Posts by Michael

I am a husband, father, minister, and writer.

Ways to Care

I am a father and I work as a chaplain, as a spiritual caregiver, and regularly I spend my days considering ways to care. Here are some ways and I’d love to keep building this list. I’m using words with more than one meaning, intending nuance.

  1. Enact a ritual and keep it – like a hug or a whispered greeting when you first see yourself or another person.
  2. Look at your own face carefully.
  3. Spend time with the person who you’ll expose others to.
  4. Chew your food slowly, filling yourself with the nourishment there.
  5. If you’re not in a place for feedback, say something like, “Let me move so I can try to hear you. Give me 10 minutes.”
  6. With their explicit permission and openness, touch someone today.
  7. Touch every body with kindness.
  8. Stretch.
  9. Before you speak, count to ten.
  10. Learn what cleansing breath is and employ many of them.
  11. In a conversation with a person, try asking “Is this what you’re saying…”
  12. Wrestle.
  13. Stretch beyond what you decided you’d do.
  14. Do something someone asked you to do without argument.
  15. Make an exception.
  16. Drink a cup of tea alone.
  17. Drink a cup of tea with someone.
  18. Let it play out.
  19. Smile.
  20. Walk.
  21. Smile while you walk.
  22. Help someone carry something.
  23. Listen to Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.
  24. Be gentle when you fail.
  25. Ask and listen to the response to, “What’s important right now?”
  26. When they yell, observe the pain there.
  27. Use “I” when talking about yourself.
  28. Cook and take a meal to someone else.
  29. Make it a goal to ask one good question daily.
  30. Sleep the number of hours you worked.
  31. Fart when you have to because “there’s more room out than there is in.”
  32. Invite someone to tell you their story today.
  33. Listen to the child’s joke.
  34. Ask for it.
  35. Watch someone you love do something they love.
  36. Play a little bit or in the words of one of my teachers, “You, play more.”
  37. Take an entire day off from the thing you experience as hard, if you can, and if you can’t, pray with words.
  38. Attend to your skin as it covers all of your beautiful self.
  39. Sit without saying anything next to a person who can’t say anything.
  40. Experiment with saying versions of “Peace to you.”
  41. Say goodbye in a unique way.
  42. Treat goodbyes as benedictions, times to say something about what just happened.

Spirit and Trauma (6 of 6)

I’ve sat with this book for a couple months beyond when I started reading it. So many things have occurred since I opened Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma. I’d like to conclude thinking about the book in a different way than I originally envisioned.

Rather than capturing her final chapter in a review that summarizes and suggests directions of thinking, I want to lift how the final chapter, “Remaining in Love,” may provide angles into the ethics of things. I’m thinking of differences her theology of remaining can make in the moment–in my moment.

I’m sitting at my desk, swirling in the day with notifications about health and sickness and, among other things, the coronavirus and recovering in the evening by balancing my beautiful boys’s needs, one of my last courses in the PhD program, attendance to my martial practice, and trying to sleep.

How does remaining as a theology work? In what ways might pneumatology impose or, better, invite us to a way of being in the swirling world of political fighting (and is this the normal political process now?), sickness and recovery, death, life, play, love?

Rambo suggests that involving the spirit in the life of remaining has direct meaning for time. Witness and proclamation impact views of time because reality links us “to another time” and not only this moment we’re in.

She notes that preoccupation with violence and death, both in our narratives and biblical reflection, as well as how we sit with life. In sitting with life, we sit and watch and rehearse death.

Rambo turns us to love and in doing so challenges this emphasis of what overwhelms our “vision of flourishing” and her work turns us to a “move to life,” even as that move has its own blind spots.

I suggest that the following may be particular ways to stay with the middle that Rambo discusses, ways that I’m sitting with her book and the gifts of it, ways I’m with it today. I’m not trying to explicate as much as integrate. I may be, simply, rambling, which is not different than any other post, I suppose.

First, I think slowing down becomes a way to engage in the middle time. Rambo’s work offers a theological articulation for changing my relationship with time. She settles in theologically and provides a theological bridge to endorsing the Spirit’s activity in different time zones.

