My wife Hacy has been recommending a book called Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. Brene Brown the author describes vulnerability as the ability to deal with “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” If we have the psychological capacity to be vulnerable we can live fuller lives. Ms Brown says “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
I agree with this and much of what she discusses in the book.
Back on page 176 she gets to spirituality. In this short section she says some true things but avoids the obvious. Let me explain but first, let me quote Ms Brown at length:
“Religion is another example of social contract disengagement. First, disengagement is often the result of leaders not living by the same values they’re preaching. Second, in an uncertain world, we often feel desparate for absolutes. It’s the human response to fear. When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into ‘compliance and consequences,’ rather than teaching and modelling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms. Faith minus vulnerability equals politics or worse, extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, its the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability.”
Being vulnerable, spiritually
I suppose my basic objection is that Ms Brown focuses on bad religion and underwhelms true spirituality. Every one can agree with her statements about bad religion. There is a great deal of that going on in the world. But there is also a great deal of healthy religion, where leaders “live their values” and don’t stress fear-based religion and compliance or you’ll go to Hell. Ms Brown doesn’t say that, and perhaps inadvertently throws the baby out with the bathwater. The real core of her message is the need for vulnerability in order to approach mystery and the unknown when one authentically pursues a genuine spiritual life. I would have liked her to discuss this more, but then she is not a theologian.
Because I’m reading Thomas Merton right now, I see him as modelling the type of vulnerability Ms Brown espouses. Listen to one of his entries in his daily journal, after he had been a Trappist monk for over 20 years:
“This sense of being suspended over nothingness and yet in life, of being a fragile thing, a flame that may blow out and yet burns brightly, adds an inexpressible sweetness to the gift of life, for one sees it entirely and purely as gift.”
I hesitate to add anything to Merton’s statement because he has captured the essence of being a contingent being, at risk of not being anymore except for the love of God who keeps him from dropping into nothingness. My entire life of faltering steps toward God and spirituality has led me to the brink of being able to sense what Merton was experiencing. Thank you God for leading me to this point.