God’s Better Recollection

The other night I was ending a pastoral education group. We had spent three hours doing quality work together but part of the discussion was tense with grief, unsettled surprise, and familiar but contested aching.

Discussion took us from foundational theorists in Womanist theology to Black Psychology to striking encounters that hadn’t yet left the students’ minds. It was wonderful and, as before, reminded me of how much I enjoy this part of my life.

A part of the discussion was around ministry to families experiencing baby loss, and I always get very tender and spacious around those conversations. I have my own reasons. Most people in chaplaincy are moved for their own reasons.

As we finished, I asked everyone to consider a caring image of God that they were carrying with them. I invited them to spend a few intentional minutes with the image, to see what it had for them, to see how God was comforting them.

Personally, it wasn’t enough time for me to connect with my image. I was facilitating and that was fine. I wanted to ensure that my students were enabled to open their hearts. I was bracketing my own feelings from the night and rough day, and I knew I’d need more time. I always seem to need more time. I have a timing thing.

A few years ago I told a confidant that transitional moments are times when God wakes me at strange hours. I knew it when I said it but it was the kind of knowing that I needed to hear myself articulate. It’s really true then, when I say it. So, I’ve learned to wrestle less when the seasons emerge.

Early this year was a similar season. Right now seems to be as well. They are not entirely surprising because the air smells when the season shifts. A lifelong Chicagoan, I don’t always know when winter is finished, but I’ve learned to rely on some indicators. My eyes are growing sensitive to slight changes in light, my skin grateful for less abrasive winds. So, this season is, again, one of those which God startles me at dark quiet times and, usually, Spirit sits.

It used to be that Spirit spoke but I’ve witnessed that change over the last decade too. I remember when I used to sense God speaking in unique ways but, fortunately and unfortunately, that speech has turned into a different communication. Silence and sitting are much more common now. It’s strange to accept that God speaks while sitting, while being silent, and while stretching out into a stiffness that is uniquely God’s posture in my life. I don’t like it. It’s deeply disorienting because something in me reaches back for easier “conversations,” but the conversations just get more challenging.

It’s sad to my earlier self that was so used to hearing. He returns sometimes and cries with me that silence is the new speech. But he fades and lets the current me get used to what is. The earlier me waves at the current me who is learning to sit instead of speech, who is learning to watch a still God and not only listen for a speaking One.

The next morning, after the pastoral group, I woke at a time when I’m getting used to waking. I woke to my image and it was one from a months-plus moment that I cannot remember. It’s a part of premature birth story. I was alone for nearly two months in a NICU at Mercy. That’s what I usually say to myself. I was alone in the NICU. This time, though, God reminded me that I was not alone, that I was certainly not as alone as I tell myself.

I think God was sarcastic because it felt like I was being told, in a snarky tone, “You weren’t really there anyway. And how can you remember? Memory structures aren’t formed for years. My memory of those weeks is much better than yours.”

The image of God’s attendance helped because it is working on me now. For years, I’ve told myself something about a basic aloneness that was negatively lonely, a basic experience that was almost disabling, and in the course of my work and life, I woke to something different. I am still waking to it, becoming alert to the realness of Spirit being where I don’t hear God speaking. Whether in a hospital or in my home.

And it connected to learnings from years of therapy, spiritual direction, and clinical supervision. Basic aloneness is not unwelcome but is starkly and clearly human. It is the potential bridge to what humans need: divine proximity. Further, loneliness is not uninhabitable terrain but something, if we’re lucky, we get to have, remember, and have recalled by God’s loving re-memory. There are many who do not know this good, basic aloneness, many who run from it and don’t open empty hands to it.

It is true that my weaknesses and gaps from those early days haunt me sometimes. My best friend has heard me weep my fears around this as have mentors and servants in my life. The hauntings and the weaknesses from whence they come are not always welcome. But the hauntings are in question. They are, in other words, contestable, given the image of God who knows more.

The Spirit remembers better than I do, has a better recollection of my experiences than I do. And that same Spirit is.

Recognize Trauma, Dismantle Racism

Trauma is a loaded word and scary at the same time because it obscures pains from the past that we wish to forget. However, despite our efforts to forget and move on, history continues to follow us in our lived experiences. How people interact and deal with the trauma is unique for each person. Our bodies and psyches reveal who we are, and our behavior shows our deep wounds. When these wounds are systemic across entire groups of people due to discrimination, police brutality, and racism, it is necessary to deal with the trauma and triggers on both personal and communal levels. Coming to grips with this type of trauma is to sit with the past and mentally to reflect and exercise these painful memories for healing, liberation, and ultimately dismantling racism. 

Yenny Delgado here

Arriving to Work

I used to hear my training supervisor say to me how grounding chaplaincy was. I was new enough to the work and new enough to Peter to listen very closely. Sometimes I think I was a better listener when I was new to the ministry.

I have always been nosey enough, curious really. So I was engaged by what he’d say after being such a long, faithful, pastoral leader at my hospital. He’d say things in the halls on our way to see people that made the visits worthy even before they began. I learned more that I only retain in the pores of my soul than I can re-state.

