Rev. Chris Rothbauer is a pastor, writer, and speaker who uses his platform to inspire and encourage others in their faith journey. With a focus on spiritual growth and community building, Chris shares his insights and experiences through his website, speaking engagements, and published works. Through his compassionate and relatable approach, Chris aims to help others deepen their relationship with God and live a more purposeful life. MysticMag chats with Chris.
How did you become interested in becoming a spiritual companion and what kind of training and experience have you experienced in this sector?
I first learned about the idea of having a spiritual companion when I was advised to find one during my ministerial training. At that time, I was searching for direction in my life and on my spiritual journey. However, it was challenging to find a spiritual companion who met my needs as a non-Christian and was willing to meet virtually. I only found one person who was willing to do spiritual companionship by telephone, which was not ideal. With the pandemic, platforms like Zoom have made it possible for me to offer spiritual companionship to people around the world who are looking for non-Christian companionship. However, finding non-Christian spiritual companions is still a challenge as many are Christian-leaning or exclusively Christian. As far as I know, I am the only non-Christian spiritual companion in the state of Alabama.
In terms of training, I initially learned about spiritual companionship through the Urban Spirituality Center, which is run by a Roman Catholic in Portland, OR. Later, I joined the first cohort of the Cherry Hill Spiritual Direction Program at Cherry Hill Seminary, which is a Pagan and earth-centered seminary that trains individuals to become ministers in the Pagan or earth-centered tradition. As far as I know, it is the first spiritual direction program geared towards the Pagan and earth-centered community. I have also received additional training from Stillpoint’s Eco-Spiritual Direction program to integrate nature into spiritual direction and am currently undergoing dream work training from the Hayden Institute. I have been practicing spiritual companionship for about three years now.
Can you explain what soul care means and how it differs from other types of spiritual practices or religious beliefs?
To me, care involves tending to the whole soul, and spiritual companionship is just one aspect of that. Many people need someone to witness their lives, to provide a listening ear as they navigate through the ups and downs. Sometimes, all we need is for someone to sit with us and acknowledge the validity of our feelings. I saw this firsthand during my chaplain residency at a Level 1 trauma center in Louisville, KY. Working in a predominantly Christian area with many Baptists, the question of why God would allow such tragedies often arose. For me, care meant meeting people where they were and being present with them, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. Being a witness to their experiences and holding space for them to make sense of it all was a vital part of caring for them.
What I have come to understand is that there are many individuals who could benefit from soul care, but due to the increasingly secular and “spiritual but not religious” nature of the Western world, they may not have access to formal spiritual communities or ministers who can provide such care. My hope is to become a resource for these individuals, someone they can reach out to for support and guidance. I want them to know that they are not alone, and that there is someone who is willing to be present with them during the highs and lows of life.
How do you approach working with people of different spiritual backgrounds or belief systems, and what are some common concerns or struggles that your clients come to you with?
Within the Unitarian Universalist community, I think one common struggle is figuring out what it means to be part of a faith community that doesn’t have a shared creed or dogma. This can make it difficult to define what Unitarian Universalism is and what we stand for. Another struggle is finding ways to create a sense of community and belonging while respecting the diverse beliefs and backgrounds of our members.
As a spiritual companion and pastoral caregiver, I strive to help individuals navigate these struggles by offering a non-judgmental and supportive presence that encourages them to explore and affirm their own beliefs and values. Ultimately, my goal is to help individuals find their own truth and sense of purpose, whatever that may be.
As a spiritual companion, I often work with individuals who were raised in a dominant Christian family and church, but have since moved away from that tradition and are now trying to explore and understand their own beliefs. I can relate to this experience because I also had to deconstruct my own beliefs at one point. My approach is to listen to their stories and help them navigate their journey of self-discovery. I don’t try to convert them to my own beliefs, but instead, my goal is to support them in finding their own truth. I also encounter individuals who have experienced spiritual abuse in their previous communities, where their religion or spirituality was used as a tool for manipulation and control. For these individuals, it’s important to meet them where they are and provide a safe space for them to recover and rediscover their own spirituality. I believe that it’s crucial to honor each person’s unique path and provide a non-judgmental space for them to explore their beliefs and values.
How do you incorporate mindfulness and contemplative practices into your work, and how do these practices benefit your clients?
I use a non-religious version of lectio divina where instead of using scripture, we use a piece of literature or poetry that speaks to the person’s soul. We read it aloud several times, and each time we focus on a different aspect of it, such as the words, the feelings it evokes, and the images it creates. This practice can help people connect with their inner selves and discover new insights about themselves.
Another practice I use is meditation or mindfulness exercises. These practices can help people become more present in the moment and connect with their inner selves. I also encourage people to spend time in nature or engage in creative activities that help them connect with their inner selves.
Ultimately, my approach is to customize my practices and techniques to the individual’s needs and beliefs, so they feel comfortable and connected throughout the process.
I love to use lectio devina as a tool to help seekers who feel stuck and don’t know what to talk about. To me, lectio devina is not limited to the Christian tradition, and I encourage people to listen to the sacred, the gods, or whatever they understand to be greater than themselves. I use a variety of readings, including poems by Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, as they often touch upon a deeper sense of reality that we don’t commonly see in everyday life. Through practices like lectio devina, I believe that seekers can ground themselves and often discover something that helps them connect with what they are hoping to work on in their lives, even if they didn’t realize it before.
Are you able to maintain your own spiritual and emotional wellbeing as you provide care and support to others?
As a spiritual companion, it’s crucial to have my own spiritual and emotional life. I believe that when people are searching for a spiritual companion, they should inquire about how the person maintains their own well-being. For myself, I prioritize taking breaks from routine by doing things like going to concerts with my partner or trying out new restaurants in nearby cities. Additionally, I see my own spiritual director once a month and participate in a spiritual direction supervision group. These practices are important for me to reflect on how I’m reacting to my own seekers and to ensure that I’m doing my own work, which allows me to be of service to others.
If you would like to find out more about Rev. Chris Rothauer, visit http://revchris.faith/