Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Seasons of the Soul

The calendar has driven us, once again, into the bracing arms of autumn. Northern Hemisphere residents are inhaling the snappy chill of the late-afternoon air, wrapping their dangerously exposed necks in magical Hogwarts scarves, exclusively eating and drinking things that taste and look like pumpkins, losing their children in elaborate corn-mazes, and unabashedly participating in the creepiest-sounding of all autumn activities: leaf-peeping.

Meanwhile, here in Santa Barbara, California, it’s 70-something degrees and sunny, and everyone is at the beach. Just like every other damn day of the year.

I’m not foolish enough to try to elicit any sympathy for my life in a Mediterranean climate. For a century, people have moved to Santa Barbara precisely for the therapy of sun and salty ocean air. No one in upstate New York will shed any tears for me when they’re shoveling themselves out of 11 feet of snow in January and I’m unironically wearing shorts.

Yet, while I am happy to call this place home, I miss seasons, sometimes desperately. No doubt retailers play a role in my angst; they have conditioned me, rather brilliantly, to associate dates on the calendar with particular products and activities. When the bell of the autumnal equinox rings, I start salivating for pumpkin-spiced whatever—like the most annoyingly hipster Pavlovian dog…and I don’t even like sweet things. Most of it is influenced by nostalgia. I grew up in Seattle, and autumn evokes childhood memories of driving with my dad past the sprawling local pumpkin patch on drizzly Saturday evenings and returning home to the fire after University of Washington football games.

But it goes even deeper. Seasons are not only realities that occur outside and around us, in the skies and in the trees. I believe seasons are also internal and personal, interwoven into the fabric of human life. We are designed to transition, to change, and to vary. Our souls have seasons.

When there are few changes in the outward seasons, it is easy to neglect the shifts required by our internal seasons. When you live in an unchanging climate, it’s tempting to try to match it with an unchanging life. External seasonal cues can remind us to transition into something new and to live differently. The reason why people historically have celebrated the month of October so extravagantly is not only because it’s harvest time, an ancient time of gratitude, but because they sensed on a primal level that the world was slowly closing, the sap was gravitating back toward the soil, the darkness was encroaching, and the natural world was going dormant. They knew their daily lives were going to change along with it: it was almost time to go inside, build a fire, and wait out the winter.

My longing for seasons feels like a desire for the permission to change, to slow. I don’t believe we are built to move at the same pace, do the same activities, and feel the same feelings all year round. Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and closedness, austerity and abundance. I believe the seasons serve as a lesson book for the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep. If we ignore the lessons of the seasons, we may feel the pressure to try to be “up” all the time—always going, ever energetic, constantly gleeful. We may find ourselves restless and exhausted without having any idea why.

Living in a climate of seemingly endless summer has taught me some valuable lessons. First, the seasonal changes are there, but you have to discipline yourself to pay attention to the subtleties. Seasons are exercises in attentiveness. The radiant glow of summer modulates into the beautiful sadness of autumn, but it’s delicate. The marine layer persists just a little bit longer in the mornings, and the air warms up a little slower in the morning and cools down a little faster in the afternoon. The clouds linger on the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains into the afternoons. The light falls differently and casts longer shadows, and the loud pink rays of the summer sunset are brushed aside by the amber and burnt orange hues of fall’s curtain call.

Second, seasons are now something I choose. Here, autumn is something you resolve to do. I love that the word deciduous has the word decide embedded in it. Although I live in an evergreen climate, I have resolved to lead a deciduous life, for the sake of my soul. I allow the encroaching darkness of the fall to drive me inside earlier in the evening to read, to write, to reflect. And sometimes, you just have to put soup in the crockpot when it’s 80 degrees outside. I want to let the seasons, and their inherent gifts, rhythms, and offerings, teach me how to live and to be more human.

There is a growing trend in our country of eating in season, enjoying the produce that particular season has to offer rather than trying to eat a plastic tomato in the middle of February. What if we extended that idea to living in season? What if we stopped trying to live the year at a dead sprint and instead let the seasons teach us about how to move and how to live?

Originally posted at Quiet Revolution, October 2016.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In an Extroverted Church Culture, Silence is a Homecoming for Introverts

There is an ancient and beautiful monastic ritual called “The Grand Silence.” For centuries, at the conclusion of evening prayer, monasteries have called a full halt on speech, to be observed except in dire emergency. This silence endures through the night until the first prayers the next morning, when as the sun introduces the new day, the quiet is broken by the singing of Scripture.

I first encountered this tradition on retreat with several of my ministry partners while I worked as a college pastor. They were a fervent group of extroverts, and for them, the nighttime silence was less than “grand.” They squirmed their way through that first evening, contorting their faces every time they had a thought they had to stifle. By the second night, though, they started to enjoy it and acknowledge the value of the silence. If we’re honest, too much talking can be a slow leak on even the most extroverted soul.

