WHEN HEARTS BECOME FLAME
An Eastern Orthodox Approach to the διά-Λογος of Pastoral Counseling
by Stephen Muse
When Hearts Become Flame takes its point of departure and return from reflection on the question, "What Makes Counseling Pastoral?" to show that it involves participation of all three aspects of our human nature in dialogue with others in such a way that as in Emmaus, Christ, the Logos, appears 'between' us. It is not enough to be emotionally warm or conceptually accurate or physically energetic. The human person is an integrated presence of all three turned toward trialogue with God, self and others. Taking my cues from Jesus' formulation of the heart of the law, it is clear that an Orthodox approach to pastoral care and counseling cannot be focused solely on the intra-psychic and individual person. Nor can social justice proceed cut off from the wellspring of contemplative life in Christ, as Thomas Merton observed, without burning out or becoming the evil that we fight against. There is both a private inner discernment and ascetical struggle in dialogue with God and an existential and communal outward dimension which involves fellowship in confronting justice issues in society that contribute to the sickness and wellbeing of people. These two domains must be considered together as mutually influencing one another in a circular causality. Given the burgeoning field of counseling and psychotherapy and the growing interest in its spiritual dimensions, the time is ripe for interdisciplinary Orthodox dialogue between priests and practitioners, monastics, theologians and scientists as well as with mental health professionals outside Orthodoxy. The field of pastoral counseling has been largely Protestants and Roman Catholics, who, since the founding of AAPC, have contributed half a century's worth of valuable reflections on the integration of theology and psychology in service to suffering persons. There is a great deal we can share with one another to know Christ more fully and learn how to serve better and celebrate human potential when it is in co-creative partnership with God to help alleviate human suffering.
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