Roger Hurding navigates an ancient pathway towards wholeness as reviewed by Bowman Walton
The Ascent of Mount Wholeness:
A review of The Five Pathways to Wholeness by Roger Hurding1
by Bowman Walton
All who guide souls use maps. These are often unconscious, and always metaphorical, but sometimes drawn on paper. When zealous young women of the sixteeenth century joined the renegade convents of the "barefoot" Carmelites in Spain, St John of the Cross guided each of them with a sheet of parchment. As each novice watched, he inked in the years of darkness and light ahead of her, and then at the very top he sketched in her goal, contemplation infused into her heart by God, the summit of Mount Carmel. This map was his spiritual doctrine personalised,2 one compassing the entire journey of director and soul along the well-travelled road of purgation and illumination to union with Christ. Because he was not quite modern, St John did not anticipate that there might be paths to God beyond that one.
Today, our spiritual imaginary compasses many more landmarks, and five are common destinations-- the Valley of Repentance, the Healing Spring, Maturity Plateau, Mount Carmel, and the Vale of the Peaceable Kingdom. Each attracts serious pilgrims who err and stray with distinct devices and desires in their hearts. And although we are no longer as modern as we were, we are still being shown new maps for souls by mapmakers no less confident now than the Mystical Doctor was then-- stern biblical counselors, empathic healing ministers, avuncular pastoral counselors, sensitive spiritual directors, and visionary social reformers. Yet their maps do not all show the same territory, and even when they do, edge does not line up to edge in the same scale. Indeed, the mapmakers themselves can be tribal, even partisan, which sadly mirrors divisions in the Church herself. They are often lost.
Roger Hurding has analysed and practised these paths of healing for decades, and in Five Pathways to Wholeness, he helps these helpers with the irenic argument implicit in his title-- one can help others in Christ, not just in one all-sufficient way, but in five good ways that all lead souls toward wholeness in Him. The book is itself a map-- or better yet, a compass-- not for self-help, but for other-help that is better oriented to our spiritual terrain. The tribes of mapmakers usually eye each other warily from afar, but Hurding, a psychiatrist used to broaching the unmentionable, insists in this book that they learn from each other.
In his first chapter, he describes the world's brokenness and kindly lets them draw the obvious application for themselves. Then in his middle chapters he leads them together on a tour, not straight up to the high peak of Mount Wholeness, but around its great shoulders to each of their trail heads and thence up through forest to the misty places where they lose their several ways. By urging them to hear the Word afresh, and showing them that their destinations are but stages up toward Wholeness, Hurding is able to point the lost to the summit. But he also adapts this general advice to the understanding of each tribe, and the masterful way that he does this is one of the book's fascinating subtexts.
The first trail head met is that of the biblical counselors, those whose logical, sequential, left-brained maps of scriptural argument offer those they counsel an authoritative "thus says the Word." By invoking the authority of the pure Word of God, these mapmakers try to elicit trust, hope, and compliance in the listener that will motivate changes in thought and behaviour. Doubtless many have been helped in this way, but as this trail descends to steeper slopes, biblical counselors have sharply disagreed on the use of knowledge from psychotherapy. Their dilemma: if they use psychological knowledge, then they abandon the pure authority that makes their counsel distinctive and effective, but if they do not use this knowledge to better engage the hearts and minds of their counselees, then they may win arguments but lose souls. Divided at this foggy fork in the trail, and still far from the floor of the Valley of Repentance, they disperse into the dark forest.
In Chapter Two, Hurding, a sometime tribesman himself, first reviews the history of this dilemma, and then attacks both of its horns. To give truly scriptural help, he advises, biblical counselors should follow the Bible itself in looking, not just at 'special revelation' on the surface of the text, but also in the mind of Christ at his 'general revelation' of human nature and the world. And to be true counselors, able to fully engage the minds of their counselees, they should explore for themselves an intuitive, non- sequential, right-brained spirituality that is deeper than the theorems and scripts of the surface mind.
Then finally, for the delicate business of helping fragile people, they should draw 'the sword of the spirit' of Ephesians 6:17 with much more discretion than a text-slinging 'Bible geek' is apt to have. Each of Hurding's counsels complements the other two, and all three are necessary to escape the fog. As he explains them, the biblical counselors see pastoral counselors and spiritual directors nodding agreement.
At the next trail head, we meet healing ministers who would help those with injury, disease or pain toward the Healing Spring, but they cannot quite decide where those waters are. When evil afflicts the body, they do project confidence, but arousing hope whilst avoiding magic, they tread warily up the trail. They never draw maps. They are the weakest of the tribes on Hurding's tour, but then the Lord's strength is made perfect in weakness.
In Chapter Three, Hurding, who has long been a patient himself, reflects on his own experience with a faith healer, and then describes some other initiatives for those with chronic suffering and pain. His exemplars have this in common: they seek God's presence, not just in the desired wellness, but in the lived illness itself. The Messiah comes to those who wait by the Water of Siloam, and it is best to wait, Hurding concludes, with more openness to others, to humour, and to God.
The pastoral counselors have just the opposite quandary-- they orienteer to Maturity Plateau with confidence, even through dense fog, but they wonder whether they have brought their 'clients' to quite the right place. Skilled pastoral counselors give others empathy, acceptance, and insight, and nudge them to struggle past limiting ideas toward a secure ego with the 'courage to be.' But where should these mapmakers plot a client's hard-won progress in relation to her redemption in Christ?
