life and work

“I'm not a body with a soul, I'm a soul that has a visible part called the body.” 

                                                                                          —Paolo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

“I live and inspire wholeness.”  — my purpose

Three things in my adult life have taught me much of what I know about soul.  

          soul food 

The first was a year of field education that I did because I had to as a seminarian in the late 1960’s. I had grown up in segregated South Carolina in a town called Conway. Not until I was in college, and really not even then, was I ever a part of any school that was racially integrated. In the fall of 1968, just months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I began my experience at Union Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey. To all intents and purposes it was a “black” church, though I was to come to understand that there are more than fifty shades of black. In those days it was a new thing to refer to African-Americans as “black.” It became a thing of honor, a badge of pride to claim one’s blackness as a gift. I lived with parishioners on the weekends when I would commute to Montclair from Princeton. I learned how white the world really was. I learned how much I didn’t even come close to knowing about people who were different from me, but yet largely the same as I. And I learned about “soul.” Soul food, soul music, soul dancing: all of them had to do with deep expression of oneself, a way of living that got at the core of being.  

Union Baptist Church supper

The folks at Union gave me perhaps for the first time in my life a truly radical welcome. They honored and accepted me. They taught, tolerated, and loved me. They saw better than I my soul. That was the real soul food I learned to feed upon. And I delighted in it.



        god shows up

education for ministry

A little more than a decade later, I found myself in New England in a wonderfully vibrant congregation eager to explore and learn. Soon I began to lead small groups of individuals in a program developed by St. Luke’s School of Theology at The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. Education for Ministrynow a worldwide program with thousands of graduates nearly all of whom are lay persons, had from its inception contained two tracks. One was systematically reading through the core curriculum of a theological education over a four-year period. The other was a systematic approach to theological reflection on one’s life. I learned several methods of uncovering the four dynamics involved in theological reflection:  the actual experience, the cultural context, one’s personal positions and beliefs, and one’s faith tradition.  

I became converted over the eleven years of mentoring small learning groups to the belief that if God is anywhere, God shows up in the details of your own life. I learned that if I simply scratched the surface of the slightest, most apparently inconsequential experience—much more so the big experiences—I would see swimming around in that slice of life, like fluids always present in a human body, an ideal (perfection), something that would go wrong (imperfection), a crisis of sorts that would reveal reality (perhaps subtly), and the possibility of a resolution or a way forward (hope). I began to see that these things were what all the stories, all the lore, all the symbols, language, rituals of any religion are about. And I began to look at my life differently.  In short, I began slowly to grasp that “God” was in fact, not just in theory, showing up in my experience all the time



Nautilus shell

I decided in my fortieth year that I wanted to learn more about me. I found a wonderful Jungian analyst whom I began seeing on a weekly basis. I was not in any kind of crisis that I knew of, though at 42, I was beginning to sense the onset of midlife issues, the main one of which tends to be some version of, “Is that all there is, my friend?” From nearly three years in psychoanalysis, recording reams of dreams and coming to a clearer understanding of who I was, I discovered what I have come to believe is the best way to understand my life.  I knew that my life project was to be, as much as I could manage to, a whole person. I needed to claim every part of myself, especially those dimensions of me that I had been busy denying or repressing or avoiding forever. I needed to learn how not to project either my darkness or my glory onto other people or imagined beings or supernatural forces, but to own those things myself. Like many others who have gone through a similar process, I then began to understand what Jesus and all the other masters of the Spirit were teaching and doing. They were about living authentically. And I knew that in a profound way I had been hungering since early childhood to live authentically myself. What I still didn’t quite grasp was that authenticity is a matter of being at home with nature, including one’s own nature. And I didn’t yet know that one’s nature was what the Greeks called psyche, and what I know now as soul.

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed. 

                                         — D. H. Lawrence

Over the years since, I have come to distill my life’s mission to the point where I can now say every day, “I live and inspire wholeness.” I want to claim every part of myself—body, soul, spirit.  I want to honor and respect that entire orchestra playing all the parts, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes way out of tune with each other, within me. I want to claim the dark and scary parts of me because I know that if I don’t claim them, I will very likely project them onto others, or worse, I will drive them down into my own interior cellar where they will, like all ignored beings, do nothing but trouble me and eventually ruin me. I also want to claim my glory, my power, my beauty, my holiness, not refusing to accept them, not projecting them onto others living, dead, human, divine, known or unknown. I know that the hardest person in the world for me to love is myself. I know that if I learn to love me, not as I wish I were but as I am, I will be more loving to my neighbor, to my enemy, to even the things that scare me most in the world. That is what it means to me to live soulfully. Claiming every part of myself is to be truly me. Who else am I going to be?

frozen spider web Ervin Dargan

                                                                                                                                                                 photo by Ervin Dargan, 2015

Claiming every part of myself is to be truly me. Who else am I going to be?

So if you want to know where I’ve learned some stuff, that is what my answer is. If you want to know what right I have to have a website and to call myself a professional “soul friend,” or “anam cara,” then here are some things that might answer your question.

          education and work

My bachelor’s degree from Randolph-Macon College is in English. I studied theology, concentrating in American church history, at Princeton Theological Seminary graduating a Master of Divinity, and did further graduate work at The General Theological Seminary, New York City. After ordination as a deacon in The Episcopal Church, I became Curate of St. Martin's Church, Charlotte, North Carolina (1971-74) and later Rector of St. Andrew's Church, Charlotte (1975-79). While Rector of Trinity Church, Newtown, Connecticut (1979-92), I worked with others to found and organize several agencies serving human needs, including the Family Life Center of Newtown and Amos House of Danbury. My work towards the Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Theological Seminary (2009) culminated in a project developed with the congregation of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC, where from 2004 through 2015 I was Senior Priest, exploring the place of priesthood in a non-hierarchical leadership structure.  My doctoral thesis is Affirming Priesthood and Sharing Ministry:  One Parish’s Experience in Practicing Leadership.

I am author of Building Faith in Families: Using the Sacraments in Pastoral Ministry (Morehouse, 1986), a number of other articles and essays. I was selected by Virginia Theological Seminary’s doctoral program coordinator to edit a volume for publication bringing together six essays written by Doctors of Ministry on the subjects of their theses, all on the theme of practicing leadership. I write a blog called The Book of Common Moments, where I regularly post reflections, poetry, essays, sermons, and fiction.  

          spiritual path

light in forest

An Episcopal priest, I have interests in an array of spiritual traditions in addition to my own. I have a daily yoga practice.  I am greatly influenced by the life and writing of Bede Griffiths, Richard Rohr, Pema Chödrön, and Joseph Campbell. I am drawn to much of my Celtic heritage, to both the Franciscan and Benedictine traditions, and more and more deeply to the wisdom of Native American and Tantric traditions.

     © Francis Gasque Dunn, DMin. • 1328 Park Road, NW, #32A • Washington, DC 20010 • 202.422.2329