By Dr. Roslyn “Roz” Weiner
QUESTION: I’m curious if you have noticed a connection between participation in one of your S.D. groups and one’s ability to sustain (and even thrive in) their ministry. In Christian circles, we see a concerning number of clergy leaving the ministry. I don’t know if Jewish communities are experiencing the same issue or not. Clearly many factors play into the decision to step away – including this season of a global pandemic. I have long suspected that many clergy don’t pour time and energy into the care of their own inner life – hence the burnout. Have you drawn any conclusions about the link between a commitment to this monthly spiritual practice and participants’ professional ministry?
ANSWER: For almost a year now the majority of clergy with whom I sit, whether individually or in groups, have voiced fatigue and frustration over the impact of the pandemic on their personal and professional lives. Among my individual clergy directees there is talk of burnout and wondering about retirement or other career directions. But I notice that in the groups when colleagues nod in support and communicate both wordless comfort and solidarity of spirit and struggle, invariably the mood lifts and there is meaningful sharing and listening. When one discovers that others too are seeking relief from unending pressure, isolation diminishes, and I sense (without inquiring) there is a renewal of energy.
By contrast, in individual work though I listen attentively and encourage contemplative exploration and ongoing patience, my witnessing is limited despite my compassion because I am not holding similar responsibilities and confronting similar challenges. However, whether engaged in individual or group direction, participants have chosen to provide spiritual nourishment to themselves and that act of choosing is powerful.
Self-care, whether physical, spiritual or emotional is an acquired habit. I wish it was taught as a responsibility. We speak of the importance of regular physical exercise; we are informed by medical specialists concerning the relationship between careful nutrition and the avoidance of certain diseases. We can seek counseling if feelings threaten to overwhelm. What about the thoughtful tending of the soul?
Some traditions emphasize prayer practices but most of these are framed in appreciating gifts and blessings bestowed by a generous creator. In preparation for ordination in any tradition, how much attention is directed towards cultivating habits of spiritual self-care? I suspect that an insufficient emphasis results in clergy with a narrow understanding of soul care’s importance and a limited number of spiritual self-care tools.
I crafted a structure for group spiritual direction as a communal vehicle for clergy to contemplatively look within and support others undertaking the same effort. I had no idea how much of a commitment clergy would choose to make. The fact that groups have chosen to remain together for years is testimony to the power of spiritual self-care in the company of others. I suspect the answer to your question is YES, the link is there.
~ ~ ~
This is your chance to ask questions about the practice and process of group spiritual direction and get answers from respected author and spiritual director Dr. Roslyn “Roz” G. Weiner.
SDI Press published Roslyn’s book Seeking in the Company of Others: The Wisdom of Group Spiritual Direction in late 2021. Soon afterward, Roz led an SDI webinar series about GSD.
The response to both the book and the webinar series has been lively and the conversation fruitful. So, we thought we would share your good questions and Roz’s wisdom with all the SDI community through this column, which will appear monthly in our SDI Stories section of our website.
Please email us your questions here, and Roz will offer her responses to one or two queries in this column on a monthly basis.
~ ~ ~
Dr. Roslyn G. Weiner, PhD, STM is the author of the new book from SDI Press, “Seeking in the Company of Others – The Wisdom of Group Spiritual Direction.” She is a seasoned spiritual director and psychologist, with 18 years of experience facilitating groups in spiritual direction. She earned a PhD in psychology from Yale University and an STM degree from the School of Theology, Boston University.