing Packages: Resilience in the Face of Suffering

I'm regularly invited to give a presentation on journaling to Service Learning students who are preparing to spend a semester overseas. They write in a journal to record their service experiences, then use it as the basis for a reflection essay on the whole service experience. Upon their return students often feel depressed and cynical about how much lower the standard of living is in Third World countries compared to first world countries, and become alienated from the United States. I saw a need for a way to reflect on the strengths of their home countries as well as the shortcomings (in much the way that social workers are trained to assess clients in terms of their strengths, not simply their problems).

When I give my journal talk, I use figure 3 to show practices or activities that many world cultures use to promote health and well-being. I invite students to compare the ways these practices appear in the U.S. with the way they appear in their host countries. This helps them to see the strengths of both cultures and countries, and to consider ways they might import some of what they have learned. Not all of them will be able to return to Nicaragua or India, but all will have opportunities to work for a more just and healthy world. I see these values as growing out of the Jesuit concern with "cura personalis"-care of the whole person. While the "Wheel of Practices" shows various practices that individuals can implement voluntarily, this graphic shows larger communal practices. (I drew upon various readings that Shelagh supplied and especially upon psychologist Mary Pipher's 2002 book, The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community). The word "packages" is used by Pipher.) This graphic helps to consider many different aspects of a culture that can promote health and wholeness, including intangible aspects; it helps them see beyond a sole focus on economic resources. (During his Spring 07 visit to Xavier, Dr. Paul Farmer talked about the limitations of a "cost-effectiveness" approach to health in Third World countries; this graphic encourages students to look beyond a deficit model and identify other resources.)

Recommended Reading:

The following are books that helped me develop the graphics above, especially "A Personalized Rule of Life." I think any of them are valuable to other mentors, mentees, and students who want to adapt Ignatian spirituality to contemporary life. Barton's book draws on St. Ignatius explicitly, though it was published by an evangelical publisher.

Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. My personal favorite.

Bass, Dorothy, and Don C. Richter, eds. Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2002.

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Nearing, Helen and Scott. Living the Good Life. . . How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. Harborside, ME: Social Science Institute, 1954.

Pipher, Mary. The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

Taylor, Betsy. What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy: Tips for Parenting in a Commercial World. New York: Time Warner Books, 2003.

Thompson, Marjorie. Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. Louisville: WJK Press, 2005.

Dyckman, Katherine, et al. The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001.

Figure 2

Rethinking "Magis" in an Addictive Culture: The Less-is-More Approach to "The More"

Magis - "Latin for more; suggesting a spirit of excellence; commitment to quality." (From Do You Talk Ignatian? By George Traub).

Thomas - A spirit of excellence invites us into a commitment to quality, intentionality, balance, and collaboration. It is marked by respectful relationships and by compassion for self and others.

An Addictive View The Less-is-more Alternative

1. Tunnel-vision

  • Specialization without larger context
  • Attachment to own agenda
  • Excessive seriousness and solemnity
  • Excessive individualism

2. Excessive focus on work-life

  • Strong separation between personal values and work values
  • Work always comes first
  • Disregard for health and relationships (unless life-threatening)
  • Maintenance of status quo

3. Over-reliance on outward signs of success

  • Accept values of workplace uncritically
  • No time for daily examen
  • Quantifiable measures of success only (achievement, affluence, attractiveness)
  • Busy-ness seen as a status symbol

4. Lack of compassion for self and others

  • Disregard for human limitations
  • Maintain appearance of success
  • Deficit orientation (preoccupation with perceived shortcomings of self and others)
  • Perfectionism "Prove that you merit respect"

1. Perspective

  • "Big picture" orientation
  • Detachment when needed
  • Sense of humor
  • Ability to collaborate

2. Harmony and balance

  • Congruence between inner and outer values
  • Adequate balance between work and family
  • Attention to health and honest relationships (ongoing)
  • Commitment to growth and renewal

3. Inner authority

  • Development of personal Rule of Life
  • Daily examen; discernment
  • Cultivation of an inner compass to determine success
  • A human pace of life

4. Compassion and respect for self and others

  • Care for the body
  • Candor about mistakes
  • Strengths orientation (focus on strengths of self and others)
  • Unconditional positive regard assumed for self and others

My thinking has been shaped by Anne Wilson Shaef (The Addictive Society), Elizabeth Liebert, Christian Northrup, and others.

