Practices From the Inside Out: Reflecting Theologically

Practices From the Inside Out: Reflecting Theologically July 25, 2017


Reflecting Theologically

My nature is not to be the most reflective person around. I have learned to reflect by spending time reflecting and finding its benefits.

At the same time, I do not tend to be a formal theologian. Theology is the study of the nature of God. I have never taken a theology class or systematically studied theology. My theological background comes more from my experience than academic work.

My deeper appreciation of spiritual life in recent years is more experiential than intellectual. Growing up, I learned quite a bit of information about God and spiritual life. My understanding has come by asking questions and finding a more contemplative approach.

Learning about spiritual life is important to me. That learning is not limited to gaining information. My focus is no longer on remembering names and dates and what happened when. For me, spiritual life has become more about how we practice our values than about facts and figures.

Theological reflection goes beyond arguing about how we understand spiritual life. It is how we have an insightful conversation about our own story which is not an argument. We struggle to understand and apply our values for ourselves. No one else can tell us how to see things or answer our questions for us.

The answers we are seeking are not easy. They take time. We slow down and chew on things for a while until they become clearer. Our reflection does not necessarily feel less confusing. We may be confused at a deeper level than before.

As we allow ideas and questions to work their way through us we come to see more deeply. Reflection helps us take time to grapple with questions and insights we often dismiss.

Practicing Theological Reflection

It takes time to gradually discover the power of theological reflection. Exploring the difference between learning about spiritual life and living it does not follow a straight line.

In my experience, I began by developing an appreciation for stillness. Letting go of distractions and listening to silence became an essential spiritual practice.

Some of my experiences coalesced when I was introduced to a practice of centering prayer. I learned to settle into the openness and calm of reflection. Centering prayer helped me give my consent to the presence and action of spiritual life within me.

Over time I found other contemplative practices which fed my reflective self. I recognized spiritual life drawing me to something deeper, something more intimate.

I learned about reflection by reading monastic writers and spending time with monks. Most of what I read, though, was conceptual. It was a challenge to find tangible handles.

The difficulty for me was to find approaches which combined intellect with contemplation.

My early background taught me spiritual life was primarily analytical. Contemplative reflection felt welcoming, but I needed rigor as well. I did not want to lose the value of all I had learned intellectually while gaining reflection and contemplation.

Spiritual life is a powerful force which draws us deeper. It is important for us to comfortably understand, as much as we can, its dynamics.

Spiritual life in me is not exclusively intellectual or contemplative. The world around me, and within me, feeds my reflection. Trying to sort things out in a reflective way fuels the fire of spiritual life in me.

I was looking for an approach to theological reflection which drew all of me together.

Education for Ministry

A few years ago I was invited to join a new group to follow a program called EfM. Education for Ministry(EfM) is overseen by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It consists of four sessions, each of which lasts for a nine-month academic year.

Meeting with a small group of people, we discover and explore our story and how we apply it in everyday life. Through reading, prayer, and reflection, we help each other move toward new understanding.

The approach of EfM is grounded in learning to practice reflecting theologically. Each session of the program focuses on a different topic. The conversation of each group can include people from all four of the years each week.

As we talk about what we read and experience each week, metaphors emerge. Each week builds on the last just as each annual session leads into the next one.

My experience with EfM has shown me about reflecting theologically in new ways. Our conversation draws meaning out of each week’s events and reading. Part of our process is to notice questions and insights which guide our application of what we see.

I have been trained and certified as a mentor for in-person and online EfM groups.

EfM has been a significant step forward for my own theological reflection. Each year’s reading, reflection, and conversation has opened doors for me.

Reflecting theologically has become a central aspect of my understanding of spiritual life.

The program has provided a framework to include reading, reflection, and conversation in my schedule. It has helped me bring together contemplative reflection and analytical inquiry in my own life.

Spending Time in Reflection

We live in a world of instant results. Most of us do not spent time reflecting, much less reflecting theologically. Many of us do not have the first idea of how theological reflection might work for us.

For me, EfM is an enjoyable and practical way to learn about reflecting theologically. Our conversations address a wide variety of insights and questions, opening the door for application.

Those of us who may not be the most naturally reflective people need help. We might be the last person who would consider taking a theology class.

There is more, deeper spiritual life available to us but we may not know how to access it.

Reflecting theologically could be the next step on our spiritual journey.

How will you add theological reflection to your schedule?

When will we spend time reflecting theologically this week?

[Image by Infomastern]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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