On one of those days, we were coming off the elevator. I was co-working the medical ICU. He was the chaplain, I was the resident. He was the real spiritual caregiver, I was trying to be. The ICU was not the congregation so I had some learning to do. I loved it and still do.

Peter told me that he hadn’t been on the floors for a while and that he always felt like there was a goodness when he came back. He was managing the department, creating programs, co-working with his colleague Mark, my other training supervisor and my current manager. Back then, I knew nothing of what he was really doing.

I’ve learned more about what took him away from the floors. I’ve lived it over the last few years of being an educator now. A lot can take you away from a patient room or from a family meeting discussing the end of life or from a session with a physician who just needs you to stand there as they cry. There’s an odd goodness in those moments.

One of the good things is the gift of perspective. You show up to work having all the things anyone else has. You carry all the things everyone else does. A soreness in your foot, brokenness in some soul spot, annoyance, heart-rending pain, minor delays about three or four decisions, uncertainty about an important person. And you go to the floor. You get to the unit. You arrive for your patient.

And for a moment or for an hour or for a day, you develop the tools to share yourself with another person going through hardness. You don’t lose your own stuff but you shelve it temporarily. You know exactly where it is. It’s outside on the contact precautions cart. It’s on the counter at the nursing station. It’s spread out like murky liquid on the floor at the door. It’s somewhere, your stuff.

But you bracket it so that you can, rather than shrink yourself, expand into someone better. You place your things where you can find them when you’re done. And you arrive to meet another sacred person.

“You Already Know Enough…”

I was texting with Sister Reverend Gina and Brother Reverend Eddie, rehashing details of an upcoming meal we’d have. In my calendar, these sacred and eucharistic occasions pop us as the Black Brilliance Gathering.

We got off that subject and into a query I posed to them about qualifying examinations, the exams I’m preparing to take around May and through August. I have four of them: psychology, psychology of religion, theology, and pastoral theology. Incidentally, if you think of any of those words, any combinations of those phrases between now and August, whisper words of prayerful intent for me!

Gina and Eddie, partners of mine in these doctoral streets, took their exams at the end of the summer. Their wisdom, as in all prior moments, was worth having. They were taking me to text school, answering my stated questions and answering the other ones that were abiding in my spirit. 

They were affirming me, teaching me, calming me. Somewhere after Gina had broken down the most concise truth about the exams, Eddie wrote, “You already know enough to pass.” 

After I experienced an immediate critique from all the ways and directions graduate school had trained into us at to that point, I breathed over his comment. It was what I needed even if I hadn’t asked. 

Now, I still was studying–and still am until May or June according to my timeline and plan. I am attending to a list of nearly 200 sources of books, articles, and chapters in all the times I’m not working my good job, exercising, fathering, and dating. I always have a book or two. Actually, I’m reading during some of that dating at this point in my great relationship.

I always have an document on my laptop collecting my collections from all these materials. I’m in preparation mode. And yet, Eddie’s words pull me into a depth with what I know, with what I have, with what I’m prepared with as I am. 

Now, he was addressing me and qualifying exams. But can’t you take his comment in your own directions? You already know enough to pass. You already know enough to…   

Giving and Not Giving Energy

When you give energy to a thing, you give it life. Energy includes mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual material like thoughts and posture and effort. When you give a thing or a person or an idea energy, you give it life.

The other, accompanying side is that when you remove your lifegiving energy from a thing, you starve that thing of life. It could be a shift in your focus onto a different task. It could be removing a contact from your phone. It could be the choice to leave a call unreturned. It could be a decision not to go for that walk you said you would take. 

Giving to a thing is a gift that keeps that thing going. Removing what you give, then, is a resounding endorsement of another thing. What will you give to in the upcoming days of your life? What will you choose? Who will you choose? 

The answer really is about what you want to keep alive, what you wish to sustain, or what you will starve. Chaos needs energy. So does peace. Toxic relationships require attention. Living as an ambassador of contentment does too. 

Introductions to Theology

Me and a Womanist Sister are working on a webinar for the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education where we introduce the community to Black Liberation Theology. It’s part of a series of didactics that’ll be accessible to our pastoral educators and CPE students.

The series is called 8:46 and will have 8 webinars that are 46 minutes long–in sober and theo-ethical acknowledgement of Brother Floyd’s murder and how ministers, clinicians, and leaders might nurture our work in everything from the social construction of race to the psychological implications of racism and other sins.

I’m working with a practitioner from North Carolina and we’re offering an introduction to (Black and Womanist) theology. In the preparation, I found a sentence Dr. Stephanie Mitchem wrote where she said that theology begins not in studying in the classroom but in living a life.

So I’ve begun journeying over the beginnings of theology, the origins of my own, lately. It’s resting with me that the origins provide a long shadow over the rest.

If theology begins in a word, who wrote it or spoke it or claimed its authority? If theology started in a person, was that person relatable, relatable in every way or particular ways? If discourse about the Sacred started in practices, were those practices exclusive, open, and are they relevant? The questions continue when you think and live theologically, right?

Think about yours. From where have your best understandings of the Transcendent come? How were you introduced to your “theological” world? We could keep going. These are the kinds of questions that need answers.

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.