Robert Wicks. 2000. Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Others. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
One of the more interesting definitions of the soul is that it encompasses who we are and who we are in relationship with, including God. This definition differs significantly from the Greek division of the person into body and spirit or, body, mind, and spirit. It also differs from the Freudian division into id, ego, and superego. When we talk about the three movements of the spirit, popularized recently by Henri Nouwen (1975), into polarities within, with God, and with others, we converge on this ancient notion of soul. Loneliness can accordingly be accurately described as an affliction of the soul, while frankly psychologists have really no conceptual basis for even describing it because it is relational, not part of the person.
In his book, Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Others, Robert Wicks describes his book’s theme in these words:
“…the more we can remove the blocks to an appreciation of who we are and who we are becoming, the truer we can be in our response to the Gospel call to serve others and God. We must be available then to ourselves so that our relationships can flow out of a healthy attitude and a clear awareness of our motivations.”(3)
While Wicks cites many passages of scripture, the one that comes to mind for me in reflecting on this book, the story of Bartimaeus, he does not cite. It reads:
“And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside … And Jesus stopped and said, Call him … And Jesus said to him, What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:46-52 ESV)
What celebrity stops for a random person in a crowd, one of the invisible people? Yet, time and time again, Jesus made himself radically available to strangers.
Being Available to Ourselves
If loneliness is an affliction of the soul, availability enlarges and heals the soul; it is a gift (1). Wicks writes:
“Availability to ourselves increases along with availability to God and others because there is a unity in being true to oneself, others, and God.”(39)
Wicks clearly believes that being available to ourselves is the key to unlocking this gift. Note that in writing his book in eight chapters, four are devoted to being available to ourselves (half the book) while only two chapters are devoted to being available to others and two to God (v).
Wicks focuses on being available to ourselves in terms of recognizing our uniqueness and limits, being willing to forgive ourselves in failure, cultivating self-awareness, and developing emotional and mental clarity, avoiding defensiveness.
Being Available to Others
Being available to others can be easily described, but it is an area fraught with confusion. Wicks writes:
“Being available to others is not just giving time, money, and effort. It is also not endlessly worrying about others so that our personal tension rises to the point that we are overloaded and have no energy to care about anything or anyone anymore.” (40)
Obviously, burnout is a real possibility. I have seen pastors experiencing anxiety attacks, running around trying to do everything, and being subject to temptations that would not normally afflict them, had they honored their own limits.
Being Available to God
In his discussion of being available to God, Wicks makes an important observation:
“When we play at prayer, rather than open ourselves up to listen, it is we who are truly not available to God.”(95)
When you pray, do you do all the talking? God answers prayer, sometimes quite quickly, but we need to be listening. He goes on:
“…if there is a key to understanding the problems of availability and appreciating it as a gift, this key is contained in our seeking unity within and without by placing ourselves continually in the presence of God: to relax, to sit, to learn, to work, to contemplate, to do everything in the presences of God.”(102)
When I am restless or distracted in prayer, I find it helpful to pray a centering prayer. For me, Psalm 8 centers me and helps me to separate myself from my own busyness. My own restlessness often makes continuous prayer during the day hard.
Robert Wicks’ Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Othersis short and easily read—a seminarian’s delight. Its brevity is disarming and masks the profound influence that this book had on my thinking early in seminary. After reading Wicks, I meditated on the story of Bartimaeus and Psalm 8 for years. Perhaps, you will too.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay. (Review)
Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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