One of my CPE residents gave me a blessing in group yesterday. She was giving feedback as part of the group’s mid-unit evaluations and when she wrote of me, she indicated her perspective around my blooming. My reflection is a consideration of the compliment, prophecy, and clarity she offered.

May you bloom during the times of aridity and in moments where dryness, undernourishment, or poverty of imagination have convinced you they’re winning.

May you bloom when your roots are parched, splitting, and cracked, volunteering opposing visions of who you are.

May you bloom when the petals of your best production have browned or wilted.

May you bloom when the winds have blown by you to give breath and life to other places, when you’ve felt forgotten by the winds which have nourished you before.

May you bloom when tending has changed, when your life has required more than you’ve had, when you’ve been so empty that you’ve seen seasons ending rather than beginning.

May you bloom when your place has felt so familiar that you’ve lost vision for the particular miracles that make you who you truly are.

May you bloom when you’ve tired of standing where you’ve been, when you’ve felt like the ground of you has offered you little instead of your absolute beautiful, God-blessed life.

May you bloom when you’ve been watched, so observed that the eyes have closed you down to the spectacularity of every soul.

May you bloom when you’ve felt tethered and not rooted, when you’ve felt limited and not skyward.

May you bloom when the particles around you have left you heavy and may you see them as friends in the ecosystem of what the Creator is giving you in every specific season of your wondrous existence.

May you bloom when you convinced you’re finished and may the surprise of it all humble you to be, singularly, the gift of yourself to the world.

May you bloom when you know who you are and when it takes the community to tell you, remind you, convince you, and admire in you who you are.

May you bloom in night times when the only observer is the occasional pedestrian lurking in their own dark places and may, in their lurking, you sense the work of God.

May you bloom when you’ve felt like winter is brutal.

May you bloom when you’ve been trampled, under the feet of people who have intended you harm, under the recklessness of others whose thumbs are intent on your devastation.

May you bloom when you’re conscious of who you are, close to yourself, and filled with vitality.

May you bloom when it’s murky, your is-ness, when the whisper of a breeze is what you have to wait through the brightness or the wetness or the ordinariness of being.

May you bloom when nothing happens, connecting the power of rest with the unfurling and the opening of tomorrow.

May you bloom when it’s time to meet your earth in that basic way, when you’re days are ending and when you must return to give in presumably ultimate ways so that others may continue.

Bloom. In it all.

The Project of Identifying Yourself

My CPE unit is wrapping up with the residents and final evaluations always bring up some discussion around our relational or interpersonal dynamics. We talk about each other. They talk about me and what I do with them. I talk about them and what they do with me.

We broach subjects like the one I was talking about with Eddie, a friend and therapist. Me and Eddie have our own rhythm for discussing the world’s issues, so the conversation is one we’ve had in pieces before, even though that conversation wasn’t part of final evaluations in the fall unit of CPE.

Essentially, the conversation was about projective identification, a psychodynamic concept that has to do with another concept called projection. I’m not a specialist in psychodynamic theory so my views are imprecise. Nonetheless, projection is an unconscious process where a person extends, casts, or projects an unwanted image away from the self and upon another. The casted “image” can be a trait, quality, or part of the self and not only an image per se. I use image in my work because it connects with my pulls from Relational-Cultural Theory and relational images. Think of the projected thing as thrown, casted, and rejected.

The projected image, feelings, and traits are operative in the relational dynamics with the one projected upon. Projections are sent things. They indicate aspects of ourselves that we don’t accept for whatever reason. They may not be good parts. They may be socially unacceptable, contradictory to some ethic or value we hold. They are aspects of the self that are, on their faces, not acceptable. They must be sent away.

Projections are normal, frequent, and probably always happening in humans. Again, they are unconscious, which means they’re generally out of awareness. We know projections occur but we don’t know when ours are operating. They are, in a word, unavailable. They are unseen by us. They usually emerge in, through, or as part of conflict. Strong reactions are almost always indicators of projections.

