SpIRE Winter 2017 Public Lecture

“Uncovering Stories of Hope: Narrative Approaches to Spiritual Care”.

6th SpIRE Public Lecture, Dublin.

Dr David Crawley, Laidlaw College, New Zealand.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017.



“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact it’s the other way around” (author Terry Pratchett).

  1. Whakapapa and the layering of identity

‘Whakapapa’ – Māori term for genealogical history, embracing all that constitutes the richness of one’s identity and belonging within the creation: family and ancestors, the environment, the cosmos, and the spiritual realm, as well as the treasured stories through which these connections are described, passed on and kept alive.

Māori never enter into a space of engagement as an individual: who they are and who they are connected to comes into the room with them whether they acknowledge or even understand it or not. (Swann, 2013, 12)

A way of visualizing whakapapa is the building, layer by layer, upon the past towards the present, and on into the future. Within these layers of whakapapa are the narratives that take in the many spiritual, mythological and human stories that shape, create meaning and bring to life the genealogical layers. (Swann, 2013, 13)

Reflection point:

Are there places to which you have been drawn to in pilgrimage?

What these might say about your personal and spiritual ‘whakapapa’?

  1. Resonances with postmodern perspectives and the social formation of the self

‘Discourses’ – systems of thought and belief embedded in our social contexts (Michel Foucault).
These taken-for-granted versions of “how things are” can shape our ways of seeing and being in the world.

Jenny’s story.

Discussion question:

What ‘dominant discourses’ have you experienced in religious contexts?

Did these support or subvert the journey of faith, hope and love?

  1. A note on the language of the ‘true self’

Janet Ruffing’s critique of postmodern ideas about the self.

How well does this language sit with ideas of the self as relational, storied and open to multiple possibilities?

  1. Uncovering stories of faith and hope in spiritual care

Narrative therapy – an approach to counselling and community work developed in Australia and New Zealand in the 1990s by Michael White and David Epston.

Every story represents one selective telling, among other possible tellings.  Narrative therapists work with their clients to uncover and enlarge neglected alternative stories – they are “archaeologists of hope.”

Some strategies (illustrated with Pete’s story)

  1. Listen for the story/stories
  2. Avoid unnecessarily rehearsing (and thereby strengthening) problem narratives
  3. Reflect on the effects of the problem narrative and their ‘fit’ with hopes and desires
  4. ii. Reflect on and evaluate influences that have shaped the problem story
  5. Reflect on earlier shaping influences
  6. Explore the influence of dominant discourses/narratives in the context
  7. As companions and carers, attend to the influence of our own discourses

iii. Listen together for emerging stories of faith, hope and love

  1. Enquire into exceptions
  2. Listen for hopeful hints and metaphors that might be expanded on
  3. Find ways to “thicken” the emerging hopeful story


Concluding thoughts

Do not bemoan the dark,
but trust that darkness will help true light to be revealed,
and pray the light of love will illumine all.

(Source unknown)


http://dulwichcentre.com.au (website for the Dulwich Centre for Narrative Therapy and Community Work)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Bergin, Helen and Susan E. Smith. Land and Place: Spiritualities from Aotearoa New Zealand: He Whenua, He Wahi. Auckland, NZ: Accent Publications, 2004.

Bidwell, Duane R. Empowering Couples: A Narrative Approach to Spiritual Care. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013.

Coyle, Suzanne M. Uncovering Spiritual Narratives: Using Story in Pastoral Care and Ministry. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014.

Crawley, David R. “Authority in Spiritual Direction Conversations: Dialogic Perspectives.” Journal for the Study of Spirituality 6, no. 1 (2016): 6-19.

Crawley, David R. “Questioning the Man of God: Selina’s Story.” Australasian Pentecostal Studies 18 (2016). http://aps-journal.com.

Morgan, Alice. What Is Narrative Therapy? An Easy-to-Read Introduction. Adelaide, SA: Dulwich Centre Publications, 2000.

Ruffing, Janet K. “Spiritual Identity and Narrative: Fragmentation, Coherence, and Transformation.” Spiritus 12, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 63-74.

Ruffing, J. (2000). Socially Engaged Contemplation: Living Contemplatively in Chaotic Times. In R. J. Wicks (Ed.), Handbook of spirituality for ministers: Perspectives for the 21st century (Vol. 2, pp. 418-441). New York, NY: Paulist Press.

Ruffing, Janet K. To Tell the Sacred Tale: Spiritual Direction and Narrative. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2011.

Swann, Brent, Huia Swann, and Kathie Crocket. “Whakapapa Narratives and Whānau Therapy.” New Zealand Journal of Counselling 33, no. 2 (2013): 12.

White, Michael and David Epston. Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. New York, NY: Norton, 1990.

SpIRE Committee with Dr Crawley, 2nd from left
SpIRE Committee with Dr Crawley, 2nd from left