HUMILITY: The Single Path to Sanity in a Shame-bound World

Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame

Father Stephen Freeman

Ancient Faith Publishing, April 2023

I’ve been a fan of Father Stephen Freeman for many years, as a regular follower of his blog, “Glory to God For All Things.” And then his son-in-law Father Philip Rogers came to our parish, St. John Orthodox in Memphis, first as Assistant Pastor and now as Pastor. Father Stephen’s wife, Beth, has visited our parish numerous times (we are so lucky their daughter Kathryn and their granddaughter Maggie are here!) and she also spoke at our parish life conference in Memphis last summer, along with Father Stephen, who was our keynote. All that to say I love his family!

Last year Father Stephen honored me by writing this amazing blurb for my book, Pilgrim Interrupted:

What a wonderful collection! The temptation for those who are on pilgrimage is to become a tourist, collecting junk and making photos. The tourist goes places but is not changed—a pilgrim can stay at home and be transformed. The pilgrim is traveling towards a goal “whose builder and maker is God.” Susan Cushman shares her pilgrimage with us, the insights of a journey that reveal the goal she seeks, which is the true journey of us all, as soon as we leave off being tourist

I also love Father Stephen’s writing. I listen to his podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, and when he gave two back in 2018 on “Face to Face: Shame and Encounter With God,” I was thrilled to learn that he was working on a book on the subject. Face to Face is a short book, but not necessarily a quick read. I found myself reading many parts twice or even three times, underlining and writing in the margins as I soaked up his wisdom, gleaned from years as an Orthodox priest as well as his own journey of spiritual and emotional health. Reading this book was a very personal experience for me, and there are many things I won’t comment on in the public arena. This isn’t a book review, but just a hearty endorsement!

What is shame? As Fr. Stephen says:

Shame is called by many therapists the “unbearable emotion” . . . . Shame has a physical basis and a purpose that is useful and not destructive. It is the abuse of shame that makes us despise and fear it. . . . Shame is experienced as a break in communion . . . a response to our brokenness. . . . Toxic shame is generally a result of trauma and abuse, both of which magnify the normative experience of healthy shame into a relentless identity that begins to smother our ability to manage shameful feelings. . . .

I had planned to share a few excerpts from his book and my very short reflections on them, but I quickly realized that the topic of shame as treated in Father Stephen’s book can’t be fully explained in that way. Instead I’ll share the table of contents, as a “teaser,” and will leave it to the reader to buy this book, read it, and take what helps you with your own personal journey.

Chapter 1: Naked and Ashamed

Chapter 2: This Is Your Body on Shame

Chapter 3: An Atonement of Shame

Chapter 4: Where Fools Rush In

Chapter 5: Confession: Speaking the Truth in Love

Chapter 6: Shame, Envy and Pride: A Dark Story

Chapter 7: The Shame of Conversion

Chapter 8: The Shame of Male and Female

Chapter 9: The Shame of Gratitude

Chapter 10: Going Forward: Some Last Thoughts

I will close with my “favorite” quote from Father Stephen’s book:

The path of humility, in union with the self-emptying Crucifixion of Christ, is the single path to sanity in a shame-bound world.

Good words for Holy Friday.