Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality. There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.
― David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery One of the great gifts of encountering someone different from us is a fresh awakening to who we are. It is simply impossible to deeply know ourselves in isolation. We need to be in a relationship with others in order to know ourselves. And in return, the more deeply we know ourselves, are we able to be known by others and experience closeness with others. Our relationship with God is no exception to this dynamic. Newly married couples often report that they never knew how they considered certain traditions, norms or behaviors as “normal” until they discovered in their spouse that it is not so for them. In the same way, people who cross over from their culture of origin to a foreign cultural landscape awaken to their own beliefs, norms, values and traditions. This awakening is never comfortable, and it is crucial in our spiritual formation journey. Crossing cultures  has an incredible potential to enlarge us, and our experience of self, God and the “stranger” who we have encountered. It is the gift of this new awakening. I remember when I first moved abroad at the age of 18. I was puzzled when the people whom I met started asking me about cultural norms, traditions and belief systems of my country of origin. All of the sudden I was expected to be the cultural expert and representation of my whole home nation. I hadn't given much thought at all to any of the questions I was asked. Over the years I have learned some answers to those questions by observing, listening and studying other people and cultures. And yet, many of the questions remain unanswered. Instead, I have a deeper appreciation for the reality that each of us carries within us several cultures and subcultures. They make up our unique sense of self and identity. Moreover, as our world has become more globalized and multicultural, an increased number of people today hold complex cultural identities. In cosmopolitan cities few people identify themselves strongly with the culture of their ancestry.  The markers of culture and identification with a particular ethnic, linguistic or national culture have blurred and become complex webs to navigate. And the fundamental human need to be known, understood and welcomed has not changed. Many of us know painfully well the suffering that crossing cultures has cost us and our communities. It was an experience marked by fear, anxiety, trauma, frustration and judgment rather than trust, openness and respect. If we want to transform as communities of followers of Jesus, we must lean into the practice of welcoming the “interior strangers” (the parts of us that are unfamiliar to us) and “the exterior strangers” (the people we meet who are unfamiliar to us) among us.  And we must welcome each stranger we encounter as guides and companions who will lead us into a deeper knowledge of God and ourselves. We cannot embrace and make space for the “strangeness” in the other unless we are willing to encounter the discomfort of unfamiliarity within ourselves. We need to be willing to surrender to the uncertainties we may face, knowing we will be misunderstood as well as we will misunderstand others on our journey to deeper belonging. Becoming spiritual companions across our cultural boundaries is a gift that is available for all but not all are willing to receive it. It is our faithfulness to God, ourselves and one another as Christians in the diverse and rapidly culturally changing world to become students of our and each other’s cultures. And with the word “students” I mean a commitment to a learning process of embodied, personal engagement with our affected selves, others and God. Cultures are largely formed through the (unhealed) trauma and resiliency of our ancestors whether we are aware of it or not.  When we open ourselves to respectful, compassionate and non-judgmental relationships with bodies of other cultures, we will find ourselves deeply known. God’s healing and transforming work can flow in and through us. Our image of God expands and becomes clearer and more complete, when we grow to know ourselves and others as uniquely formed parts of the diverse Body of Christ. No one single culture has seen and reflects perfectly the image of God, (hence no one cultural interpretation of the Scriptures is the “correct one”). Each has an equally important piece to add to the fullness of the knowledge of Christ. It is a profound grace to see God in the face of each fellow pilgrim who crosses our path, and a great gift to be changed by each such sacred encounter. Consider continuing putting attention and effort in growing your cultural awareness and regard by joining me in a 4-week long online course.
April 8 - 29, Thursdays, 5-6:30pm PT (6-7:30pm MT)
A 4-week course that accompanies holy listeners* through experiential learning, reflection, creative practices and discussion into a deeper cultural awareness as they seek to faithfully welcome the "other" in their soul care practice. Topics include: Development of cultural identity and early faith formation; privilege, power and two sides of the cross; listening companions in an intercultural experience and the miracle of the Pentecost.
*Participants do not have to be trained spiritual directors. Anyone who engages in or is interested to learn about intentional soul friendships is invited to participate.
 I use the word “cultures” in a broad sense of the word. Examples of the various cultures and subcultures each of us hold are geographical area, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual identity, religious denomination, ethnicity, spoken languages, political views, age, etc.  Jung Eun Sophia Park, Cross-Cultural Spiritual Direction: Dancing with a Stranger. Presence: A Journal of International Spiritual Direction, Volume 16 No 1 March 2010  Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.
Additional Resources: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in Multicultural Community by Eric H. F. Law
Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot - And Cold - Climate Cultures by Sarah A. Lanier
An Exploration of Children's Ethnic Consciousness and Spiritual Formation (My previous blog article)
This blog article was originally written for and published at Companioning Center. It was skillfully edited by Audre Rickard. You can reach Audre via her website for Spiritual Companioning editing services at: www.audrerickard.com.