The Contemplative Life

Ep 170 Deconstructing Our Faith

April 23, 2024 Christina Roberts, Chris Roberts, Kristina Kaiser, and Heather Watts
Ep 170 Deconstructing Our Faith
The Contemplative Life
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The Contemplative Life
Ep 170 Deconstructing Our Faith
Apr 23, 2024
Christina Roberts, Chris Roberts, Kristina Kaiser, and Heather Watts

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Today we are joined by spiritual director Heather Watts exploring the journey of deconstructing faith.  We discuss how spiritual guidance can provide space to be heard, wonder together and sit with uncertainties one faces in these seasons.

Additional Resources
Listening and Caring Skills by John Savage

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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Today we are joined by spiritual director Heather Watts exploring the journey of deconstructing faith.  We discuss how spiritual guidance can provide space to be heard, wonder together and sit with uncertainties one faces in these seasons.

Additional Resources
Listening and Caring Skills by John Savage

Sign up for our newsletter here:

Support the Show.

[00:00:00] Christina: Hello. It's great to be with you today. I am grateful to introduce Heather Watts to the podcast. Heather is a spiritual guide who has a particular heart to companion people experiencing a deconstruction time in their faith.

[00:00:14] Christina: So during our time today, we will unpack what that means and how she shows up for people in this unique season. So Heather, welcome to the podcast. 

[00:00:21] Heather: It's good to be with you. Yeah, it's good to be with you. 

[00:00:24] Christina: So Heather, maybe to start with, I think the term deconstructing faith may be new to some of our [00:00:30] listeners.

[00:00:30] Christina: And so can you explain a little bit about what that means? 

[00:00:33] Heather: Oh, absolutely. I think there are some out there who see deconstruction as a negative thing. The deconstruction is about dismantling your faith. And the goal of the deconstruction is about dismissing your faith. That isn't the context that I would like us to use today as we have this conversation, to be able to see, deconstruction as it [00:01:00] relates to the journey of faith, as a process of taking apart and exploring.

[00:01:06] Heather: Teachings we've heard or experiences we've had in the church or with our families and asking questions about what we've learned and along the way and wondering what's true about ourselves, what's true about God and how that truth impacts us and those we care about. I think those are some of the [00:01:30] places where we start to experience the need to ask questions.

[00:01:34] Heather: So I also see spiritual formation as this lifelong journey and for me when I'm in my own journey and in journeying with others that spiritual formation kind of seems like a foundation, like a cinder block foundation. And along the way as we've been formed spiritually, there have been blocks. of information that aren't true.

[00:01:58] Heather: And yet it's part of our [00:02:00] formation. It's part of what we believe. And I see deconstruction as this opportunity to take a look at those broken blocks, those things that just you can't use anymore. It's like faulty building materials. And deconstruction allows us to remove those broken blocks and replace it with truth.

[00:02:21] Heather: When I say truth, I'm talking about divine truth. Something that's true whether we believe it or not, something that's always available to us, something [00:02:30] that's both a mystery and something we discover along the way about who we are and about who God is. So that's how I see deconstruction. And I'm wondering, would you add anything to that?

[00:02:42] Kristina: That's a really great question. I don't know if I would add anything to it, but I certainly appreciate what you are bringing forth this notion of what is true and it's so funny like This morning in my own devotional time. I opened up this book embers by Richard [00:03:00] Wagamese And that was the exact thing like as I opened it.

[00:03:03] Kristina: It said keep what is true in front of you so it's so funny that It's coming doubly in this moment now that there's something about, maybe what is the story and what is the meaning and the purpose behind the story. So there's certainly a curiosity there for me. And I'm even thinking as we're talking about deconstruction yes it's difficult for one to begin to talk about, this is my story and these are my questions and these are my wonderings.

[00:03:29] Kristina: [00:03:30] And part of our work in spiritual guidance and spiritual accompaniment Is to be there, and we sometimes talk about, oh, creating safe spaces, or creating safe and brave spaces. What does that look like, to create that space where somebody can say I don't know, maybe this is what's true for me, maybe this isn't what's true for me.

[00:03:49] Kristina: How do we do that work? 

[00:03:51] Heather: Yeah, it is sacred work and sacred space to do it, I think. There has to be some level of feeling safe [00:04:00] with the person that you're talking with, whether it's a spiritual director or a spiritual companion, or someone else. But I think in my practice, that sense of safety starts with giving people a little bit of information, because I think about what to expect and about who I am as a spiritual director.

[00:04:20] Heather: The unknown is just intimidating to most of us. And one of the things I do is I send people information about what spiritual correction is and what it [00:04:30] isn't. Some reasons why people engage in spiritual correction. And a lot of it has to do with deconstruction and reconstruction and figuring out what comes next and getting things more clear.