Figure 3

Physical well-being.
decent nutrition, sleep, physical activity, and sometimes medical intervention.

Worldview respect.
Feeling that one's worldview is respected by others. Respecting worldviews that are different than your own.

Outreach/ service.
"Working for the welfare of others is the best antidote to despair." Sharing joy or sorrow with others.

Safe, calm places.
Places that are protected from noise and tension. Beautiful spaces.

Contact with nature.
The three salts-the sweat of hard work, tears, the sea. Pets. Walks in the countryside. Wilderness. Time alone outdoors. Gardening.

"Unconditional high regard". Family and friends. Caring. Encouragement.

Exposure to beauty in music, nature, language, the visual arts. Beauty spaces. Texture and touch.

Creative Expression
through visual arts, making music, writing, dance, crafts, and other creative endeavors.

Keeping hope alive by believing things will get better. Religious faith. Contact with children. Finding meaning for the future

Having a say so about your life and your attitudes. Pride. Learning.

Rites of initiation.
A sense of purpose. "Why am I here?" "The power of small gesture." Rituals that mark the beginning.

Cleansing experiences.
Deliberately letting go of negative experiences. Rituals to help absolve, release. Forgiveness.

Celebration and festivity.
Parties. Sharing food, humor, dance, games, fun. Celebrating strengths and victories.

Prayer and meditation.
Calming oneself down. Reaching out to God or a Higher Power.

Social activism and advocacy.
Working for justice and better living conditions for others. Future orientation.

Healing Packages: Finding God in All Things Healing
Fifteen Curative Factors That Cross Cultures

Based in part on Mary Pipher's Ch. 10, "Healing in All Times and Places" In The Middle of Everywhere, 2002. And Also "Cross Cultural Curative Factors" (Frank, 1972; Torrey, 1986), thanks to Shelagh Larkin.

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Expanding Horizons: A Christian Female Talks at Length with a Muslim Male

Trudelle Thomas, Ph.D. (English)
working with Mentee Anas Malik, Ph.D. (Political Science)

During the past year, my mentee has been Anas Malik, a new assistant professor in Political Science. We met at my home throughout the year to talk about the Ignatian heritage and aspects of his Muslim faith. Since we knew each other before beginning the mentoring program and shared a natural affinity, our discussions flowed easily. My son and husband both enjoyed getting to know Anas as well. The two of us also wrote letters to each other and traded readings about Ignatian and Muslim spirituality. Insights from our talks had an impact on both my teaching and research.

Topics of Discussion in Our Mentoring Partnership:

The value of research/study as a form of contemplation; Anas tells me that there is a longstanding respect for study as an important way of knowing God, something I had never thought much about before.


A shared admiration for the books of Karen Armstrong, who is much loved by Muslims because of her insightful writing about the life of Muhammad and the history of Islam. Anas and I were able to share an intimate lunch with Karen when she visited Xavier University in April. The last two chapters of her The Spiral Staircase eloquently extol the value of study as an avenue to ecstasy: "'Transcendence' means climbing above or beyond. . . . Study can be a disciplined attempt to go beyond the ego [that] brings about a state of ecstasy. . . . We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind" (279).


The importance of "the heart" as the center of knowing. Christian spiritual writers have spoken of the heart as the "core self," the center of longing and knowledge, the part of the human person that is able to behold God, the source of charity. Both Christianity and Islam assert the importance of love and intention as important to true knowing. In Islam, "God-wariness" arises in the heart when a person learns to live from the heart, the spiritual human being is born.


Greater awareness on my part of the history of hostility toward Muslims in the past and today. Thanks to Anas, I am now much more aware when literature, textbooks, and politicians demonize Muslims.

