This week I was quietly inspired as I proofed David Robinson’s upcoming Cascade volume, Soul Mentoring: Discover the Ancient Art of Caring for Others. In it David reappropriates Gregory the Great’s classic, Pastoral Care. For several hundred years, Gregory’s opus was one of the most admired and reread books in Christendom. Those who have encountered it know that it uses simple but metaphor-rich language to teach about what we now call spiritual direction. For his part, Robinson wants nothing more than to introduce Gregory to pastors, coaches, leaders, and other mentors who haven’t previously discovered him. David does so successfully, drawing on his own wells of metaphors from his own frequent backpacking, gardening, sailing, and other homely but noble endeavors. Here’s an excerpt, a brief chapter on virtue and masking.
Children love dressing up for Halloween, putting on costumes and masks then heading out to trick or treat. In our little beach village, children go from shop to shop collecting candy on Halloween afternoon. Our downtown fills with pirates, goblins, princesses, and fairies. In the evening, all these strange masked creatures gather at the elementary school along with their parents and other townsfolk for a Halloween festival, complete with caramel apples, cakewalks, and carnival games. Then the first day of November comes; kids wake up and head off to school wearing no costumes or masks, instead getting back to the good work of education.
As adults, we still love to wear masks. According to Gregory, we often wear virtuous masks to hide our vices, covering our weaknesses with masks of strength, hoping others will not look behind the surface of our lives. I love the line from The Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain.” In the midst of the booming voice of authority and the billowing flames of power, there he is, the bumbling country doctor from Kansas, pretending to be the great and awesome Wizard of Oz. Toto knows better, pulling back the green curtain to reveal the truth. Part of the hard work of mentoring is pulling off masks and pulling back green curtains.
Sometimes vices masquerade as virtues. A stingy person may try to tell you he is frugal, or a wasteful person may pretend she is being generous. Laziness can be rationalized as compassion, while uncontrolled anger is sometimes passed off as zeal. Rash judgment can parade as prompt responsibility, or tardiness as wise deliberation.
What is needed is a watchful heart to see behind outward appearances to inner truth, and thus help a mentee know the difference between vice and virtue. A wise mentor helps a mentee learn to discern. In this way, vices can be kept in check and virtues allowed to grow. Wise mentors do not overlook vices such as greed or wastefulness, laziness or wrath, rashness or tardiness, all of which bring harm. A wise mentor encourages a mentee to develop virtues such as simplicity and generosity, compassion and zeal, responsibility and wisdom.
Mentoring welcomes the wisdom of those who draw back the green curtain. Mentoring involves the boldness to ask for permission to remove a mask and the discernment to understand what lies beneath. This is best done when mutual respect and trust has been established between a mentor and mentee. Without trust, according to Gregory, a mentee may “sin more grievously” by becoming more entrenched in their vices, not allowing virtue to come into the soul. With discernment and mutual respect, masks may be gently removed, and we may begin to allow our souls to be dressed in such authentic virtues as simplicity, generosity, compassion, zeal, responsibility, and wisdom.