[00:04:42] Heather: I share with them information about the rhythm of spiritual direction and what that can look like. And I explain that spiritual direction isn't for super holy people. It's just not. It's a space for us to slow down. Silence is really important. It's a [00:05:00] space to explore what we believe. It's a space to explore the stories that we're telling ourselves.

[00:05:08] Heather: And In those stories, there's glimpses of how we see ourselves and how we see God, and there's oftentimes just a lot of give and take, a lot of, Hey, let's take this out and take a closer look at it. So I think part of it is giving people information about what they can expect. And I also want people to know [00:05:30] that I I'm a trans spiritual director, but, The real spiritual director is the divine, is God, and so I want them to know that going in.

[00:05:41] Heather: I'm not going to reveal the divine truth, that's the divine's job, I'm just going to journey with you and we're going to listen together. I also want people, part of setting the table for this is, we're going to meet we jump into that spiritual companion in relationship and [00:06:00] We're going to explore whether or not doing this together is something we want to do.

[00:06:05] Heather: I invite people in that initial meeting to pay attention to what's going on within them. And if they feel a bit of safety, if they feel welcomed or curious during our initial meeting, then take a step to see where the journey might take us. And if that doesn't happen, that doesn't feel personal to me.

[00:06:23] Heather: I think being spiritual companions. is a divine appointment. And I think there has to [00:06:30] be rightness of fit. So if we're, if I'm not a good fit, we're not a good fit for each other. Oh, okay. I'm going to give you some names of other spiritual directors or point you to the STI website because my care is actually for the other.

[00:06:45] Heather: I want them to have a sense of this is a safe nonjudgmental space for them to be in. So And I think sometimes people want to know a bit, they want to know a bit about your spiritual background, and I'm [00:07:00] comfortable sharing that and I think that can help. But, and I think it's important for people to know that I go through deconstruction, I've been through so many periods of it in my life.

[00:07:10] Heather: But I don't want to share the, a lot of detail about my faith journey, because I think when I do that, that can make people feel as though I have some sort of expectation that their journey is going to match mine, or that it's not about that. So those are some of the things of just getting acquainted with the process of each other [00:07:30] and trusting, in that nudge to continue to meet, because it's a real place of trust.

[00:07:36] Chris: Thank you so much, Heather for your thoughts on deconstruction. And I know that you and I share training from the same place. And, I'm thinking of a book that was a part of the training. And I know that there are many books and we get to choose different ones, but there's one by John Savage that is listening and caring skills.

[00:07:56] Chris: And in that book, he talks about [00:08:00] these life commandments that were. were given to us. And I know sometimes we feel like our faith part of our faith is these life commandments that have been passed on to us by, let's say a parent or a significant adult in our life. And, What happens is we butt up against those life commandments.

[00:08:23] Chris: And a lot of times that's the actual thing that we are deconstructing. And so maybe you [00:08:30] can speak a little bit to this notion of life commandment deconstruction and what you've experienced in the process. 

[00:08:38] Heather: Oh, Chris, I got to tell you, my husband and I were on a long road trip when I was reading that book and I came upon the life commandments.

[00:08:48] Heather: And as I sat and pondered those, what, one of the commandments that I have lived with, had lived with for most of my life, I found the words to describe [00:09:00] it. And it was, had to do with that, I needed to be able to figure out how to fix somebody else's pain. And if I didn't, I wouldn't be loved.

[00:09:12] Heather: And I remember. Thinking about it in my mind and then I'm going to, this was, I was just with my husband having the courage to speak it out loud was this, Oh my gosh, this crazy, beautiful sense of [00:09:30] freedom and journey. And I don't have to sit with this by myself. And then also pondering when you discover a life in the end and you realize it's not That's, but you've been living like, it's true.

[00:09:42] Heather: There's the process of replacing that life command with what is true. And I think that's where deconstruction and reconstruction they go together, if that makes sense. But, oh, I need to get rid of this, but what do I replace it with? And [00:10:00] that is the journey to me of reconstruction. But you have to deconstruct first, you have to get rid of the why.

[00:10:07] Heather: In order to find and install the truth.

[00:10:12] Christina: Yeah. And I've found in my own life and with people that I journey with. When we have these aha moments, it can seem like this massive unraveling of is anything true? And we can go to this extreme of, disillusionment and feeling ungrounded and it can be scary. It can be, Freeing at [00:10:30] the same time like you're such a mixture of emotions that one experiences.

[00:10:34] Christina: And so I'm curious, Heather, what does that look like for you to sit with others in the wide spectrum of emotions that one experiences in these spaces?

[00:10:44] Heather: I'm comfortable with emotion and I see my role. As a companion with somebody, I see my role as helping them to discover and explore their own feelings. And they do. They range all over the place and they're not the [00:11:00] same and you're going to come back to that point of exploring that life command or that part of your faith that you're deconstructing.

