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The healing power of stories

‘Uncovering Stories of Hope: Narrative Approaches to Spiritual Care’ was the title of the  6th SpIRE (Spirituality Institute of Ireland) public lecture series featuring international speakers. The Arrupe Room in Milltown Park was packed to capacity​ on Jan 17th​ to hear theologian and spiritual director Dr David Crawley from Laidlaw College, New Zealand speaking about the importance of story in the development of peoples’ spiritual lives.

He began by giving a greeting in the language of the Māori people of New Zealand – a people with a great sense of connectedness to the cosmos, creation and community, according to Dr Crawley who said their understanding of who they are is never individualistic. He unpacked the Māori term ‘whakapapa’ which sums up the totality of their self-understanding, “embracing all that constitutes the richness of one’s identity and belonging within creation: family and ancestors,the environment, the cosmos, and the spiritual realm, as well as the treasured stories through which these connections are described, passed on and kept alive.”

Mirroring his message, Dr Crawley’s teaching style is relational and interactive. So he then invited those present to reflect and share about a place of pilgrimage that they may have felt drawn to in their lives and to consider what that place might be revealing about their own ‘whakapapa’ and sense of connectedness.

After people had shared their ‘Whakapapa’ pilgrimage stories and connected with the importance of story in their spiritual journey and self unfolding, he then went on to examine our modern day notion of ‘self’ and what has shaped that notion. He critiqued the Cartesian notion of the self, seeing it as being limited by its failure to get beyond self-consciousness to the relational. Drawing particularly on post-modernist philosopher Michel Foucault he spoke about the variety of discourses (systems of thought and belief embedded in our social contexts) that have shaped our lives. Unlike the Cartesian ‘cogito’ ( I think therefore I am), these discourses are clear indicators of the interactive and relational aspect of our self-realisation in the world. But some discourses may be unhelpful or self-limiting and detrimental to society. Again people present were asked to reflect and discuss the dominant discourses they may have experienced in their religious formation and consider whether they subverted or supported their journey of faith, hope and love.

In the final section of his presentation he spoke from his experience as a spiritual director. He described the development of ‘narrative therapy’ which has been used in counselling and community work and  how he has applied it fruitfully to the spiritual director/directee relationship. Using a concrete example from his own experience with a directee who had given permission for his story to be used, he outlined the benefits of helping people become aware of negative discourses that may be hampering them whilst guiding them to discover and uncover their own stories of faith and hope.

The evening concluded with a lively and provocative question and answer session. Professor Bernadette Flanagan extended a warm word of thanks to Dr Crawley and his wife, who was with him.

The event was recorded by Eist productions. A CD recording of Dr Crawley’s talk is available for purchase, details here.

Photo: L-R: Prof Bernadette Flanagan, pbvm, Chair of SpIRE, Dr David Crawley, speaker, Prof Fiona Timmins (TCD), Dr Noelia Molina, Anne Marie Dixon, osu, Dara Westby, members of the SpIRE team, and Dr Michael O’Sullivan, SJ, Director of SpIRE.