For me, the lone introvert, not even the most haunting chants of the Psalms that resonated through the chapel at daybreak could compare to the transcendence of the Grand Silence. Monasteries may be homes of asceticism, but each night their members feast on a gluttonous banquet of quiet. I anticipated and relished those hours, often going deep into the night to savor the stillness. For my extroverted colleagues, the grand silence was a vacation; for me, it was a homecoming....
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Read the rest of this excerpt from the "Introverted Spirituality" chapter of the Expanded and Revised edition of Introverts in the Church at Introvert, Dear!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Psychology Today and the New Introverts in the Church

I was honored to interview with Psychology Today writer Nancy Ancowitz last month, and all three parts of our conversation about listening and introversion are now up on the Psychology Today website. That link will take you to part one, and here is part two and part three. Part one focuses on listening to others, part two on listening to ourselves, and part three on the specific opportunities and challenges for introverted listeners.



And, this is one more gentle reminder that there is a revised and expanded edition of Introverts in the Church hitting my publisher's warehouse on July 7th. Here are some of the changes in the second edition. It should be shipping out of online retailers by mid July, with the official release date in early August.




Monday, March 6, 2017

Introverts in the Church, Revised and Expanded

Now 40% More Introverted!!!
About a year ago, I cracked open Introverts in the Church for the first time in several years. Contrary to what some may believe, we authors don't cuddle up to our books on cold nights. I had moved on to other topics, namely The Listening Life, and some other writing projects.

I had been wrestling with questions, once again, about how to approach some new relationships in my life as an introvert, and I thought to myself, "You know who's an expert on this topic? ME!" So I dusted off my copy of Introverts in the Church and immersed myself in chapter 5, the Community and Relationships chapter.

What I found is that while my advice is helpful, some of it already feels outdated. It is astonishing how much things change in 8 years. In 2009, when the book was published, everyone in the church was talking about postmodernism; now, I almost never hear that word. In 2009, I didn't even know the phrase "social media," and the iPhone was just starting to flood the market. I started writing Introverts when I was 29 years old, even though the book wasn't published until I was 33. I will be turning 41 in a few months, and needless to say, I have changed, as a person, as a writer, and as a believer.

I was a decent writer when I was 29, but I am much better now, and one of the things I noticed, ironically, is that the book is just too wordy. I can tell I was dealing with what they call "Imposter Syndrome," a common struggle with a first book, and I wanted to prove to everyone, myself included, that I was qualified to write a book. I dropped in all kinds of theological knowledge and research that just wasn't necessary and was, in some cases, distracting. That, combined with the outdated time stamps in the book, compelled me to approach InterVarsity Press last summer and ask if we could release a 2nd edition. I wanted to write a new version that had a more timeless, and succinct, feel to it. And I thought I could make the book a lot funnier.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that the Revised and Expanded Version of Introverts in the Church is now available for pre-order. Here's what's new: each chapter has been thoroughly revised, both in content and in flow. I have written a new introduction. I have interspersed more discussions about the struggles of introverted parents and ministering to introverted children. I have incorporated the new research that has been conducted in the last few years about introversion, neurology, and sensitivity to stimuli, as well as some recent studies on the effectiveness of introverted leaders. And I have brought in the work of the Queen of Introversion, Susan Cain.

There are also some new endorsements. Scot McKnight wrote the forward, and he says "the first edition was exceptional, the second even better, at least by half, perhaps more than that." 

Jenn Granneman, creator of the popular introverted community, Introvert, Dear, writes: "Introverts in the Church is thoughtful, validating, and charming. It’s the book for any church-goers who have ever wanted to disappear into their seats when the pastor said, “Turn and introduce yourself to three strangers.” Adam teaches an important lesson: Spirituality should not be measured by sociability. The introvert who quietly reflects on her faith is as true of a believer as the extrovert who preaches exuberantly to others."

There are also endorsements from Susan Cain, Lauren Winner, John Ortberg, and many others. I echo Emily Freeman's hopes when she says, "I have a hopeful vision that the giftedness of the next generations of introverts will be honored and celebrated thanks to the fine work of Adam S. McHugh in this timeless, important book."  

You can now pre-order the revised version of Introverts in the Church on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Pre-ordering guarantees you the best price, as the price will decrease at times over the next few months, and it is a helpful way to draw the attention of retailers and reviewers. The official release date is August 7, 2017, but if you pre-order the book you will have it in your hands around mid-July. While the new edition will be of particular interest to new readers, those of you who read the first edition will find plenty of new content.

As always, I am deeply grateful for all of you who have read the book, recommended it to others, and sent me emails about it. I liked the first edition of Introverts in the Church, but I like the 2nd edition much, much better. I think you will too.