[00:11:09] Heather: You're going to come back at it again and look at it from different angles and you're going to feel different things and We get to be in that space together. My job isn't to fix it, it's together, let's look at this with the divine and listen for what's true. Notice what's true. Wonder together what's [00:11:30] true.

[00:11:30] Heather: I do think, I actually think when you hear truth, It's as powerful, if not more powerful, than when you see the lie. Like the emotions that I went through when I saw that life plan went, that's not true. What I've been living like it was just all kinds of desperation and sadness and curiosity. But then there's also the feelings of when I discover what is true.

[00:11:58] Heather: There's this For me, a [00:12:00] flood of emotion. Everybody's different in how they experience that, but truth from the divine fills us in a really unique way. I don't know how to describe how you know when something is true. I just know that you know it. And so even helping somebody to discern where they might feel that truth as a physical sensation or as a series of thoughts.

[00:12:25] Heather: What is it that? that's revealing itself. And [00:12:30] how do you know it's true is again, part of that serving, if that makes sense. 

[00:12:35] Chris: Yeah. I think the image that comes to mind, a few there's a death and rebirth image that's so helpful in spiritual direction. But with that, I think the importance of a spiritual midwife, that helps people rebirth, these things.

[00:12:54] Chris: And so maybe you could speak a little bit to that imagery. And what it means to you as you're sitting with [00:13:00] people.

[00:13:00] Heather: The journey of deconstruction is hard and it can be filled. People can be filled with shame as they're on that journey. Should I talk about it? What does this look like? But then it's, as you deconstruct and you begin to reconstruct, I, the words that I would say or use to describe when I am walking with somebody who is in that reconstruction is that there's A sense of [00:13:30] freedom, a sense of new life, a sense of, who you are, who God is, what's possible is all expanding.

[00:13:40] Heather: So that idea of new life, right? For those who have had a child, Either through adoption or through childbirth, life gets turned on its head the moment that little one enters into your experience. And there's joys and there's [00:14:00] difficulties, but life is expanding. You are learning so much at such a fast rate and there is excitement and there's weariness.

[00:14:08] Heather: There's all the feelings. That's how I liken the reconstruction process to childbirth, and there's pain along the way, right? Childbirth is really painful. Deconstruction and reconstruction can be really painful. There's gotta be space to feel how, to feel that and to experience [00:14:30] that with someone who holds you gently.

[00:14:33] Heather: You get to be right where you are.

[00:14:34] Kristina: I'm so thankful for the ways in which we're talking about all of this. It even occurs to me. That we have big moments of deconstruction. We have micro moments where we just realize maybe on a smaller scale. What our life commandment or some story is that we've maybe told ourselves and which is just reminding me of how this is not a linear process.

[00:14:56] Kristina: And we often talk about. Any [00:15:00] development as not being a linear process, but, particularly here, too. We if we know about it, we might think identify it. And then I know the truth and I move on. But if that's no, there's maybe Two steps forward, two steps back, one step forward, half a step back, maybe and what's more is I think as I'm listening to you talk, I'm hearing how important that companioning is.

[00:15:24] Kristina: Would it be helpful if someone tries to impose something on us, for instance, right? When [00:15:30] you sit with people in the midst of all of that, Are there certain ways of being? Are there certain offerings? What kind of space? What kind of tools? What do we offer people as we recognize oh, we're in a moment of figuring it out?

[00:15:46] Heather: Oh, I think the,

[00:15:48] Heather: the tools are exactly right. Managing expectations for us as humans, at least for me is hard, right? And as you spiritually companion with someone who's in the deconstruction [00:16:00] reconstruction process, they can have a true aha moment and the next time that you're together, they're in a different place and they're right back sitting in the rubble of the deconstruction.

[00:16:12] Heather: What is really fascinating to me is it often can feel like it is a journey you're on by yourself. But we're not actually. The number of people that I've met with who are actively, deeply deconstructing. They've been hurt by the church. They're not sure [00:16:30] what to think. Things the church has taught them feel like lies.

[00:16:33] Heather: They've been diminished. It's just been a mess. And for as much as they're ready to not only leave a church or a faith tradition, there's also something that wants to say, I'm just done with this whole thing, God and the divine. And what I hear repeatedly is for some reason I can't. There's something that keeps stirring within me, right?

[00:16:57] Heather: It keeps bringing me back. It keeps [00:17:00] bringing me back here as we sit together. And I don't exactly know why, because it feels like it would be a lot easier to just walk away. So I think part of the tools has to do with recognizing that you're on a journey that, frankly, I think every human goes on. I think everybody deconstructs what it is that believe It's Certainly part of the spiritual journey. It's a normal process, right? We're curious humans [00:17:30] and there are times when we just go, I can't quite believe that's true. I think scripture is filled with people who went through deconstruction. Times when they're going, do you know what you're doing?