Second, revisiting biblical reflection and theological sources for their resonance with this middle material feels real. The Bible says many things and much of theological scholarship deals with the words in it. But Rambo’s trauma lens requires an imaginative reappraisal of what’s not there. The middle, the unseen, the unspoken, and the unuttered–what’s there?

Third, remaining in love has an orienting purpose. Remaining connotes a way to honor the weird reality of being in-between, being with the Spirit even without the assurance of more victorious moments like resurrection or finishing or accomplishing or succeeding. Getting through it would relate to these finishing words, right? But remaining relates more to the prior moment, the more troublesome moment. Again, there’s the time part, but there’s the present element of being in that now which is stabilizing.

Spirit and Trauma (5 of 6)

In her chapter on the Middle Spirit, Rambo develops the “unique pneumatology” that rises from her sources in prior chapters. Introducing the overall discussion as “Spirit of Life” and “Spirit of the Deep,” she employs descriptions of the witness of spirit in unique ways.

Her conceptual frames are Spirit Is Breath, Spirit’s different movements in time, and the Spirit Is Love. Rambo works to underscore how the Spirit is life-giving, “aligned with life,” and searching “for forms of life when life cannot be recognized as such” (115).

To move the work forward, she interrogates the doctrine of creation and asserts, “God is depicted as a breath-giver” (117). Tracing this breath from biblical beginnings, Rambo points us to how the life of God is present in and between the passion and resurrection.

Interpreting from the middle, she writes, it is “a movement that exceeds death and yet precedes the event of life that resurrection narrates” (119). The present breath, the breath breathing in the middle, enables preaching, testimony, and witness. The Spirit that is breath empowers and makes heard and seen what is unspeakable and unsaid.

Think of trauma. In suffering, the Spirit “oscillates between formlessness and form, making visible what has been repressed” (123). This brings meaning to the Spirit’s work, to the potency of speech, and to unique theological contributions occurring in between events like death and resurrection. These are striking connections when you think of the ways in which trauma disables speech, removes basic abilities to communicate, and robs persons of capacities which are reintroduced by the Spirit in the middle. This will preach.

Relative to time, Rambo suggests a reading of the Spirit’s movement as more than forward. Resisting temporality, the Spirit’s activity is disruptive to straightforward readings of time and point in multiple directions. She believes that accepting this disruptive, non-linear view of the Spirit’s movement requires reading Christian history in a non-linear way. “Oscillatory witness is extremely helpful when looking through the lens of trauma” (127) and it is also courageous given the familiarity we have with linear readings of biblical and theological materials. No ways of reading take courage, risk, resolve.

Rambo draws upon Cornel West in particular when focusing this point and names the African American experience as a tutor for maintaining historical memory and moving when a destination is less apparent. This was a section I appreciated and would love to hear more about in terms of how Rambo sees this occurring since the writing.

In the section on love, Rambo gives definitional language to the well used word, a definition that emerges in the context of the middle. Love is seen on the sides of the middle, but what is the content of love in the middle? How are witnessing and remaining shaped as expressions of love? For Rambo, love blows as breath between the two experiences of death and life.

Love empowers us to “to witness the deep abyss of human experiences” (133), something I find compelling as a pastoral caregiver. At the same time, love is “marked by unknowing,” and “birthed through a failure of comprehension” (133). Imagine that. Developing and settling upon an ethic of love in the context of unknowing and failure rather than certainty and success.

Spirit and Trauma (4 of 6)

John’s account of Jesus’s death is the central biblical text under consideration in the book. As Rambo says, that account is the only one of the gospels with the unique feature of a soldier piercing the body of the crucified Jesus. That piercing produces the startling image of water and blood, where water is a symbol of life and Spirit. Water becomes an image of life and Spirit in the midst of death.

This notion of life in the middle of death is behind Rambo’s query in the book. In this chapter, she investigates Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple in order to underline the beauty, complexity, and theology of those two unique witnesses and how their stories show the trauma remaining “after a radical ending.”

