The Art of Spiritual Midwifery

The Art of Spiritual Midwifery: diaLogos and Dialectic in the Classical Tradition by Stephen Faller (In-depth book summary)

“The Art of Spiritual Midwifery” by Stephen Faller uses the metaphor of the Midwife to explore the work of a spiritual counselor or transformational worker. At the heart of this work is honest dialogue and dialectic which requires a capacity to hold paradox. Faller goes on to explain that our culture’s orientation towards objectivity is actually a barrier to the work of spiritual midwifery. It is the spiritual midwife’s task to navigate the in-between space by using tools such as irony, negation and inductive logic. This is a insightful exploration for anyone looking to address spiritual and existential concerns through dialogue and presence. 

Buy the book 

*All sentences in quotations are direct quotes from “The Art of Spiritual Midwifery: diaLogos & Dialectic in the classic tradition” and are attributed to Stephen Faller. Bold is added for skimmability. 


The Metaphor of the Midwife 

Stephen uses the metaphor of the Midwife to represent a spiritual counselor or transformational worker. Spiritual Midwifery is a process in which the transformational worker uses presence and dialogue to help birth what is emerging in another’s experience. 

  • “It is utterly implicit that the midwife does not have the most important job.”
  • “The good midwife is the one you don’t notice.” 
  • “The birthing process is fundamentally dynamic. More than “agents of change”—which has become cliché—midwives are guides through transition.” 
  • “Midwives are prepared and have enough experience to understand what people need.”
  • “Midwives are not detached analysts; they are engaged catalysts.”
  • “An experienced midwife is very powerful. While they do have skills and techniques to draw on, they also know how to get out of the way. A lot of their expertise lies in blending in with the background. It is assumed that people are capable and empowered.”
  • “Spiritual midwifery rests on a set of philosophical and theological ideas that weave through John, Heraclitus, Jesus, and Socrates.” 


Jesus & Socrates as Midwives

  • “In studying spiritual midwifery and spiritual rebirth, there are two major sources with whom we need to dialogue from the West: Jesus and Socrates.
  • “There are some token similarities in the lives of the two men. Both were famous teachers and neither wrote anything down.
  • “They were also both executed by the state, for controversial teachings on the nature of piety, corrupting the youth, and general disruption of the state. In very rough analogy, both of these men sacrificed their lives for the sake of an idea.”
  • “We know that the two movements have influenced each other. Early Christianity relied on the apparatus of Greek thought for the evolution of its theology. And we also know that subsequent movements in philosophy, such as that of the Neoplatonists, were also important in the overall history of Christianity.”
  • “Jesus and Socrates were about 400 years apart. Jesus lived around the Jordan region and Socrates was halfway across the Mediterranean in Athens.” 
  • “Both Socrates and Jesus relied heavily on the metaphor of the spiritual rebirth.”
  • “Jesus and Socrates both expressed a radical commitment to dialogue. Not only did they spend the very currency of their lives, on a daily basis, experiencing the sacredness of conversation and connection, but they also very clearly chose to die for the things they said.”
  • “Both Jesus and Socrates had ample opportunities to try to talk their way out of a death sentence. Socrates even has the opportunity to mount an escape before drinking the hemlock, but it was more important to him to remain committed to the conversation, even at the cost of death.”
  • “The metaphor of spiritual midwifery is a key shared term between Socrates and Jesus.”
  • “The irony of Socrates helps makes a lot of sense out of the mystical parables of Jesus.”


Reconceptualizing the Soul 


The problem of defining the soul: 

  • “Ever since Descartes’s famous “I think, therefore I am,” we have been struggling to name the soul. In Western thought, we have followed Descartes’s trajectory by seeking to locate the soul in rationality.”
  • “Once philosophy became enamored with rationalism, it became harder and harder to do meaningful work with concepts of the soul.”
  • “At one point philosophy and religion nourished each other. That relationship has been breaking down for a long time, and one of the wedge points has been the concept of the soul.”
  • “On the one hand, we are talking about a soul that is a physical thing in a physical body—and as with any other part of the body, vulnerable to the experience of death.” 
  • “On the other hand, we are talking about the existence of something so removed from the reality of life that it has no way to interact with life as we know it. With both of these conditions, it is difficult to maintain that there is a living soul that interacts with the world and is capable of some kind of immortality.”
  • “The contemporary, rational mind has framed the question and the definition of the soul in such a way that it cannot possibly be resolved.” 
  • “Both of these problems stem from the same source: trying to define the soul as a fixed, unmoving, and eternal kernel of being.”
  • “There is no one, complete model for the soul. It’s probably not even desirable that there would be one. If there was only one, that discussion would become rigid and unhelpfully static.”
  • “Spiritual midwifery works best with models that emphasize relationship and the dynamic movement of the soul.”
  • “We are working with the soul, even though we will never be completely able to say what the soul is.” 


