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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Availability" (Robert J. Wicks)

TITLE: Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present
AUTHOR: Robert J. Wicks
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2015, (160 pages).

Being present and available sounds easy and a great thing to say. Practicing it however is anything but that. In fact, people who recognize the challenges of availability will soon find out that it has complex implications, time challenges, and also a problem. Problems like how much is too much; how little is too little; how appropriate is appropriate; and how can it be a gift rather than a bane to receivers. In fact, being 'too available' can also be a problem in itself.

  • What if being present with God becomes a perpetual state of self-criticism?
  • What if wanting to be available is actually a sense of loneliness?
  • What if our expectations for intimacy are not met even after making ourselves available?
  • What if our modern lifestyle of busyness and hurry are preventing us from being truly and fully available?
  • It means coming face to face with the barriers that impede our availability.
In this update of an earlier version published some thirty years ago, Psychologist and Professor at Loyola University Maryland, Robert Wicks probes the idea of availability from three angles. He begins with ourselves, which may be intriguing to some readers thinking that availability should always be for others. The wisdom of this is clear. If we do not know ourselves and our limits, how can we be of help to others? Healthy people are the best help for others. Unhealthy people suck away the emotional energy around them. Wicks is so emphatic about this that he asserts "we must understand and preserve ourselves at all costs... not merely so that we can survive, but also that Christ may live on in us and in those whom we touch in His Name." In being available to ourselves, we learn about our own uniqueness. Through our struggles, we can learn more about ourselves. Failures and our ability to forgive also teach us about ourselves. Being a psychologist or psychiatrist can often leave one empty after a session with clients. Being 'burnout' requires a theology of hope. Here, Wicks brings in the psychology and theology of hope to accomplish a deeper level of self-understanding, knowing, and clarity. True power comes with great self-awareness. Courage comes with clarity about one's strengths and weaknesses. With perspective comes clarity and prayerfulness.

The second part of the book deals with being available to others. This is helpful for any forms of self-knowledge is never mean for personal consumption. God has gifted us with one another and we ought to use these gifts to care for the people that God cares for. Wicks says it well, that being with Christ means being with others as well. In relationships, we are able to cultivate the language of love. We learn to share our pain and fears within the support of a loving community.  We show compassion to one another. We learn to rejoice with those who rejoice; and weep with those who weep.

Finally, availability also means being available to God. Wicks teaches us that true prayer has a "uniting influence" as we grow toward union with God. Being available for God means creating space within us for God. It means letting go of our idols and anxieties as we enter into periods of darkness. It means learning to withhold judgment on people and to seek God's mercy. As we deal with our inner wanting to run away from God, we will then be able to restrain our human tendencies and to experience God.

So What?

Casual readers may think this book is some kind of a self-help manual for caregiving and being present for people. On the surface it does look like that. Instead, I am pleasantly surprised at how spirituality has been weaved in through prayer and intentional spirituality that allows one to be open to God and the movement of the Spirit inside one's heart. Without shunning the reality of rush and anxieties in our society, Wicks from experience starts from self-care or soul-care. Without taking care of our own houses, how can we even offer to help others with their houses? This principle is demonstrated in the framing of this book. Slowly but surely, readers learn with increasing clarity three things. First, the need for self-care and self-awareness. This is the core part of being available. The sad fact among many people is that they want to help others without first helping themselves. Like the airline safety video that reminds parents to wear their oxygen masks first before helping their young kids, Wicks correctly points out to us that spiritual care is no different. The worst thing we can ever do to a person in a sinking ship is to invite the person onboard another sinking ship! He covers a lot of ground with honest self-discovery and through our struggles, to know more about ourselves, our potential as well as our limits. Second, there is a need to look beyond ourselves and to be reminded that we are created for community. We help because we are participants in the world of people. This is the core of being human, not for ourselves but for one another. The Bible has lots to say about learning to walk together in pain and in sorrow. Third, we learn to deepen our prayer lives. This is perhaps one of the best reasons to buy this book. From psychology to community, we move eventually to the spirituality of prayer. I appreciate Wicks for sharing the wisdom from people like David Steindl-Rast, Anthony Bloom, and Henri Nouwen. Many of these writers are modern names we recognize. The annotated bibliography at the end of the book also forms a useful resource for those of us wanting to explore the spirituality of prayer in greater depth.

All in all, this is a nice little guide book on understanding the person psychologically and spiritually. At some point of the book, readers can be forgiven when they sense they are reading a portion of the late Henri Nouwen's books.  If you feel busy to pray or too caught up with trying to meet needs of others as well as self, maybe, it is high time to pick up a book like this one to gain a better spiritual perspective of where we are and more importantly, who we are.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Sorin Books, a division of Ave Maria Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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