We cannot be in a hurry in matters of the heart. The human spirit has to be explored gently and with unhurried tenderness. Very often this demands a reconditioning of our nervous responses to life, a profound alteration in the tempo of our behavior pattern. Whatever we learn of leisure in the discipline of silence, in meditation and prayer, bears rich, ripe fruit in preparing the way for love. Failure at this point can be one of unrelieved frustration. At first, for most of us, skill in tarrying with another has to be cultivated and worked at by dint of much self-discipline. At first it may seem mechanical, artificial, or studied, but this kind of clumsiness will not remain if we persist. How indescribably wonderful and healing it is to encounter another human being who listens not only to our words, but manages, somehow, to listen to us.
From Disciplines of the Spirit
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.
- Enact a ritual and keep it – like a hug or a whispered greeting when you first see yourself or another person.
- Look at your own face carefully.
- Spend time with the person who you’ll expose others to.
- Chew your food slowly, filling yourself with the nourishment there.
- 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.”
- With their explicit permission and openness, touch someone today.
- Touch every body with kindness.
- Before you speak, count to ten.
- Learn what cleansing breath is and employ many of them.
- In a conversation with a person, try asking “Is this what you’re saying…”
- Stretch beyond what you decided you’d do.
- Do something someone asked you to do without argument.
- Make an exception.
- Drink a cup of tea alone.
- Drink a cup of tea with someone.
- Let it play out.
- Smile while you walk.
- Help someone carry something.
- Listen to Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.
- Be gentle when you fail.
- Ask and listen to the response to, “What’s important right now?”
- When they yell, observe the pain there.
- Use “I” when talking about yourself.
- Cook and take a meal to someone else.
- Make it a goal to ask one good question daily.
- Sleep the number of hours you worked.
- Fart when you have to because “there’s more room out than there is in.”
- Invite someone to tell you their story today.
- Listen to the child’s joke.
- Ask for it.
- Watch someone you love do something they love.
- Play a little bit or in the words of one of my teachers, “You, play more.”
- Take an entire day off from the thing you experience as hard, if you can, and if you can’t, pray with words.
- Attend to your skin as it covers all of your beautiful self.
- Sit without saying anything next to a person who can’t say anything.
- Experiment with saying versions of “Peace to you.”
- Say goodbye in a unique way.
- Treat goodbyes as benedictions, times to say something about what just happened.
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.
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.