Soul as a cluster of sacred relationships:

  • “What if the soul exists, but we have been looking for it in all the wrong places? What if we can’t find it in a body part (people once thought that the soul was the heart, or even the liver), because it’s not a part at all, but rather the unique set of relationships between the parts that make us human?”
  • “The soul is a cluster of sacred relationships. This cluster of relationships is unique and is more or less self-aware.”
  • “While it is helpful for the midwife to think of the soul as a living cluster of sacred relationships, it is not necessary.” 
  • “For the midwife, the soul is first and foremost dynamic. The soul is constantly changing, moving, growing. And suddenly we are struck by the obvious nature of this truth: every living thing is changing, moving, and growing.”
  • “The second such ramification is that the soul is fundamentally relational.” 
  • “If human beings are intended for some kind of relationship with the divine, then they ought to be inherently equipped for relationship.”
  • “But it goes a little deeper than the obvious. They are equipped for relationship because what they are is relationship.” 
  • “It is one thing to say that the human soul exists as a cluster of sacred relationships, but relationships between what and what? How do we understand them?”


Kierkegaard’s model of the soul: 

“One of the most thoughtful possibilities for a working model of the soul comes from Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. The soul, for Kierkegaard, consists of three relationships:” 

  1. “One relationship exists between what the Dane calls “Possibility” and “Necessity.” Human beings are capable agents and they can do things and make choices. In this sense, they participate in Possibility, and there’s a lot that they can do. But they can’t do everything. And more to the point, they have all kinds of limits—limits that stem directly from the human condition and limits that they find in their environments. Gravity is one of those limits, and so is mortality.”
  2. “Another relationship is a reflexive relationship—your relationship to yourself. This is the birth of consciousness. After all, there are many living things that exist in the continuum between Possibility and Necessity. But we also have the recognition that we are here.”
  3. “Kierkegaard’s final relationship exists between our self and God. There are different dimensions to this. We relate to the divine Person that we think God is, and we project all manner of values and beliefs onto that Person.

“Each of these relationships are dialectical. A soul consists of all three of these relationships. If any one of these relationships is dysfunctional, then that can cause problems for the whole person.”


Objectivity VS Subjectivity 

  • “In secular culture, we have a lot of respect for “objective facts.” In the pantheon of facts that dominate our values, objective facts reign supreme. We look to data, research, and studies for guidance. We trust those facts so completely that we could say secular culture places a high value on objective facts.”
  • “But Kierkegaard takes the opposite tack. He suggests that objective facts have a low value. Why? Because he wants us to look at objectivity in terms of relationship. If we think about objectivity relationally we can ask, what is the proper role of objectivity in relationship? Rather than using objectivity to inform me about the nature of the object (say, trying to be objective about the nature of a performance), objectivity really informs me about my relationship to the object.”  
  • “I can be objective about a rock that I pass on the street. And as relationships go, the rock is not very important to me.” 
  • “Disinterestedness is a fundamental aspect of objectivity. I can tell you, objectively, that Edison invented the light bulb, but the fact itself will not change your life.”
  • “Facts are objective. Nobody really cares when the the wheel was invented despite the fact that we all use it.” 
  • “People can all too easily become passionless factmongers. Kierkegaard acknowledges, “Under the pretext of objectivity the aim has been to sacrifice individualities entirely.”So the problems of objectivity are “first, that of not living seriously within the concepts entertained, and, second, forgetting that one is an existing human being.”
  • “Whereas objective thinking invests everything in the result and assists all humankind to cheat by copying and reeling off the results and answers, subjective thinking invests everything in the process of becoming and omits the result, partly because this belongs to him, since he possesses the way, partly because he as existing is continually in the process of becoming, as is every human being who has not permitted himself to be tricked into becoming objective, into inhumanly becoming speculative thought.”
  • “The key distinction between objective and subjective thought is simply this: “Objectively the emphasis is on what is said; subjectively, the emphasis is on how it is said.”
  • “We tend to think of subjective opinion as that which is inferior to objective truth. But the subjective is that which actually matters to a person. The subjective comes before the predicated reality of the objective.”
  • Kierkegaard argues that objectivity relates to the relative (things that just happen to occur) as though they were the absolute (things that happen for only the most serious, eternal reasons). Subjectivity relates relatively to the relative, and absolutely to the absolute.” 
  • For Kierkegaard, the “how” is ultimately more important than the “what.””
  • “All of this is to say that the “The how of the truth is precisely the truth.”
  • “He demonstrates the priority of the “how” in the example of love.There is no word in human language, not one single one, not the most sacred one, about which we are able to say: If a person uses this word, it is unconditionally demonstrated that there is love in that person.” 
  • “His point is that if there were such a word then it would be the “what.” All someone would have to do is speak this “what” and then it would be clear that love lived in that person. But there is no such “what” in matters of love, there is only the “how”—only the ardor of the young man’s striving courtship, only the blush on the young woman’s cheeks, and only the “how” in matters of truth.” 
  • Religion and spirituality necessarily conflict with objectivity—that is, objectivity in the sense of approaching life at arm’s length, where by definition spirituality is the thing that matters most to us.