Ignatian Focus: ENGL 205 Literature and the Moral Imagination

During Fall semester, I incorporated Ignatian principles into my core course, Literature and the Moral Imagination, which focused on the theme of the Adult Life Cycle. In particular, the Ignatian themes of "finding God in all things" and "cura personalis" were woven throughout the course.

Early on I developed a handout called "Spirituality, Adulthood, and Stress" (see below) which provides categories for thinking about how humans develop Purpose, Connections (personal and political), and The Amazement Factor. We used these categories several times to talk about the novels/stories we read and about students' own lives. "The Amazement Factor" struck a chord in many, even those who regarded themselves as atheists-something that I didn't expect. In our initial discussion, students said they felt amazement when in nature, when falling in love, when studying science (sometimes), and when spending time with young children. Some readily understood Rachel Carson's famed comment: "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it" ( The Sense of Wonder). The Amazement Factor turned out to be an important theme in several of the works we read. For example, a few short stories showed grandparents instilling in children amazement toward nature. And in Chris Bohjalian's novel, Midwives, characters spoke about the amazement evoked by childbirth and newborn babies.

Students were surprised that adults might continue to experience amazement as they aged. One student wrote, "I always used to think my parents were 'set'-that once you reached age thirty or so, you no longer grew or changed. Now I see that people can always continue to grow. You never really have all the answers." "Age segregation" often causes students to be narcissistic and narrow-minded. The Amazement Factor promotes understanding across age barriers. Talking about how adults of various ages experienced Amazement helped students see beyond their adolescent ghetto.

Mysterium Tremendum

Once the course ended in December, I read more about the role of amazement in spirituality. I learned that there is a long-standing tradition of viewing God in terms of Mystery-a transcendent being that inspires wonder and awe. God's Mystery was emphasized in the early centuries after Christ but was neglected during the Enlightenment. In the twentieth century, some theologians, notably Jesuit Karl Rahner, emphasized that God is characterized by "an essential incomprehensibility" that can be known partially but never grasped by the human mind. The Divine is spoken of as Mysterium Tremendum, and encountering God evokes awe, wonder, even fear, on the one hand, and enchantment, beauty, and joy, on the other. At best, humans can catch glimpses or intimations of the Divine. We come to see the limits of human understanding and appreciate what some have called that "sweet country of understanding nothing."

Scientific advances, perhaps more than theology, have inspired amazement. Photographic images from the Hubble Telescope, first available to the public in 1990, reveal that the universe is much vaster, more ancient, and more grand than we imagined. The majesty of the cosmos shows how limited the human perspective has been. Similarly, discoveries about DNA and quantum physics are inspiring awe in scientists and non-scientists alike. Such discoveries have caused some thinkers to see a profound connection between the human mind and the works of God.

Viewing God as Mysterium Tremendum is conducive to dialogue among different religious traditions. In a time in history when many discussions deteriorate into stand-offs between the Left vs. Right, Saved vs. Unsaved, Enlightened vs. Benighted, appreciation for Mystery reminds us that all truth is limited. We can let uncertainty cause us to latch on to partial truths--or we can let it lead us into greater exploration. Here Rahner's concept of the "anonymous Christian" is useful: anyone who embraces truth and goodness is ultimately embracing the God of Jesus Christ (regardless of the labels assigned). Even though religious creeds may be quite different, there is common ground in how God is experienced.

Perhaps Jane Goodall says it best: "There are many windows through which we can look out into the world, searching for meaning. . . . [Often] we are confused by the tiny fraction of the whole that we see. It is, after all, like trying to comprehend the panorama of the desert or the sea through a rolled-up newspaper." (Jane Goodall, Through a Window).

Spirituality, Integrity, and Stress in Early Adulthood [Student Handout for ENGL 205]

The goals of "self understanding" and "self-knowledge" are at the heart of liberal education, and of most of the great philosophical traditions. Yet, according to a recent study of the professional lives of professors, they are seldom discussed overtly in academic life.

The following concepts will help you know yourself better now and also help you continue to grow as a person in your future lives, especially your future work.

Please translate these into your own words, then see if you can apply them to characters in the works we're reading, I'm especially interested in your application of 2, 3, 4, and 6.