In Chapter Four, Hurding sees and corrects two causes of their confusion. Seeing that all their maps mislabel a mere base camp as the final destination, Hurding spreads out a larger map drawn by David Ford3 that shows a longer trail passing many phases of the self as way-stations-- a hospitable self, a self without idols, and other selves that are worshipping, singing, and finally eucharistic-- as it climbs to the high summit. Hurding reminds counselors, who can be slow to mention, or even to read, theology, that, "Each of us has an identity derived from who we are in relation to others and who we are, created, loved and redeemed by our Trinitarian God."4
Then noting their reticence in speaking boldly about the Bible, Hurding points out that, so long as they are very careful with the 'disclosive power' of the scriptures, apt metaphors from scripture can illumine the life circumstances of their clients from within. Donald Capps,5 for example, used the Psalms in grief counseling, the Proverbs in premarital counseling, and the parables of Jesus in marriage counseling, not just because they tend to be on point, but because their several kinds of metaphors are especially apt for those several kinds of conversations. If the biblical counselors have been too hasty to draw the sword of the spirit, the hospitable pastoral counselors have been too reluctant to draw it at all. Hurding shows them how not to fear the power of the Word.
As St John of the Cross did in his own age, spiritual directors today help pilgrims of prayer to read the signs along the interior road to God. But today's pilgrims are seldom zealous ascetics, and they often have identities and dispositions defined by their comfortable yet crazymaking milieux. Meanwhile, their directors scrutinise the faces in their mirrors, recalling that the founders of their practise fled the great Roman cities for desert solitude. How can we recover that singleness of heart today? In the West, earlier writers from St Jerome to St Francis de Sales have battled similar malaise by encouraging ascetic practises in the naughty world itself. Their echoes today are the bestsellers on spirituality that have disciplines-- the more the better-- as their central theme. Though that outside-in strategy has its place, Hurding's Chapter Five simplifies with simplicity itself, two meditations on 'face' and 'heart' that address the problem by redefining the ancient purgatio from the inside out. He counsels contemplatives to begin by cultivating both personal 'faces' that face facts and keep promises, and 'uncomplicated hearts' free of distractions and contradictions. St John's audacious nuns would not have needed this advice, but we do need it today, and the Mystical Doctor smiled when Hurding wrote it.
Finally, at the last trail head, social reformers persevering to the Peaceable Kingdom describe the ups and downs of their undulant paths. These rise steeply toward their prophetic dreams, drift down into the thousand compromises of social action, climb back up with chastened hope, then again plunge cynically down. In Chapter Six, Hurding varies his approach, first opening mapmakers' minds to their God-given places in the temple of nature, the dialogue of gender, and the confluence of the world's cultures. If not for this, some of the others would not see how the ministries of reform advance wholeness in Christ at all. Then, turning to those reformers, he leads them away from the ups and downs of prophets and politicians and shows them the level road of the biblical "wise one" seen, for example, in James 3:17-18. Hearing this, the social reformers seem intrigued as they thumb through their Bibles after him. Finally catching on, the biblical counselors show them the pages.
Having helped the tribes one by one, Hurding leads them all up to a high ridge to survey the paths they have taken. From this height, one cannot guess where the climbing figures far below began, and the distant trails criss-cross and converge like a web stretched up toward the peak. When all have taken this in, he turns them around, points up to the summit above, and explains that all our maps toward "wholeness" interpret St Paul's vision of the New Creation. That vision is the grand narrative in which all our itineraries make sense. And he must be right about this for our only use for any maps we make is to summon a soul's response to the Holy Spirit's initiative, and to direct her toward deeper participation in His anticipating work.
Now, every reviewer who tells a story of his own somewhat betrays his subject. And some practically- minded readers of this book will object that, in concentrating so much on Hurding's "Ways Forward," the present reviewer has gone much too far in ignoring its virtues as a simple account of how people help people in Christ. He says almost nothing about Hurding's narrative of his own life and practise as an Evangelical in England, though this first hand experience is surely what makes his advice so credible. He barely mentions Hurding's helpful introductions to the theory motivating each path; to its proponents and controversies; and to how it has worked out in his own experience. Nor has this thoroughly negligent reviewer even mentioned the handy list and table6 Hurding gives the inquiring reader to help her compare these paths across the book's inner chapters. In fact, the reviewer is so interested in Hurding's "Wholeness" that he seems in places to have read the book from back to front, even though any practical reader reads books from front to back.
And the terrible thing about all of these grave charges is-- they are true. This ambidextrous book can grab you in two ways-- either as a wise guide to the paths or as a wise path for the guides-- and one can review it in two ways as well. I have said less about this book as a masterful overview-- better than a textbook-- to say more about it as an offering for the life of the Church more ripe and full than any other that we will see for a long time. Roger Hurding has written a postmodern classic, and guides who follow all of his advice on the ascent of Mount Wholeness will be 'cross-training' in more ways than one.
2 This map, a diagram of his own experience interpreted in a Thomist theology, was itself the source of the poem on which his mystical treatises, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and the The Dark Night of the Soul, are the commentaries.
3 David F. Ford (1999) Self and Salvation: Being Transformed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5 See Donald Capps (2003) Biblical Approaches to Pastoral Counseling. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock.
Bowman Walton has advised successful candidates for the US Congress, founded an annual seminar for clergy, and reorganised a thriving ballet company. After reading molecular biology and neuroscience, he was graduated with honours from Harvard. He is writing a collection of essays on communities of wisdom in the postmodern world. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
These posts are by guest authors for Fulcrum