The radical endings associated with Jesus’s death don’t produce “a clear-cut ending” but “an unclear beginning” according to Rambo (107). This is a very important move in the book. Clear-cut is not a description of trauma or the lens of trauma that Rambo is suggesting to us. Rather, trauma, as an unending and complex experience, is full of unclearness and lack of clarity.

The author takes time to explain the various possibilities inside the experiences of Mary and the beloved disciple. Both of them experience Jesus around the death and rising in ways that make their testimonies problematic, inconsistent, and worth continued investigation, especially given how Bible scholars may move toward clarity and not ambiguity. People concerned with texts often say texts close and come to a close. In Rambo’s hands, the lens of trauma opens us to the possibilities. Opens us rather than closes our understandings of these texts, these persons, and these encounters with Jesus.

Rambo does a great job showing how “a series of turnings” in Mary’s encounters with Jesus might engender a healthy curiosity and a healthy ambiguity about her experience with Jesus. Mary and Jesus address each and don’t seem to recognize each other. Weird for people who are affectionate, no? Rambo discusses the familiarity and affection while pointing to the stiff titles which also exhibit distance. Again, this is worth questioning.

Rambo writes, “We typically associate witness with seeing and, subsequently, with testifying to w hat one has seen. This is not the case here” (89). Rather than seeing, there’s a fair amount of not seeing. The same is true with the beloved disciple, commonly known as John. He is a quieter figure, often not seen when folks like Peter are around since folks like Peter are often seen and heard first. Again, with Peter and John and Jesus and how they interact, Rambo offers an interesting way of seeing John as a witness where the beloved “disrupts this familiar reading, pointing us instead to a different conception of love” that remains (96).

It is pretty difficult to summarize Rambo’s excellent use of biblical, textual, and theological sources here. This chapter more than others needs to be read in order to appreciate her construction, her building, her nuance, and her contribution. I see her doing what one of her sections calls, “Handing Over,” even as she works to frame her lens of trauma and to provide for a way of seeing the familiar passages and persons in different ways.

Furthermore, the later part of the chapter is where she does the foundational work of her expressed pneumatology. Remember that Rambo is suggesting in the book that death and life are not marked episodes but are experiences that spill, experiences that remain rather than end. The Spirit (Pneuma) is at work in the unclear beginnings and in the unclear, unmarked spaces of death and life. Therefore, “The movements of Spirit are less definable and discernible,” says Rambo (107), a critical piece.

If you accept this less definable activity of the Spirit, then the middle space “makes more sense,” as much as the less discernible can make more sense. I find that this pneumatological claim is vital to the book. Seeing this, in the murkiness and in the less clear stories that the bible gives in the beloved disciple’s case and in Mary’s case, takes a faith to see what Rambo offers and, indeed, what scripture offers when thinking about trauma.

For Rambo it’s in this attempt to see and to re-vision where life is redefined. This is where the Spirit is working, in the re-definition, a fascinating piece. If the Spirit is at work in the re-definition, then the “language that emerges when we resist reading the death and resurrection” is more than our stubbornness or criticality; it is the work and operation of the Spirit. When it comes to trauma then, re-defining love and holding fast to the impulse to re-see is the very activity needed for God to remain active in the midst of trauma.

Spirit and Trauma (3 of 6)

The second chapter provides the primary theological materials of Rambo’s constructive work. Here she is concerned to witness the middle and to see what “persists between death and resurrection” (p. 48). Again, her overall project is to lift the unseen and unarticulated middle space. Rambo pulls two persons into her book in order to develop a constructive response to theological frameworks for unseen trauma, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne Speyr.

These two voices commingle, protesting the often split and individual views of how theology is done. Balthasar, the known theologian and priest, was often not regarded early on as a theologian in his Catholic setting, though he was as he aged. With a background in languages, his work is described as literary and poetic, but he was to be made cardinal the day his own death. Speyr was a physician and mystic who was certainly not (and often is not still) regarded as a theologian.