1. Knowledge -of various subjects; of various skill-sets (such as Instrumentation, Interaction, etc.); of self; of your religious and cultural tradition.

2. Purpose - aka a sense of personal mission; vocation or calling in your work-life (and after-work-life); service. Often spoken of in terms of "priorities."

3. Connection - meaningful relationships with other humans; love relationships, including family and spouse; relationships with co-workers. A sense of connection (or solidarity) to the larger human family including the marginalized. A sense of connection to animals, nature, and God might be included here. An understanding of how social systems and institutions operate. Awareness of the political nature of all organizations.

4. The Amazement Factor- a sense of awe, wonder, and mystery in the face of the world; the infinite; that which transcends time and the physical world; a sense of "the More" (W. James's term); yearning, joy, beauty, and enchantment are also associated with amazement.

5. Personal Renewal - what you do to keep yourself growing; how to avoid burnout; balancing the need for replenishment with the need to be productive and effective.

6. Encounters with evil - Is evil real? In what forms do you encounter evil? Issues of good vs. evil in your future work?

Reflection Questions re "The Amazement Factor" for Faculty (Mentors and Mentees)

1. What initially drew you to your area of study? Was there a moment of amazement that made you want to pursue this area? Has the amazement level increased or lessened in the course of your education?

2. Have you ever considered that study/research could be a form of spiritual devotion (or prayer)? That study involves more than information and sharpening the mind-that it might actually open a person to a transcendent level of reality? Have you experienced this affectively? Describe such an experience if you feel comfortable doing so.

3. Have you experienced a paradigm shift in your view of a subject? If so, what prompted this? What was your emotional response to this shift?

4. Does sharing a subject with a different generation cause you to see it differently?

5. Have there been times when a discussion in class opened up new insights into a subject, even amazement? Was this a happy accident, or did you lay ground rules conducive to such an experience?

6. Have events in your personal life impacted your intellectual life? Has aging or awareness of your mortality affected how you think about your field of study?

7. Are there things in your life that evoke enchantment, wonder, joy, peace? Does your field of study inspire these? Do these things have anything to do with your experience of spirituality, faith, or religious tradition?

8. What causes you to feel cynical or closed down about higher education (or Xavier University)? How do you respond to such feelings? Might junior faculty benefit from learning about how you cope with disillusionment?

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Mentoring: A Retrospective

Trudelle Thomas
Ph.D. (English)

The following is an adaptation of my presentation on Ignatian Mentoring , part of a panel with Debra Mooney, Rich Mullins, and Stephen Yandell at the Heartland-Delta Faculty Conference at Spring Hill College (in Mobile, AL) in February 2008.

Since we've talked about the value of stories this weekend, I'll share a bit of my own story. I had a dramatic faith awakening when I was 18 that eventually led me join a lay community in my twenties. It was there that I met my first Jesuits. The church group I'd been part of earlier viewed higher education with great suspicion, believing that it would lure a person away from God. The three Jesuits in my community helped me to see that there didn't have to be a separation between having a deep spirituality and a lively intellectual life. I was 25 at the time, just returning to college after some hardships, so the timing was perfect for me to encounter the idea of "finding God in all things." The Spirit was present not just in church services or a private prayer life-but in all things-books, study, nature, even secular professors! I earned my undergrad degree at a Jesuit university and relished the opportunity to learn in a faith-oriented context.

In the following years I went on to earn two master's degrees and Ph.D., all in state schools. When I entered the job market, I was very intentional about ending up at a school that shared my belief that spirituality and an intellectual life were intertwined. When I was being interviewed at Xavier back in 1987, the mission statement was what convinced me that I wanted to be at XU rather than elsewhere.

Then over the many years as a junior professor, I came to the harsh realization that the academic structure and reward system doesn't often support the ideal of spiritual wholeness. For at least a dozen years I struggled with loneliness and the feeling that I shouldn't talk about God or spirituality. It seemed ironic-the very values that had drawn me into higher education now made me feel like a misfit. Also during these years, the demands of tending to a young child and aging parents made me feel even more out of sync with my workplace. The Jesuit ideals had grown abstract and remote.

