Making decisions when you’re under assault is a bad idea, especially if the decisions have anything to do with what’s assaulting you. To decide, you need the wind and wisdom of all your feelings, not just the ones pressing into you when you’re hurt or in trouble or when your personhood is called into question.
Decisions aren’t what you need. You need safety. You need repose. You need a harbor that you can attach yourself to in order to remain attached to the self that is you.
What you need to visit your spirit island. I learned this name when I was in Minneapolis for a conference. I was walking across a long, wide bridge, occasionally reading the descriptions of what I was seeing. I was struck by a brief description of a Lakota island, “Spirit Island,” and I knew that this place would be with me for a while.
Spirit Island was made of rock, was a nesting location for birds and a spiritually significant place for native people. One description I read said that it had no soil. It was removed in the 1960s when St. Anthony Lock and Dam were built.
I’m twirling around the notion of spirit island and how we all have one. It is the place where you sense your roots deepening. The spirit island is the place where you are at home, even when nothing around you brings peace or helps your heart reside. That spirit island is the home of your soul when your surroundings are chaotic, untrustworthy, or dangerous.
It’s, at least, in the inner chambers of your soul, where God speaks in definitive ways. Go in and find that island. Sit there. Wait there. Listen there.
Lent is a church-designated time frame that’s historically meant as a forty-day reminder to Christians, and it is approaching. Lent is a time of returning to God’s view, being reminded of an old scene, focusing on an old story, listening to the same truth. Often it’s angled at sin but I’m a theologian of dismal and wonderful experience.
A lot of experience right now is dismal. I’m angling for the wonderful this Lent. I’m examining possibility this Lent. When God looks at you, gazes at you might be more fitting, God sees beauty. Not the ugliness you’ve been convinced is there. Beauty. I think seasons like Lent are times of returning to that view.
God sees you as wonderful. What about that sin? Wonderful. What about that misguided decision? Wonderful. Rather than focusing on the error or the terrible, a Lenten focus brings another view.
Lent is a time to returning who you are. Notice that. Not so much returning to who you are. Returning who you are. I’m implying a gift in that wording.
Lent is a time to listen to the truths you’ve so often ignored. You are many things. Attend to what God gazes at in you. Examine that. There will be time for the dismal. That will come ten minutes later.
Finally, I’m grateful to say that my latest book of meditations is available on Amazon. It’s designed for Lent and other seasons of prayer. Learn more here.
If you considered what you said in yesterday’s conversations–in all of them–you would note many thoughts and opinions.
Some of them would be convictions you’ve held for a long time. A few comments would be things you couldn’t believe you said, things you never knew you felt.
Social psychology gives us the phrase self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a way of naming the power of speech and how speech has a way of creating a future.
If you considered your words as descriptions of a future, what would you hear about yourself? What would you hear, in your own words, about your tomorrows?
At the bottom of your words is an engine of deep belief. You may not know what you believe until you hear yourself speaking. So consider your words. What do they say about your thinking concerning the future? Perhaps there is a slim or a full description in what you’ve said.
I’ve often heard people say after getting a compliment that they were humbled. I wonder about that.
A compliment is humbling when it brings you down or back or close to your humanness. A compliment is humbling when it makes you see what you brought to an event and what you didn’t. A compliment is humbling when it helps you see who you really are vs. who you aren’t.
If those pieces aren’t a part of a compliment, it isn’t humbling but congratulatory. Nothing’s wrong with congratulatory words because we need those. We need to be praised, validated, and affirmed. But we also need to call something humbling when it really is.
“I am humbled” is reserved when a person says something that really brings you to your truest nature. Of course, when you come to your truest nature, you may not be pleased. But keep looking. There’s something divine in that soul of yours. There’s the stuff of God there, in my way of seeing the world. Look at your real self, seeing the ugly but looking for the wondrous, too.
