Neil Folks: Spiritual gifts and natural abilities

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“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Paul, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

There seems to be some misunderstanding as to the difference between a spiritual gift and a natural ability. We are all born with a natural ability to be good at something — chef, preacher, administrator, baseball player, sheriff, U.S. president, etc. — as long as we work hard to develop the natural gift given to us in our genes, so to speak.

A spiritual gift is not something we develop on our own. It is given to us from the outside, a source that transcends the human mind. It can make use of a natural ability. It is a spiritual act that Christians (and other religious systems as well) witness in a way that transcends or supersedes the natural ability. In Christianity, the source is referred to as coming from the Holy Spirit, the feminine part of God. Oftentimes, it comes to an individual like a light bulb going off. Where did that piece of wisdom come from?

There are two forms in which spiritual activity is done: spiritual direction and spiritual companioning. Spiritual direction is about giving someone directions and focusing on the intellect. It is about finding the destination for the individual (leading) movement forward by formulas, or theological and medical models. It is helping the individual to find an answer (usually coming from the point of view of the director), not seeking the right questions to ask. Normally, it is about teaching the individual a way, or fixing problems. The process is more about counseling, giving advice and fixing problems based on the director’s point of view.

Spiritual companioning, as the word companioning implies, is to walk alongside the individual, not directing the journey for the individual. The process stresses reflection rather than giving someone directions. It is not about finding the destination; it is more about finding what right questions should be asked instead of having the answers. The process does not follow formulas or models of the human convention. It manifests and celebrates the intimacy of relationship between two humans guided by a source greater than them. It is a process that lets the individual be the teacher, not the student. They are the expert on their journey of confusion. Spiritual companions become the student, seeking to help the individual discover the unearthing, the unfolding, and the evolving of what is deep within them.

The Rev. Carl J. Arico, of Contemplative Outreach, defines the essence of spiritual companioning as “one of discovering unconditional love, genuine forgiveness and a greater sense of responsibility in light of our journey together. It is helping the heart to feel and love again, opening it to the ‘flow of living waters’ (John 7:37-38).”

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