Monday 29 October 2018

Questions about Spiritual Authority

Over the last month or so, my reading and writing for my PhD has centred around a theme of spiritual authority. In particular, I have begun to look closely at women of Europe in the thirteenth century to explore where their spiritual authority came from, the barriers that prevented their spiritual authority and how they managed to express their spiritual authority in this time and place. It has been interesting reading and I am not sure how I would have coped if I was in their shoes.

It has also raised a lot of questions that can be asked in any time and place. Where does spiritual authority come from? What causes us to give others authority in our life? How much is spiritual authority external to ourselves and can it be internal? Do we doubt our own spiritual authority and is it even real?

In ministry, I was very aware of the spiritual authority people gave me. From time to time someone would come to chat about an issue in their life. I would listen attentively, offering support where possible, and then the question would come. 'What do you think I should do, Cathie?' I always resisted providing an answer, as I am a great believer that each person has within them the capacity to discern and find a way for their own life. My approach was to ask more questions to help facilitate this process. I did, however, find it a little disturbing that someone might trust my opinion and act upon it simply because of my position and the perceived authority given it. I have heard many stories of church leaders offering their wisdom to their parishioners and it being taken as gospel. I am aware, in an age of uncertainty, this may be comforting, but can also see the huge potential for abuse.
Lovelace from Happy Feet comes to mind!!

In saying this, I know in my own life, that some people hold more spiritual authority for me than others. In my recent decisions and discernment, many people have had something to say about my choices; sometimes positive, sometimes more sceptical. For me, these comments have held differing weight. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with a person I greatly admire. The way they conduct their life, their 'being', their relationships have been an inspiration to me over the years. You could say I have placed much spiritual authority in this person. The words spoken during our recent conversation were weighty and important to me.

So, arising from my own experience and my reading of women in the thirteenth century, I wonder what it takes for us to trust our own inner authority? How do we recognise and know God working in our lives? Other people do play a role in our discernment. How do we decide who to trust?

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