Finding a Place for the Lonely Man of Faith

I know that many of you who are reading this are introverts trying to cope with the extreme extroversion of Orthodoxy. Its group identity, its endless minor simchas, its lack of interest in contemplation and mussar, and its turning Torah study into a collective group practice rather than an intellectual activity.What happened to the great introverted traditions of Ramhal, Vilna Gaon, the Magid of Mezritch, the Alter of Navarodk, Rav Zadok, Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik? They knew how to be introverts. What happened to the ideal of being the Lonely Man of Faith?

To make you feel better, Adam McHugh has written Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.The book is written by an Evangelical having the same problems in his church. The book is more autobiography, self-help, and pop-sociology than a definitive study, but it will allow those who share his concerns to know that others share his concerns

McHugh presents the same dilemma that many of my students have gone through. He describes in his introduction how he realized that he wont become an academic but then he realizes that he is too introverted for a pulpit. He describes his disappointments in dealing with the world of congregations and finding himself to be the odd man out in the extroverted world of seminarians and outreach workers.
In chapter one McHugh deals with three issues: personal relationship with God, Scripture, and active evangelicalism. Introverts in Church don’t  relate to God as part of a collective, they prefer knowledge to be contemplative and creative, and they don’t make good kiruv workers. Introverts are blamed for both keeping the religion too formal and self-defensive, as well as being too disobedient.

Introduction and chapter

From an online review:

For every introvert who has considered a job in the ministry, only to have second thoughts about the grueling expectations of congregations who assume a pastor will be endlessly gregarious, outgoing, available, and always “on”
For every introvert who has longed to share his or her spiritual gifts, but felt that being introverted made the prospect impossible, or at least difficult; or felt that the more extroverted members of the congregation didn’t approve of the quieter, subtler, more behind-the-scenes efforts of introverted members.

From the author’s blog- an outtake from the book

What do introverts reveal about God? Introverts reveal the creativity of God, who designed the world in all its beauty, color, abundance, and fecundity. They demonstrate the subtlety and the gentleness of God, who often speaks in whispers rather than in horn blasts and who is usually more reticent than he is talkative. For those who are attuned to hear God’s voice, he seems to speak in words or brief sentences more than he speaks in paragraphs. Introverts, when they have attained a level of personal and spiritual maturity, reveal the restfulness of God, who rested after his creative work and who dwells in his own Shalom. Introverts, with their multi-layered personalities that are only unraveled over time, reveal the mystery of God.

3 responses to “Finding a Place for the Lonely Man of Faith

  1. I do not buy that Jewish mystics are traditionally total introverts. There is an important social texture to many mystical experiences. Ramhal, for example, is the center of a mystical confraternity. He is not a lone messianic ranger. This is more true of Arizal and Safed, as you know, and may be the case for 13th century Kabbalah and the Zohar circle, as Liebes and others continue to argue. From a theurgic perspective, it is hard to see the mavericks effecting changes in the pleroma, and it seems likely that some intersubjectivity would be required for such a task, as this intersubjectivity constitutes the ipseity of the theurgically-effected process.

  2. There is always a range from extreme introversion to extreme extroversion with people falling all over the spectrum.

    I also don’t see why religion or religious leadership is any different from other endeavor or career. Often people do not have the temperment for their chosen career and either have to modify or change their career?

  3. While I haven’t yet read the book, I appreciate your comments very much especially the description of what your students have gone through. If only people really new the true power of learning, which of course can only come out from an introverted perspective!

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