I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Peter Steinke (A Door Set Open, 12-13):
…nonplaces and superabundance. Non-places are spaces designed for anonymity, passing through, and nonengagement…Disappearing are places intended for relationships, such as churches and civic groups. Few places remain where people can find community, meaning, and hope. The other feature of supermodernity is superabundance. An excess of events begs for our attention, but who has time to reflect on each one? To discern the meaning of an event is impossible when, the very next day, new events sweep over us. When excess combines with acceleration, no time is available for deliberating and musing. Everything becomes impermanent, fleeting, and remains unexamined.
My clinical supervisor asked me a question a couple weeks ago after I opened our supervisory meeting with an agenda to discuss our relationship and our training work together. As we talked, he arrived at an illuminating-for-me question: how are you changing?
Here are some of the pieces of my answer as I consider my supervisory and clinical training:
- I’m seeing my relationship with those I observe develop as a relationship in itself. I watch what’s happening in students’ experience, and that observation is a relationship itself.
- I’m noticing how it feels to observe myself. In CPE words, I’m observing myself as an observer.
- I’m developing another identity. I’m many things, one of which is a supervisor of pastors, and that identity is in particular development these days.
- I’m using clinical materials differently. I’m developing the ability to read a person from her/his “application materials,” the renderings she/he offers in a moment.
- I’m seeing myself. As I keep going, I’m growing to see the many parts of me and to value those parts, to evaluate those parts, and to elevate those parts of me.
I hope you are in relationship to people you trust who can ask you, in their own words, how are you changing because the question itself is a gift.
I participated in a readiness consultation Friday before last, which in a sentence is a meeting with my clinical supervisor and a small circle who’ve read more than a hundred pages about me and my ministry for the purpose giving me feedback on my ministry as a pastoral educator, particularly as I start supervisory education. It was a consultation that was as much for my supervisor as it was for me. We attended and participated together.
I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifteen years, serving my current church for just over nine and my first church for five. I’ve taught in two seminaries, including my own seminary for the last seven years. I’ve led small groups and taught others to lead them. I’ve been in peer group consultations as a CPE student. I’ve been in individual therapy and couples counseling. Of course, I’ve been around the table with people who know me. I’ve developed and practiced clearness committees in my own life. And I have not had an experience like a readiness consultation.
I’ve gotten feedback before. I’ve been in spiritual direction and been supervised during clinical pastoral education, which are the closest experiences to a readiness consultation. But the purposes of those moments are distinct.
Spiritual direction is a monthly time where my director listens to me, hears me, and helps me hear me as we listen for the “grace that I need.” I’ve gone to direction for seven years and it’s a jewel in my spiritual life. I wouldn’t be in pastoral ministry if I wasn’t in direction.
In my experience, clinical supervision is based upon the agenda that I bring and for the purpose of my growth, learning, and strength as a minister to people. I have supervision weekly, and it’s based upon my needs for my work. It’s a gift because the feedback, the Q&A is directly applicable for what I’m doing, thinking, and processing.
My readiness consultation was a compressed combination of both those types of experiences. Readiness was this huge collection and assembling of myself in order to present myself to chaplain and supervisors in order for them to help me prepare for what’s next.
Since every consultation is unique, my sense is that their questions for me were their questions for me. These meetings are tailored to what materials are sent and to the questions the presenter raised when thinking through the materials. So it was an individualized time of conversation. I led it based upon where I needed things to go.
Even though we only got through 4-5 questions in the hour and a half time, the words spoken went deep. It wouldn’t help for me to post them because you didn’t read my materials or the presenter’s report. Still, they were well-written, reflective comments and questions which had me thinking about me, about others, and about the ministry of supervision.
I will be reflecting on that consultation for a couple weeks. Really. But here are a few immediate takeaways that I expand to you even if you’re not in CPE:
- Having assembled myself in written form, I’m only clearer about my work as a pastoral leader in multiple contexts. I serve the church and I serve the hospital, and I have a greater sense of why.
- Writing is an indispensable leadership act. Leaders should be asked to, and able to, articulate critical things about themselves such as a brief history of her life, a theology of ministry, and a statement about his motivations.
