Friday, July 06, 2007,9:17 AM
Gurus, Mentors, and Guides
I've recently started reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and am thoroughly enjoying it. The book is a chronicle of the year the author spent traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia. The stories are witty and the musings about life, love, language, faith and food are well worth the read. One bit that struck me today was her description of following a guru. That's right a guru. She went to an ashram in India to study under a particular guru. The author fully admits how weird such a thing sounds to our American sensibilities. To put something as personal and private as our faith into the hands of another person is not a normal part of our typically protestant experience. In fact we look down on people who follow gurus as deluded hippies (or something of that sort). And yet the author overcame all of those stereotypes, found a guru, and went to India to study her way of yoga. Interesting.

Besides a few painful classes at the community rec center, I have never done much yoga (not that I wouldn't like to try) and any that I have done has been of the strictly physical sort (hatha yoga I think it is). I am not looking for a yoga guru (although apparently there were a number of Christians at the ashram), but the concept itself is appealing.

A guru. A mentor. A guide.

All good things even to us protestant believers. I think the issues arise when the concept of a person attracting a following comes into play. That scares us. We shy away from personality cults, fear leaders being placed on pedestals, and ignore whatever a person has to say if they get too popular. I see all the dangers in such things, but should someone be dismissed as a guide just because a lot of other people see them as a potential guide as well? If they have the ability to inspire, teach, and mentor is it really all that bad to want to study under them? I see this all the time in the emerging church. For just reading McLaren or listening to Rob Bell, I am told that I care more about them than about God. So respecting someone as a teacher and wanting to learn from them means I worship them above God? Oh, I've seen personality cults form and devotion that borders on idolatry even in the emerging church (and yes even of those two men). But can't I desire to learn from a person I respect without being accused of idol worship? There has to be a balance there.

So, why am I rambling and ruminating about such things. I think I'm just frustrated in my inability to find a person I can see as a mentor. Oh there are a number of authors, pastors, and bloggers that I respect and look to for a sort of guidance. I greatly appreciate that input in my life. But unlike in the yoga guru system, such leaders wouldn't dream of taking on disciples (especially not a woman, but that's another issue). I could pay a lot of money for a spiritual director, but while she may function as a guide, the personal connection gets mired in the business transaction. It is an odd predicament of wanting a mentor, but not knowing anyone who could fit that role. I think that's why I liked reading about the concept of following a guru. There's this ready made system in place where one can choose a person to guide them who has no issues taking on pupils/disciples. It's a very convenient method of mentorship.

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posted by Julie at 9:17 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/06/2007 08:35:00 AM, Blogger Mrs. M

    How about a spiritual director? Their role should be (and be careful, because unhealthy people have been known to manipulate this) to listen with you, to accompany you, and to help you perceive God in your life. They are not their to do it for you, or to try to make you understand God in the same way they do. I've found mine (my current one, anyway), to be immensely valuable.

    A search guide, if you're interested.

  • At 7/06/2007 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Dianne

    I struggle with this too. Would be content to just engage with a "sacred companion" as David Benner calls such people in his great book of the same title. I do see a Christian counselor from time to time, and I think I view her more as a spiritual director than anything else. But it would be nice to interact with someone outside the professional relationship. I think we all need to both guide and be guided.

  • At 7/07/2007 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Sally

    I was about to ask the same question as mrs m- how about a spiritual director- they are often trained and provide and invaluable wise ear.


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