God, Religion & Spirituality 

  • “Kierkegaard’s great idea about religion is that it’s not an idea at all. What is religion, then? If Kierkegaard were to directly tell us then we’d get the wrong idea; namely, that religion is an idea that can be discussed and communicated like any other.” 
  • “Life is a task. The religious man differs from the apparently irreligious man only by experiencing his existence not simply as a task, but as a mission. This means that he is also aware of the taskmaster, the source of his mission. For thousands of years that source has been called God”.
  • “The potential tragedy of religion is that you can get all of the facts right and all of the relationships wrong.”
  • “Because true spirituality is ultimately subjective, it cannot be bequeathed like a fact.”
  • “One of the best ways to get the relationships wrong is to reduce the Almighty to the significance of a single idea. To treat God as though God were a theory, as relativity itself is a theory, is to not understand or know God at all.”
  • “This is the key message in the work of Jewish theologian Martin Buber. In his groundbreaking work, I and Thou, he reminds us that God’s primary role in our lives is to not be someone to be talked about, not even as the highest Idea in the world of ideas, but someone that we should be talking to.”
  • “Indeed, we see that our attitudes and relationships toward those ideas is centrally more important than those ideas themselves—and this is a good thing when we are relating to the Almighty, because the finite can never comprehend the Infinite.” 
  • “Being too straightforward can obscure the spiritual and sublime from view.”
  • “Being “thinkable” is the prerequisite to “believable.” Believable in the old sense is something we are able and willing to live out, something we are willing to shape our lives around.”
  • “Rationality has become key to our belief. We are not willing to identify ourselves with or in any way endorse anything irrational, and we certainly wouldn’t dedicate our lives (the original meaning of belief) to anything so unreasonable as the Absurd.” 
  • “Jesus says, “You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John Paul says, “We look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen” 
  • “Kierkegaard says, “What I am seeking is not here, and for that very reason I believe it.”
  • Heraclitus says, “He who cannot seek the unforeseen is lost, for the known way is an impasse.” 
  • “The truth is that we don’t have access to the divine language and we are not able to name these things definitively.” Socrates suggests that we are limited to approximations and metaphor. And Scripture tells countless stories where God keeps silent on a great many things and the greatest of all is the very name of the divine. We are never given that name.”
  • “If spiritual things and ideas are to be communicated, why not communicate them as openly and transparently as possible? Unfortunately, the deepest things cannot be communicated this way.


The Power of Honest Dialogue & Dialectic 

  • “Dialogue is the medium for midwifery, the vessel for this via media, the ultimate container for conversation.”
  • “There is nothing so daring as dialogue, nothing as daunting as submitting yourself to the gauntlet of the opinions of another. When we expose ourselves to dialogue we are surrendering the monologue of our own ego, our own narcissism.” 
  • “A dialogue can go anywhere; that’s the beauty of it. But that’s also the horror of it.”
  • “What it means to do philosophy is to enter into a conversation with another, a lifelong conversation that never ends.”
  • “There are many conversations that are initiated all the time—conversations that have no interest in honest dialogue.”
  • “A deeper appreciation of what dialogue might be calls for a rigorous, even Socratic, examination of this cultural value.”
  • Indirect communication is an authentic vehicle for dialogue.” (*Note This was a surprising insight for me.)
  • “It is possible to have responses that are skillful and purposeful without any loss of honesty. It is possible to speak powerfully with life-giving words, even if those words are vulnerable to misunderstanding.”
  • “Whatever the parables are, “transparent” they are not.” 
  • “Parables are a type of existential literature that invite the reader to imaginatively participate. Sometimes they do this by negating the specific and appealing to common experiences.”
  • “Therapeutically, inductive theology and parables function quite differently than pop psychology. Where pop psychology seeks to improve our quality of life by helping us resolve seeming conflicts, parable seeks to give us problems. Through parable we are forced to confront the problems of individual life and our social practices.”


Principles of Honest DIalogue in Spiritual Midwifery:


(1) “Both parties do not (and cannot) have the same experience of the dialogue.”

  • “We are forced to grow in relationships before we understand them, and maybe conclude that understanding and authenticity cannot coexist.”
  • “Limiting the definition of intimacy to having exactly the same experience of exactly the same event is a good way of predisposing a spiritual caregiver to think they are in love.”
  • “It is impossible for a skilled clinician to walk into a patient’s room and have the same experience of that event as the patient.”


(2) “Both parties are changed by the dialogue—even as the dialogue unfolds.”

  • “People change their minds, and they also disguise their minds for a variety of reasons. They are afraid to tell the truth, and often give us exactly what we want to hear.”
  • “Honesty has to be earned, not assumed.”


