Saturday, October 22, 2011

Introvert Saturday: The Size of the Soul

About the author: Jim Miller is the Pastor of Glenkirk Church, author of the book God Scent and blogger at He and his wife Yolanda have 2 children.

The Medieval soul was cavernous. Free from the diluting forces of media and mobility, the great voices of the Middle Ages produced works of contemplation that are unparalleled in the modern Church. It was said of Bernard of Clairvaux that he once traveled around Lake Geneva and didn’t notice that it was there, lost in reflection as he was. After four years in his monastery, Bernard could not account for whether or not the ceiling in the dining hall was vaulted, which it is, or how many windows were in the chapel (there are three). Lives such as Bernard's were made possible by the new alliance that the church had with the political systems of the day, which ended persecution. Zealots who had once declared their loyalty through martyrdom turned to the monasteries to martyr themselves inwardly rather than physically. And from the monasteries we discovered how deep the soul goes.

If the Medieval soul is a Hummer, the modern American soul is a Yaris. Let's be honest: a lot of this has to do with money. In the book-publishing industry, publishers want to bank on a winner, so they look for popular voices who have built-in audiences. This usually mean speakers who have a large following already, and speakers with large followings tend to be self-publicists. They tend to know how other people are thinking and pay close attention to what people are thinking of them. And they tend to be extroverts. The management of a large fan base takes time, and many celebrity Christians who are maintaining fan clubs don't have much time to retire to the cloisters. So publishers are unfortunately, by necessity, after authors who don't have much time, or motivation, for reflection.

The reality is that social media, modern publishing, and even many churches will be unlikely to reward the fruits of introversion. There will be few pats on the back, and probably fewer and smaller paychecks, for those whose greatest contributions are made through months of introspection. 

Yet, I would argue that introversion is what the modern Church needs more than anything else. GK Chesterton once observed that the saints are the ones who offer the age its opposite. St. Francis offered asceticism to a culture of burgeoning materialism. Martin Luther offered passion and individualism to a culture of formality and hierarchy.  The modern soul, more than anything else, needs quieted meditation without a 2 o’clock appointment to get to on the other side of town.  It needs day retreats rather than day planners.  It needs to say “no” when everyone else is saying “yes.” And the church-going introvert has the makings of a modern saint.

If you want to read more about introversion, spirituality, and the history of the church, check out Adam's book, Introverts in the Church.