Practicing & Malpracticing the Presence of God

Five pastors completely bungled George Fox's search for spiritual direction, but their mistakes point out the essentials of pastoral care.

Five pastors had a turn at providing spiritual direction for George Fox in the first months of his religious awakening. Each of them blew it.

Fox was in his late adolescence when he ran into this discouraging sequence of spiritual misdirection. He does not identify the nature of the trouble that prompted him to seek out the pastors. Sometimes he refers to it as "despair and temptation." It is clear, though, that he was seeking for God. And not one of the five pastors noticed.

That the five did badly is not surprising. George Fox was complex. Spiritual direction is difficult, and pastoral wisdom is not available on prescription. Every person who comes to a pastor with a heart full of shapeless longings and a head full of badgering questions is complex in a new way. There are no fail-proof formulae.

Fox, who later founded the Society of Friends, tells the story in his Journal. Reflecting on these five unsuitable but representative responses from our pastoral colleagues of three hundred years ...

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