(3) “People occupy particular and exclusive locations in dialogue (there is responsibility).”

  • “There may be a significant barrier or collision of differences that complicates the midwifery relationship (although it cannot be said too often that many times it is exactly through the paradoxical adaptation of these complications where the midwifery occurs). Likewise, extreme parity and similarity can complicate a midwifery dynamic. Extreme similarity enhances the potential for misunderstanding and overidentification.”
  • “Many relationships between people are exclusive in nature, that is, they prevent the possibility of other kinds of relationships. This is also true for the spiritual midwife. This is true for many professions (physician, priest, psychotherapist) but we also encounter this in everyday life (parent, sibling, spouse). To fuse these kinds of relationships is a short trip to problems.”
  • “Any experienced counselor or therapist knows not to counsel their own family.”


4)” Dialogues must be created and initiated; they are a mutual act of trust, a microcosmic leap of faith.”


(5) They have an end and no end.

  • “Spiritual midwives should be cognizant that they have the ability and the authority and the responsibility to decide when the dialogue is over. At the same time, midwives should also realize that conversation threads are ongoing even after the dialogue is “over.””


(6)” Dialogues are neither aimless nor aimed.”

  • “The midwife won’t enter into the dialogue with an agenda. Whatever agenda arises must be coauthored. But at the same time, expect the midwife to exercise purposeful movement.”
  • “The midwife makes discreet assessments and specific interventions, but this is not some kind of predetermined agenda.”


(7) “Dialogues are marked by mutual consent and mutual assessment.”

  • “This is where the equality of dialogue comes in. Although each participant in the dialogue is situated in a particular position (and invariably there will be an imbalance of power here), there remains, nonetheless, a fundamental equality between the partners. The equality is expressed by mutual consent and mutual assessment.”


(8) “Dialogues are relational experiments where other relationships are explored. In the course of dialogue, the Other is invited to explore relationships to various things in his or her life.”

  • Dialogues are typically short-term relationships. In the context of that short-term relationship, the midwife may be invited to share some of that person’s most significant relationships and attachments. By connecting to the midwife, a person may have the opportunity to revisit material that was especially formative, or to reframe relationships that are frustrating and painful.”
  • “We have feelings about our experiences. These feelings can be understood as relationships. I have a relationship to my health issues, and what they have meant to me over the years. I have a relationship to my prognosis and what my future possibilities are. I can explore these relationships within dialogue, which is, itself, a relationship.”


(9) “Dialogues are expressed in relational language (rhetoric).”

  • “Through relationship between two persons, it is possible to explore many other sacred relationships and attachments. Through trusting the midwife, persons may get to explore some of their most important connections to the world: their faith, their loved ones, even their own personal history.”
  • “One of the reasons why the dialogue is so effective at getting to the heart of the sacred relationships is because the very medium of dialogue—language—is itself relational (n.b. that “language” is derived from Logos).”
  • “It is worth underscoring the truth that silence is a part of language, in both the medium and the mode.”


(10) “Understanding the relational essence of dialogue, there are many basic and powerful ways to shape the troublesome relationship.”

  • “Much of the content of spiritual midwifery deals with some kind of difficult relationship.”
  • “Going forward, midwifery offers many ways to affect that relationship. Perhaps it’s through a direct aspect of the midwife relationship. Or maybe in fleshing out the language around the problem, there is a way to shift and reframe the grammar of how the problem is experienced.”
  • “There’s a lot that spiritual midwifery doesn’t have the power to do. If somebody has lost a leg, spiritual midwifery is not going to regenerate any limbs. However, what matters very much is how that person feels about that lost leg; that is, what is the relationship of this person to their loss?”
  • “We all live in a world where loss and limitation are a part of the natural order. In many cases, our relationships to those losses and limitations are more important than the losses themselves. The losses and limitations are merely facts, but the relationships to those facts are where the meaning comes in. And that’s exactly where spiritual midwifery has traction.” 


What is Dialectic?

Dialectic is a discourse between two or more opposing ideas or points of view. I call this playing with paradox. 

  • “Dialectic is one of the oldest and most universal ideas in religion and philosophy. Through dialectic we explore the great contraries and antinomies of life, and nearly all of the religious traditions have this primal idea at their root.”
  • “All of the different religious permutations on dialectic revolve around the great polarities and dualities.”
  • “Sin and grace. Good and evil. Life and death. Male and female. Yin and yang. Creation and destruction. Light and dark. God and Satan. Even being and nonbeing. This is the heart of all dualism.”
  • “These dualisms capture powerful truths of the particular human experience. We are born into a world of land and water, night and day, cold and heat, and birth and death. Our experience is intensely defined by these polarities.”
  • “Dialectical thought embraces all these opposites, but what’s more, it also embraces the elastic terrain of the dialectical tension between them.” 
  • “Dialectics lie at the core of midwifery, and the movement of the individual at the paradox of the parable moves by dialectical principles.” 
  • “By exploring dialectics we begin to understand the empty spaces and negative spaces that are described by Lao Tzu. We begin to think about using the space that is not there.” 


