Following Truth, Not Charisma

The founders of Sevenoaks were strong and charismatic, and I noticed that at first I followed that charisma. I was sent to see Donovan Thensenga by a spiritual director I respected. I was told that Donovan was the only person who could help me in my hunger for spiritual growth, and, I was told, I really needed an incredible amount of help. So in September of 2000 I took my first trip to Sevenoaks.

But then the founders and leaders began, one by one, leaving the Pathwork at Sevenoaks, until today only a few are left, and those who remain have only half the experience of their predecessors. Sometimes I look around and ask, “Can we survive without our charismatic leaders?” “Isn’t it the charismatic leader who attracts followers?” “Are we doomed?”

As I mentioned in previous blogs, I have been drawn to the biography of the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer whom Hitler had executed just days before Hitler took his own life and just before the Allied Forces came into the prison camps to release the prisoners. In following Bonhoeffer and his strong role in the resistance movement against Hitler, I am impressed by his personhood – his values, his courage, his conviction, his moving and inspiring sermons, and his behind-the-scenes leadership.

Did Bonhoeffer have charisma? Likely, and to the extent he did he hated that he did!  After describing one of Bonhoeffer’s broadcasted sermons his biographer Eric Metaxas, remarked, “Bonhoeffer hated to draw attention to himself or to use his personality to influence or to win converts to his way of thinking. He felt this was deceptive, that it obscured the substance of one’s ideas. He wanted to serve the ideas. Indeed, one of his most important ideas was that ideas could stand on their own.” (Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, page 140)

Yes, one’s charisma and personality can get in the way of the message, even turning some against the message while at the same time attracting others who are mesmerized by the personality of the charismatic speaker/leader.  Perhaps some of those who follow the charismatic leader do so out of fear, the fear of taking self-responsibility and daring to find and follow their own path. This is not a judgment but rather in invitation for self-reflection.

The Pathwork Guide presents this same perspective. Here is a link to an interesting quote that says just this (click here to open). In summary this quote says that it is the Truth that is to be responded to by one’s inner compass, not the “container” of the message. And of course the Pathwork Lectures speak over and over again about this being a path for the few, not the many. The many often follow charisma, not Truth.

So what is our “measure of success” in Pathwork? Will we be happy only with large and growing numbers? Will we want a famous person to follow Pathwork so that others will come to “Trust” this esoteric path and give it a try? Maybe at first, but I think not in the long run. In the end, the Truth of Pathwork, if it is Truth at all, must stand on its own and draw the hungry soul to its waters without the charisma of the messenger.

I think this is what happened to me. Yes, I came to Pathwork at Sevenoaks because someone I trusted and respected sent me. But I have not stayed for that reason. I stayed because my inner compass resonates and is awakened by the pages upon pages of the truths of the Pathwork material. I am not drawn by Core exercises we do in class or in helper sessions, by emotional processing, by the charisma of our teachers, by the beauty of the land of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Sevenoaks, or even by the like-minded folks I meet at Sevenoaks. Rather I am drawn by the applications and sharing of the inspiring truths of the Pathwork material.

For Bonhoeffer, the Truth was the truth of the Bible, which he saw as God’s sole revealed truth to man. He did not see the power of that truth communicated in systematic dogma based upon the Bible. Rather his observation was that the power of the words of the Bible came when the words were felt in time spent devotionally seeking truth from the Bible each morning and night.  (click here for a description of Bonhoeffer’s practices relating to reading and teaching the Bible)

I did the same thing with the Bible all through my thirties and forties. Then I was drawn to the Pathwork Lectures. Yes, like parts of the Bible, Pathwork truths are systematic, even “scientific,” but what I am most drawn to is applying them, sentence by sentence, even phrase by phrase, each morning in my meditation, and then working with them throughout the day, either in developing blogs, in conversation with others, in developing quotes for my website or configuring presentations of Pathwork principles in the form of PowerPoint presentations that I sometimes put on my website. 

But I see that there is another step, and that weans me even off the Pathwork Lectures.  As the Pathwork Lectures point out time and time again, ultimately the Truth lives in me!  These Truths – along with Love, Peace, Joy, Creativity, Sense of Beauty, and other qualities – are aspects of my Divine Essence, my Divine Nature, which is buried beneath the veneer of my faults, blockages, and other, what Pathwork calls, aspects of our lower Self nature, or what others call our shadow side, or what some Christians call original sin.

While my Divine Essence, my Real Self, is awakened in me by the Bible, by Pathwork Lectures, or by other material, it is MY TRUTH, MY Divine Center that is coming to Life and manifesting, This experience is MY access to the Divine Stream that connects  my well and the wells of each of us, to the One Stream. So in the end, this inner Truth is what I increasingly come to trust most of all.  And the Bible, the Pathwork Lectures, and other writings and conversations awaken these aspects of my Divine Essence.

Feeling Joy, Feeling the Fire of the Life Force, shared in Love, Gary

Epilogue — Servant Leadership

More from Metaxes’ biography of Bonhoeffer (page 269 of Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy:

“Bonhoeffer was no authoritarian, but he had a traditional respect for order and would not allow his ordinands to get the impression that they were his equals. The authority of a servant leader, as opposed to the authoritarianism of the mis-leader [here Adolf Hitler], came from God and was a leadership of serving those below oneself. That was Christ’s example to the disciples, and Bonhoeffer strove to lead that way too.”