I never read that verse of scripture because it feels offensive! Or, every time I meet with him, I feel exhausted. Or, we keep going over the same issue in my workgroup. Or, those two argue every time they talk. Or, he always finds a way back to such and such. Strong reactions.

The related concept of projective identification is where the other person receives and cooperates with the projection. The projections are evoked or created in the other. Think of the projection as a judgment, trait, belief, or image that’s sent and think of the identification as an acceptance of what’s sent. It’s identified with, accepted, enacted, and taken to be true. This, too, is an unconscious process.

A person doesn’t consciously agree to accept the meanings, opinions, and views sent over, but it happens as part of relating. And many of these dynamics make relationships between people shine. You think your clinical pastoral supervisor cares, and that thought impacts your willingness to open to him in a unit of clinical pastoral education. Projecting upon him, qualities of compassion and aptitude may enable you to trust that supervisor as you consider the difficulties of patient care in a hospital. That supervisor may take up that projection, embody care and concern for you as a chaplain. The relationship grows from the projection and the identification.

In the negative, how do you know these are working? One key is conflict. When an expectation is unmet. Every unmet expectation doesn’t eventuate into a conflict but those that do indicate these dynamics. When you’re experiencing the same interior, relational, or professional conflicts; when those conflicts emerge repetitively, these two dynamics are at work. They may not be the sole dynamics or even the primary ones, but they lurk and matter. Again, they are normal, common, even natural. Humans being humans means humans projecting upon and identifying with other humans.

It may be worth it to get consultation. In chaplaincy education, we consult with other educators in communities of practice. Those communities are professional circles of trust where we discuss our work with students and how those relationships are going. We get feedback. Sometimes the feedback leads to additional steps for reflection. Sometimes we finalize issues in a few pointed minutes of paying attention together.

All of this leads me to say that the project of identifying yourself is long. The work and service you bring to the world, when you’re at your best, is in locating who you are and committing to that person. Who you bring to the world has to be who you are and not who I’ve made you to be, thought you to be, crafted you to be.

As a pastoral theologian, I’d call that projective stuff a potential idolatry. It is potentially re-making a person who is already made. It is potentially requiring a person made by God to be re-made by me. So becoming aware of the dynamics is important. I don’t want to re-make people.

I’d rather help liberate people when they’ve been remade by people in their backgrounds. I’d rather cooperate with God and with God’s long work of making you and me back into who we were. Isn’t it God’s work to make us who we were, to return us to who we were when others have revised us?

I’m a certified educator and I work, in a biased way, toward the liberation of my students. I want them to come increasingly closer to themselves as they practice ministry so that what they offer in ministry is a beautiful expression of integrity. They offer themselves. They offer who they are rather than the person they are told – through projections or what not – to offer.

I want students in CPE to get along in the project of understanding who they are. I want them to get along in the work of giving and receiving sustaining grace while they’re in the process of understanding themselves. I want students to give who they are as part of their deep commitment to personal, social, cultural, and communal liberation.

I’m tossing images like anybody. Hopefully most of my projections are biased toward liberation and wholeness. That’s my hope. But when I do what we all do, one of y’all can bring me to better awareness or send me to my community of practice, point me to my pastor, direct me to my therapist or to my prayer room.

Or all of em.

Leading to Newness

I was reading an article about the great resignation, a term for the accelerated reshuffling occurring in major parts of the United States of American economy like hospitality and e-commerce.

Derek Thompson discusses at the Atlantic a number of historical referents for how workers are reconfiguring their expectations for work, for life, for balance. He suggests that the pandemic and the great resignation portrays the public’s shifting attitude toward work.

He says people are quitting jobs to begin new ones, to begin new endeavors. In pointing to this increasingly consistent finding, Thompson points to historical memory. He says, for instance, that the great fire in my city Chicago led to an emergence and “revolution in architecture.” The fires in the city contributed directly to the skyscrapers the city is known for, identified by.

Sometimes destruction, uninvited and unforeseen, can lead to newness, to invention, to recognition even while ashes and embers settle. Attitudes can change and so can landscapes.