The Failure of Political Correctness 

Political Correctness fails because it doesn’t allow for honest conversations. 

  • “Some people have so much invested in political correctness that they cannot admit that the failure has already happened.”
  • “They think that the reason that political correctness has not won the day is because there are not enough people that subscribe to it.”
  • Political correctness is actually its own theory of dialogue as expressed by the Western academy.” 
  • “The project of political correctness looks at the cohesion of society as a function of social discourse.”
  • “It tries to spell out rules for conducting civil discourse in a civil society. We can say this, but we can’t say that. Again, this seems very natural and well-intentioned. If society is merely the network for social discourse, then aren’t we going to need some rules for how this discourse is supposed to occur?”
  • “Political correctness introduces its own terms and virtues, and things like marginalization, inclusivity, diversity, and tolerance circulate in rising currency.” 
  • “But these things are so controversial in themselves that it’s never going to be possible to get everyone to agree on how diverse or tolerant we should be.”
  • “How do we view ourselves without marginalizing anyone? How do we empower the disenfranchised without disenfranchising somebody else?” 
  • “If I can get you into a debate about the merits of political correctness, then in many respects I’ve already won, because that is precisely the goal of political correctness all along: to engraft an increasing number of participants into this culture-defining metaphor of quasidialogue.”
  • “But this is also the place where the metaphor fails, because it has no genuine interest in engaging the experience of the other.”
  • “If the dialogical other experiences the conversation itself as a type of blasphemy, the theory of political correctness has no language to contain that.” 
  • “There’s no such thing as neutral language. Every kind of grammar is predicated on some type of value system. Trying to completely avoid differences in the name of inclusivity means that inclusivity is more important than identity. It is the substitution of one value for another.”
  • “Every time we say this can’t be said and that can’t be said, we are negating the possibility of true dialogue.”
  • “As a result, political correctness has no language for conflict, aside from clichés of “agreeing to disagree,” and conflict is a vital part of authentic relationship.”


Barriers to Spiritual Midwifery

  • “Just telling people what’s wrong with them does not help them.” 
  • “It is unlikely and unrealistic to think the relationship between persons will have absolutely no impact on what is communicated between them.”
  • “There are all kinds of ways that the presence of the caregiver can create a formidable barrier to the spiritual work that needs to be done.”
  • “It is hard enough to resist the pressure of making a good impression. It is easy to fall into the narcissism of being accepted or rejected.”
  • “It is already tempting to begin a relationship and succumb to the seduction of being liked. It is these kinds of distractions that derail spiritual work and turn it into a lesser experience of socializing.” 
  • “It is not likely to be spiritually transformative if a hospital patient remembers the personal details about a visiting chaplain. But it makes all the difference in the world if the patient doesn’t remember a thing about the chaplain, but now views their hospitalization as a way of reconnecting with God.”
  • “Trying to replace one set of experiences and reflexes over atop another may not only be needlessly inefficient but also somehow violent. In the therapeutic setting this is evident when counselors encourage counselees to shout, cry, or whatever when the counselor tells the patient how to express their feelings.”
  • “Generally speaking, questions possess two characteristics: they demand answers, and they put one on the defensive.” 
  • “Avoid questions and in their place use statements of observation and personal preference. Nonverbal communication can be helpful. Even imperatives can be more helpful than the deafening negativity of questions.” 
  • “A statement like, ‘Tell me more about your father’ leaves the counselee free to choose the information that seems important to reveal. The general area of interest has been defined, but what is said is left to the person who is seeking help.” 
  • “The midwife is encouraged to really listen to the question, and then draw the individual out into that chasm, so she can begin to define its limits for herself. It took that person a lifetime to ask that question; try not to answer it in ten words or less.”
  • “It can be just as hard for one person to identify his or her own spiritual needs. That can be surprising at first; presumably people who are hungry know that they are hungry and even what they hunger for. But the spiritual hunger is different. It is very hard to be engrossed in a given experience and to reflect on that experience at the same time.” 
  • “When we are asked to engage our spirituality, by definition that is very engrossing, and it is very hard to offer immediate reflection of any depth.”
  • “Spiritual midwifery is much more than uncovering incorrect ideas about the spiritual life and then replacing them with correct ideas.”
  • “Going about trying to do spiritual midwifery by only the method of direct communication is a bit like thinking the spiritual task can be solved as easily as, “Burger and fries, please.” That’s not going to work.”
  • “When things become problem-centered and not person-centered, we stop hearing the stories that people have to tell, and we start looking for some kind of underlying problem. This can really decide the course of what had been a truly open dialogue.”
  • “When problems and pathologies are the most important thing, that’s where we are going to steer a conversation. Understanding the pathology becomes more important than everything, even people. We see what we look for.” 
  • “If I think that liberation comes from understanding the past, then I am also placing a high value on conscious comprehension and the ability to understand the past correctly. By valuing conscious comprehension and the ability to understand correctly, we are more and more establishing the ego—that conscious self—as the locus of healing. And that may not be where the healing lies; indeed, the ego can often be the cause of the problem.”