Then five years ago Debra Mooney invited me to take part in the AFMIX program (Assuring the Future of Ministry and Identity at Xavier). That marked a change in my whole sense of what it meant to be part of Xavier. For the next two years I met with a group every week where we read articles and heard speakers. The leaders set the tone for what Gray and Appleyeard call "honest dialog and reverent conversation" about a wide range of topics.

When I finished AFMIX, I jumped at the chance to become a faculty mentor. I've been a mentor now for three years, to three different faculty members, in three different departments-a Muslim, an agnostic, a Roman Catholic. This program has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. My commitment to teaching-to Xavier's mission-has been revitalized because of the mentoring experience.

In the course of mentoring, I found a pattern that worked for me. First, at the start, I made it clear to my new mentee that I didn't have an agenda, rather that she (or he) should lead the way; I would take my cues from her, what she wanted to talk and learn about. We used the five core Jesuit values as starting points (Magis, Cura Personalis, Finding God in all things, etc) but with lots of leeway. I also made it clear that I didn't want to convert her to a certain way of thinking. Rather, I wanted the relationship to be mutual, a give-and-take where we both valued the insights the other brought to our conversation. Our conversation focused on shared questions, not fixed answers.

Second, it was important that we both be able to be honest. I have many areas of struggle and disagreement in regard to the Catholic Church and Christian tradition, as well as areas of agreement. I wanted the freedom to speak frankly about struggle, doubt, and anger, and to offer the same freedom to my mentee. I wanted us both to be able to let our guard down. In all three relationships, we mostly met off-campus, at my home or in a coffee shop or restaurant, every three or four weeks (usually for about 90 minutes). Being in an informal place, a place without fluorescent lights, let us talk more freely. This candor and trust seemed to be mutual.

Third, we cultivated a feeling of reverence. Talking about big life questions and time-tested traditions set the tone for an attitude of reverence. I learned from Shelagh Larkin, one of my mentees, that the field of Social Work has a phrase: "unconditional positive regard." Social workers try to extend unconditional positive regard to their clients, no matter what hardships they are encountering. I've embraced this ideal in my family life, and also in my involvement with mentees. Faculty expend so much effort in the early years trying to prove themselves, being observed and critiqued, that it felt very freeing to simply be able to listen and enjoy the other person. We also generally avoided "shop talk" about university or departmental politics.

These three values-mutuality, honesty, and reverence-opened the door to wide ranging conversations. My mentee would choose a focus for each session, and we'd find relevant reading material in advance which served as a springboard. Usually I would supply readings dealing with Jesuit history or spirituality (supplied by Mission and Identity Office) but sometimes other sources; sometimes the mentee would supply the readings. In the course of discussing Ignatius and Ignatian values, many other topics also came up: writing and overcoming writing blocks, Ramadan, mental illness in the family, aging parents, helping teenage children make good decisions, what constitutes "the good life", marriage, what happens after death, work-life balance, forms of prayer, breastfeeding, childcare problems, money management, why we love literature, world events. The starting questions were often lofty-what is the purpose of life?-but the ensuing discussions focused on the nitty gritty. There was not a dichotomy between the spiritual and the intellectual, nor between the personal and the professional. Woven through all this were pedagogical questions-how to introduce Jesuit values into class discussions? How to find fresh language for introducing religious questions?

Each of the three different mentoring relationships have had their own special flavor but they all have offered me a sense of freedom. Freedom to let down my guard. Freedom to talk frankly about the interplay of education and the rest of life. Freedom to learn about a new field of study. At the end of a recent session with my mentee, one of us remarked, "This is what I hoped being a professor would be like!"

For those just now becoming mentors, here is what worked best for me and my mentees:

  • Mutuality (not trying to proselytize or defend the faith)
  • Honest dialogue (openness about struggle and disagreement)
  • Reverence (unconditional high regard for my mentee, avoiding shoptalk or gossip).
  • Meeting off campus every 3- 4 weeks, starting with an article as a spring board. I usually reserved about 90 minutes or so to meet.

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