[00:17:41] Heather: This can't be true, right? There's just this, we're in good company when we're deconstructing. And I think that, that isolation space where we can find ourselves, letting you know that we're, we're in this together and you're actually not alone. I think that's helpful. I [00:18:00] think also, again, the tool of helping someone to understand what it is they're really feeling.

[00:18:07] Heather: Right? There's, can often be a sense of frustration and anger, and that is what's showing on the surface, but as we sit together and we wonder together what's underneath that anger or that frustration, there's often things like pain, betrayal, the sense of being [00:18:30] betrayed, deep sadness. There's so it's getting to the deeper roots.

[00:18:34] Heather: There's a story that's underneath there that you might tell one level of the story, but as you go deeper, you begin to see that the story has been woven throughout your entire lifetime. And so being given space to be heard, to wander together, to be silent, to be able to even recognize what's happening in your own emotions and in your own thoughts.

[00:18:59] Heather: Thank [00:19:00] you. That's, I think, a tool that, for me, I, is used most often as people are deconstructing. This isn't about a magic fix, this is about a journey of discovering what's true about yourself and God. 

[00:19:14] Christina: Heather, I appreciate you naming.

[00:19:15] Christina: I think you're right. I think sometimes just recognizing that we're not alone is enough, right? In certain parts of the journey to know I'm not crazy. I'm not the only one thinking this and to know that there's others that will sit with us and be with us in those spaces. So appreciative of this topic today.

[00:19:29] Christina: And those [00:19:30] that might be listening that either are walking through that themselves, or to your point, we're constantly cycling through these deaths and rebirths. Deconstruction reconstruction, and it's not a one and done thing, but it's a journey that we have. And so I'm curious if you have any final thoughts for our listeners today or ways that we can point you to some of the work that you're doing.

[00:19:48] Heather: The deconstruction is about might seem like an option, but I actually think it's something we need to do. I think we have to dismantle and remove [00:20:00] things that aren't true. And the only way we can do that is by literally taking things apart.

[00:20:06] Heather: I also think that with deconstruction comes an invitation to reconstruct. And again, it's, I really love, Christine, what you said about this is not linear. This is, we're going to go back and forth and back and forth in that journey. Staying the course in that journey isn't easy. And yet, on the other side, There's a stronger foundation, there's more [00:20:30] freedom, there's more love to be found, there's a way of releasing more of who you've actually been created to be. And I think once you've been through a season of deconstruction that felt like your foundations were just shaken to the core, the next time it happens, you go, Oh yeah, I know this.

[00:20:49] Heather: This is familiar. There's another there's a journey to go through on this. I think probably the biggest part of this is don't go through deconstruction and [00:21:00] reconstruction alone. It's not a journey to do alone. So finding spaces, whether that's with a spiritual companion or others who are, can openly receive your stories of deconstruction, so important.

[00:21:17] Heather: I just, you need other people to walk through this with you. Yeah. And that it's important who you choose in that journey. They have to be people who are safe. Nobody needs to be condemned in the midst [00:21:30] of going through such a hard time. It's actually a natural part of the spiritual journey.

[00:21:34] Christina: Well, Heather, thank you so much and really appreciate some of the perspectives that you're bringing today. Thanks for being part of our podcast.

[00:21:41] Christina: And now's the part of our podcast where we talk about what we are into. So what are we into my friends?

[00:21:51] Kristina: I am into a process that I'm about to start, but haven't quite started. And that is the process of decluttering. I just feel like [00:22:00] there's little pieces of Christmas that are still in the kitchen. There's parts of my schooling from when I was doing my doctorate that are still in the kitchen. Like it's like school threw up on the kitchen.

[00:22:10] Kristina: So I'm looking forward to making more spacious countertops actually.

[00:22:17] Chris: Nice going along with deconstructing. Decluttering. I'm doing a bit of decluttering as well. It is, knock on something, but the end [00:22:30] of snow and all things winter related. And because of some of the the end of snow and all things winter related. And because of some of the Harsh elements of winter.

[00:22:37] Chris: We have a lot of debris in our yard, twigs sticks. And I'm in the process of trying to motivate my kids to help me gather that and put it in a pile. And we might be able to put it in the fire pit and. So I'm decluttering the yard.

[00:22:57] Christina: Wow. I, mine is not with a [00:23:00] D prefix. Is that the word? So I'm the oddball out here, but I am into Texas culture. And so tomorrow our family is flying down to Texas for the week to spend time with family and friends. And so I'm researching all the things Texan. I think we're going to see like a cattle herd.

[00:23:17] Christina: And I don't know when you're in Texas, you need to eat barbecue and do all the cowboy type things. And so I am very much into Texan culture. Thank you so much for joining us. And until next time, make it a great week.