Tools of the Spiritual Midwife 



  • “Irony may not be very important to God. But irony is very important to people.”
  • “Kierkegaard’s irony is not really irony as we know it. Normally we think of irony as funny, maybe even a type of sarcastic or cynical humor. Maybe a certain wry attitude. Or we might think of it as a kind of divine torture where the events of the universe align and conspire against the hopes of mice and men. But all of this is off the mark. Completely.”
  • “It is better to describe irony as a metaphor gone out of control, as a mischievous child playing with trains. Vehicle and tenor collide in a paradoxical way, except that everything is in control and everything has purposely been set on a collision course, and it is precisely this control and this intention that defines irony.” 
  • “One of the key concepts with indirect communication is that objective language is not suitable for communicating a message that is fundamentally subjective.” 
  • “The “how” is absolutely essential to the “what.” What Kierkegaard is drawing on here is the tension between form and content.”
  • “Kierkegaard reveals that irony is basically a consciousness of the discrepancy between the inner life (our own interpretation of our experience) and the outer life (what is visible about us to anyone in the world).”
  • “The disparity itself between the inner and outer life becomes a significant part of life, and if used correctly it can be a source of tremendous creativity.”
  • “There is another figure of speech that is erroneously often thought to be ironic. The oxymoron, which two words are paired that at first glance appear completely incompatible, like “bitter” and “sweet.” What actually makes the oxymoron is not the intensity of the contradiction but the way in which the terms work together and depend on each other to create a precisely nuanced meaning (i.e., chocolate really is bittersweet).”
  • “With irony, the two elements of the contradiction are negated and space is created for something new. We usually think of irony when something is being said that either opposes what is actually being communicated or what is actually happening. The greater the distinction, the greater the irony. Artistically, irony is a purposeful and meaningful distinction between form and content where the two are sent into paradoxical juxtaposition.” 
  • “Lived-out irony is a dimension beyond verbal irony. In verbal irony, as Kierkegaard says, the speech cancels itself out and we have a linguistic paradox. In lived-out irony, what is canceled out is life itself—life is inverted and we begin to see ironic nothingness.”
  • “Visualizing ironic nothingness is difficult at first. If you encounter verbal irony, you feel like your words are being used against you. With lived-out irony, your own existence becomes the convicting evidence against you.” 
  • “Kierkegaard tries to describe it this way, “Ironic infinite elasticity, the secret trap-door through which one suddenly plunges down—not one thousand fathoms . . . but into irony’s infinite nothing.”
  • “Kierkegaard continues the explanation of irony, using Socrates’s death as an example. Socrates does not know any more about death than the rest of us, but through irony Socrates embraces the nothingness (not of death, but the nothingness of his knowledge of death). In so doing, his entire being is literally negated. Another person might have been afraid of their ignorance about death and decided to recant philosophy. By choosing death Socrates allows his whole life to be a witness for philosophy—his life becomes an ironic communication.”
  • “Kierkegaard’s observations about Socrates show us that in death, we witness his utmost essence. For Kierkegaard Socrates’s death was the pinnacle of irony in much the same way that Jesus’ death was the pinnacle of God’s love—through the self-annihilation.”
  • “Once we understand how the ironies are pointed, coming up with approaches to circumvent the resistance is easy. We can either choose to recreate the resistance that binds people, or step around it. But the choice is ours.” 
  • “Awareness of irony also provides an appreciation for the dangers around dual relationships. Dual relationships are those where we relate to the other on more than one level, maybe as friend and counselor, or as colleague and chaplain.”
  • “Irony appreciates that all relationships may not support all dialogues, and therefore helps create a therapeutic sense of caution.”
  • “Socratic irony is a useful framework for understanding some of the more complicated relationships and dynamics of spiritual midwifery. This science of rhetoric has a rich tradition. There is a clear rationale for the ideas behind midwifery, even if these ideas are paradoxical and hard to communicate.” 
  • “Socratic irony is a way of using rhetoric and the limits of language to create a verbal experience that will resonate a kind of spiritual experience.”
  • Appreciating irony is also helpful to the midwife in self-evaluation, boundaries, and processing painful encounters that affect their personhood. 
  • “In ‘simple’ irony what is said is simply not what is meant. In ‘complex’ irony what is said both is and isn’t what is meant.” 