There are several reasons why I like Balthasar, among them his choice to be a chaplain for students and pass up a post at a respected university. I’m getting into Speyr with this reading and appreciating the complex ways she negotiated her life as a doctor and her decisions to experience losses and to build a community of devoted with her spiritual friend and guide. I will not replicate Rambo’s summary of their history and work and if you’re interested, consult her directly; the notes are excellent if you’re interested by such curious trails (p. 49-54).

Regarding the partnership between Speyr and Balthasar, most of what scholarship has is through the priest and theologian who did the writing. Balthasar viewed their work as psychologically inseparable, as a necessary partnership, and even established a publishing house so that Speyr’s work could be better preserved and promoted. Speyr, a medical doctor in other parts of her life, developed a symbiotic relationship with Balthasar who was her spiritual director.

The nurture of their bond provides the chapter an interesting, arresting, and beautiful description of how trauma, witnessing the middle, and experiencing holy Saturday can come with paradox, un-acknowledgment, tumult, intimacy, and insight. The parallels, or doubleness to use one word Rambo inserts, to the subject are fascinating to my psychological inclinations.

Balthasar’s work gives us elements of a theology of Holy Saturday adding a timelessness to that day and a focus on “the inner sphere of the hypostatic union” where that day is concerned. Now, that word–hypostatic–points to the inseparable nature of the Trinitarian persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a distinctly Christian conception of how to begin to understand the Divine. Balthasar is giving us in his work–and Rambo in hers by drawing upon Balthasar–indications of the inner experiences of the Godhead during the neglected day.

I think this is purposeful, needed, and welcomed and I also love how Balthasar does this by immediately and naturally co-orchestrating his theological conceptions with Adrienne Speyr, a view into another inner sphere that is worth respecting. I also cannot see this interpretive and methodological work without thinking about some of the ties to Womanist method. Note the content when you have to in Balthasar, but also appreciate the methodological beauty shaping here, a method that is mutual, insightful, cooperative, poetic, sentimental, deeply folded in richness, paradoxical. Do these words not describe the Divine?

This chapter is worth reading precisely because summarizing it diminishes and cheapens. That said, when Rambo comments on some of the great happenings in the chapter, she says, “Holy Saturday is a pivotal part of this divine love story. It narrates divine love at its least discernible point–between death and resurrection, in the recesses of hell” (p. 55). On that Saturday, a dead man descended into hell. There was no activity. There was no triumph. There was no preaching or saving. On Saturday, there was death. This can do back flips to a sermon, to a method of care, and to a theological discourse if taken seriously.

I’ve gone into detail so far about the relational nature of Rambo’s sources and tried to hint at the impact upon the theological work being done. The rest of the chapter is as important when turning toward how Rambo takes up what’s elided theologically, namely the pneumatological. It is the Spirit’s witness that she works to illuminate even as she shows how “the Christ-form” is the structure of Balthasar and Speyr’s approach to theologizing about Holy Saturday.

How does the Spirit bring to believing people the sheer suffering of a Son dead in hell? Can persons who did not experience that middle, timeless existence relate? How do we understand this “supreme solitude of Christ” as persons following at this distance? It is the assumed essence and role of the Spirit as the loving bond between the Father and Son that Rambo says allows Balthasar reconcile “the securing Spirit” and what “emerges from the wound of death” (p. 71). This is careful quality work to locate the Spirit (i.e., the pneumatological) in the pedestrian streets of those who suffered, not only Jesus on that Saturday but us.

As well, we have the stark theological reality as understood in the Christian stream (p. 74):

…there is  no way that death and life can be reconciled. The stark reality of the middle day is that we cannot conceive of life after death. On the one side, there is death in godforsakeness; on the other, there is eternal life. To get from one side to the other, we need a means of crossing. But Holy Saturday declares the impossibility of bridging the two.

The Spirit, as Rambo, outlines is the form of divine presence in the middle space. It is the love, the “weary love” of God that “survives and remains not in victory but in weariness” (p. 80).