  • “Negation is a powerful tool in spiritual midwifery and it is one of the most important postures. It is also one of the most abstract and counterintuitive ideas that needs explication.”
  • “There are many times and places where it is not necessary to do, or especially to say, the right thing. It is enough to be there. And any approach that encourages presence over action, silence over chatter, can’t be all bad. Being there is a sufficient challenge in itself. That requires facing a cluster of intense emotions that most people do their best to avoid. It often means embracing acute sadness, grief, and a profound powerlessness.”
  • “The way of negation is a continual modus operandi for Socrates throughout the entire Dialogues of Plato. Each dialogue offers an endlessly inventive way for getting oneself out of the way of a true philosophic inquiry.”
  • “Negation is one of the best ways to create a space in relationship for someone else to do spiritual work; perhaps wherever creation is involved it always happens ex nihilo—there always needs to be a creative void if new life is to emerge.”
  • “Thinking about negation and the ministry of absence as a basic way of approaching ministry can be a kind of frame or vessel for the pastoral relationship that can guard us from the temptations of being liked and accepted (where the real work is in the birth—not cultivating popularity).


Inductive Logic 

  • “Deductive logic is an important concept within the framework of spiritual midwifery, because it is largely the theoretical backdrop that spiritual midwifery stands in direct contrast to.”
  • “When most people talk about logic and “being logical,” it is largely deductive logic that they are talking about. In the West, the only kind of logic that is widely respected is deductive logic.”
  • “The basic pattern of movement is that if we can say something about the general, then the laws that govern the general will also apply to the specific and particular.”
  • “The reasoning is sound, but it didn’t really become such a dominant way of thinking in the West until the Enlightenment. The Age of Reason following the Enlightenment really pursued deductive reasoning leading to determinism, materialism, and the modernism that captured the West at the turn into the twentieth century.”
  • Deductive reasoning fits in very well with determinism, which suggests that the world is governed by very regular laws and principles. If we understand the laws that describe how reality moves, and we understand the exact state of reality at the present moment, then we ought to be able to accurately predict how reality will be in the future. This is determinism in a nutshell. This is also the Newtonian perspective.”
  • “A more sophisticated determinism concedes that even if it is not possible to examine the exact nature of reality at precisely one moment, the universe is still governed by very rigid rules even if the outcomes are currently unknowable to us.”
  • “Deductive reasoning and this kind of ontological determinism that has led to our control over science are very powerful ways of engaging the world. By use of these conceptual tools entire civilizations have been built, and entire civilizations have been destroyed. And it is fair to suggest that ideas with this much raw power appeal to the universal human appetite for control.”
  • “We live in a world that is still very informed by Newtonian values; we live in a world that expects measurable results in a timely fashion.”
  • Because so much of our logic is assumed to be deductive, it can be hard to imagine just exactly what inductive logic looks like. In general, it moves in the reverse direction from deductive logic, and by comparison, it has some unexpected qualities.”
  • A theorem is said to be proved inductively when it is said to be true for any given number, N, and then also true for N + 1. The N number is completely random and it represents the completely general. But whereas the N is completely random, the N +1 is utterly precise—it is one and only one number different. In other words, when you have an idea that is true in the abstract, and it is also true in the particular, we call that an inductive proof.”
  • Socrates is a man. And there are lots of things that we can say about men—that they have all kinds of limits and boundaries. Maybe we can infer some things about the person of Socrates. But maybe there is something special about Socrates altogether. Maybe he has something new to add to the world. Maybe one human can come along, and not only do something unpredictable—like thinking in a whole new way—but at the same time, change the way all humans think ever after.”
  • Deductive thinking can cultivate a pastoral care that overemphasizes the pathological. Deductive and deterministic approaches focus on the causality of events. What set of conditions and causes led things to be the way they are today? If this person has a problem, where did the problem come from? And this leads to one of the great counterproductive consequences of deterministic pastoral care; instead of being person-centered, it tends to become problem-centered.” 
  • “Inductive logic is much more indeterminate. Instead of assuming the past holds the definitive answer about why things are the way they are, inductive logic is more in tune with how things are moving in the present, and even more so about where things are likely to go in the future.
  • “Inductive logic holds out for the possibility of dreaming a new future, and imagining the steps that are necessary to get us there.” 
  • “Deterministic thought tends to be much more static, whereas inductive thinking is more fluid and dynamic. Deductive thought wants to understand to understand the chain of causality. And that a noble goal and a reasonable approach, but the approach carries with it a unique set of values.” 
  • “Inductive logic seems better suited to dynamic properties and changing relationships. For instance, two people approaching intimacy are likely to have thoughts and feelings about the intimacy that will affect how they undertake that approach. We are always changing, always in motion, even as that self’s same awareness guides that motion.”
  • “Inductive thought can work with abstract truths like love; inductive reasoning is better suited for the objects of faith.”
  • “Inductive reasoning can accept that faith and love have their own reason for being, and inform how they unfold in the future.”
  • The gravity of formal philosophy settled into deductive logic and determinism, but within mysticism, inductive logic was occasionally embraced and explored.”
  • Anselm is often ridiculed for his “ontological argument of God.” The argument suggests that because God is, by definition, the ultimate good, then God must exist because existence itself is a greater good than the idea alone.”
  • As an objective argument, meant to convince someone outside the faith, Anselm fails. But as a pious believer, within the context of his faith, the argument succeeds, because it succeeds as an intensifier. Because Anselm has faith that God is good, the argument increases his sense of tangibility of God, because the greatest good would be for God to be tangible.”
  • Where the deductive determinist seeks only proof, this inductive mystic seeks movement. The argument is not merely circular, but an upward spiral—and the two-dimensional mind of the determinist cannot measure the vector of inductive reasoning.”


The Center 

  • “The center is ultimately a subjective concept, and one that would be impossible to completely define objectively. It is an idea that does not rest in other ideas. It is a term that brings other terms into definition and therefore is impossible to define with those self same other words. To describe it, we must test the tensile strength of our language and reach with a sense of the poetic.”
  • “At the same time, just because the center cannot be defined by precise terms does not mean that we cannot talk about it, that we cannot talk around it, that we cannot circumambulate the truth like a labyrinth, that we cannot be made better by it even as we struggle to understand it.”
  • “A term does not have to be completely pinned down in order to be useful. By now, we know we can find many needful things that are necessarily subjective, if we are willing to walk subjectively.”
  • “Moving toward the center requires that the conversation move toward the heart of dialectical theory and a greater appreciation of formal dialectics.” 
  • “The center is categorically in the dialectical midst of everything, poised at the dialectical heart, it is sensitive and responsive to the slightest imbalance and simultaneously eternally patient enough to let things take their course.” 
  • “The center is not an external idea or group of ideas like a doctrine that can be superimposed over a relationship in order to bring structure or lessen anxiety. Being centered cannot happen by sheer force of will.”
  • “The center is not an experience where all of the concerns of the midwife disappear—as though the midwife were no longer a person who had concerns and cares. It is more that the center is a place where the midwife can exist as a whole person without threat or anxiety.” 
  • “It is nearly impossible to find the center whenever it becomes an externalized target outside the self. If you’re thinking about hitting a target, you are creating distance away from the center. Centering comes first. Balancing comes second.” 
  • “Being centered is not being scattered. It is not needing the approval of the people that you are trying to midwife. It is not needing to reveal everything you know. It is certainly not needing to be understood. It is not needing to have something to say. It is not needing to appear smart. It is not needing to appear anything. It is not even needing to appear.”  
  • “Being centered is being free to be oneself without tripping over oneself. This is very much the way musicians and dancers are able to do the rather ordinary miracles that they do. If they really stopped and thought about all of the individual movements, these achievements could never happen. But they are certainly aware of what they are doing.”  
  • “The center is the vantage point from which to watch people suffer.” 
  • “It is also the vantage point from which to watch the sun rise and transformation unfold.” 
  • “Being centered is a kind of readiness for the business of midwifery. No one’s going to hand you their baby if they think you are going to drop it. Nor should they.” 
  • Being centered is an implicit willingness to hold something, to receive something, not because that’s the order of things, but because that’s part of the dynamic trajectory of the process.” 
  • “It is comfortable with being helpless and useless; it is also ready to act. Being centered is both spontaneous and impatient, impulsive and restrained, ready to pull the trigger and not trigger-happy. Take the big leap or walk away.”
  • “It is purposeful without an agenda. It has goals that emanate from the other.”
  • “There is a sense of being engaged and involved in what’s going on, but also a sense of detachment; being real, but also being real clear about where the focus belongs.” 
  • “Being centered is an ideal place to be working with these dialectical in-betweens. It takes a keen focus and a strong determination to resist the polar extremes.”  
  • “It might be the peace that passes all understanding, because understanding is largely overrated. The center is something to trust in. Trust is contagious, inductively.”
  • “Becoming centered is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once. Failures are a part of the process, although dynamically speaking, failures can both take you away from being centered or take you closer to it.” 
  • “The good news is that being centered is much, much easier than being enlightened, and most people can have an experience of being centered if they really want it and are willing to work at it for some time.” 
  • “Most people find the center by realizing they are not there. That’s part of it. You learn to make peace with the distances between you and the center, and the more the anxiety about not being centered lessens, the smaller the distances become.”
  • “If you want to find the center, you are going to have to spend some significant time not being centered. That’s got to be okay.” 
  • “Being centered ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad. The person who experiences being centered is still very much human and is still subject to the same forces that buffet us all.”  
  • “Becoming centered is the central interior practice. It is worth remembering to do, and certainly much more worthy than a lot of the anxious, self-destructive that is too easy to make time for.”
  • Being centered is not prayer, but has some analogous qualities to prayer. It doesn’t make prayer “better” because “better” doesn’t really apply to prayer, but it is an interesting space to pray from.”