- No matter how much you prepare, being aware of (and being able to tell) your stories will always connect you to another person. Stories are human tools, and the more we share them, the more human we become.
- Experiencing something like a readiness consultation is important for pastoral leaders, be it in a clergy group, a therapy support group, a circle of trust, a gathering of church elders or trusted friends. We need people–whenever we serve–to raise quality questions about us, about our plans, about our readiness.
- Driving to a meeting a few hours away provides needed space to prepare beforehand and to reflect after upon words graciously spoken. Most of my time in the car is productive or destination-based and doesn’t leave room to think, and traveling to Wisconsin was contemplative space.
- Process is more important than content. Attending to what’s happening in us is more interesting than the obvious stuff.
- Talking to people is a gift. Being heard and being seen are gifts too, and I’m more thankful for spiritual direction, for quality supervision, and for slow, considered words when they’re spoken.
David pointed to this on Facebook. The story, friendship, loss, and tone of Laura’s words are very much worth keeping in front of us.
We make vows to our partners, but we make vows to our friends, too. We think, forever. We think, best friend. Life turns out differently, because people disappoint each other or because we aren’t honest with ourselves or because we just don’t know how to go forward, even with the best intentions. We go in with our eyes wide open and don’t realize they might open wider in five years. So I mourned the end of my friendship…
Read the full post from Laura here.
All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.
Grant me the patience to notice grace in every ending and may strength be there too. Amen.
I spend time with people who are dying, actively dying, and I spend time with the people who love them. It does and doesn’t get easier to listen to the rises of hope and the slips into sadness as some son imagines the soon-coming death of his mother or to the patient who looks ahead and thinks about not existing anymore.
I know how to stand and sit with a nurse whose patient just died or expired or passed away. I know how to acknowledge the connection between myself and a doctor I met only around the grim and delightful experience of a patient who died late that night a few months back, the recognition between us like a secret we keep to ourselves.
The medical intensive care unit, the on-call experience, the jacket that identifies me in the hospital all lend themselves to wearing the experience of somebody’s grief. Of course, I have my own because I learn something of these good people, I am known in little bits, and I know them in little bits. And then, I carry and hold the grief of others. And it does and doesn’t get easier.
This post isn’t about the skills necessary to carry the grief of others, and it’s not about the ways in which I support people up to the edge and just before the dark unknown that is death. Of course, for the Christian, the reality is that death is a step or slip or movement. Like the shift of one’s body in a gracious dance, death is supposed to be a movement into another life, another part of life. In the words of a young woman who said something I’ll never forget: Whether we live or die, we win. That is a Christian view of death.
The lived experience is murkier. Living with the stories and words and prayers of another as she approaches that existential doorstep into eternity is grounding.
When I woke up this morning, I heard myself say of one of my patients, “He’s not going to die over the weekend” and, shaking my head at the unbidden thought, “He’s not dying today”. Of course, when I arrived for our morning report where we discuss the issues of the previous day, where we talk about who needs to be followed or continually given care, that patient was on the lips of my colleague. She dropped her head and her tone and said she had sad news. It was brutal for that to be saved until the last relay.
I had been right up until that moment. He had not died. In my mind, he was still with us. In truth, his spirit or his intention was waiting on the perimeter of my unconscious, even before I woke, telling me in his own way–or in God’s own way–that he was, in fact, gone.
I was glad, made glad really, that my chaplain colleague was with him when he died. Knowing of his faith and seeing the notes that had been charted, she sat with him and played gospel music for him. She sang to him, held his hand. She was there when he breathed his last breath.
This morning became for me another moment to grieve, another patient I had cared for, another person I had gotten to know. He was another person whose story, in such a compressed time, I learned to appreciate.
I spent the day doing the same things I always do in the hospital. And if you weren’t a colleague of mine or a nurse from my unit, you wouldn’t know that this gentleman was now added to my mental picture of deceased patients. I would remember that he had been in that room. I would associate the number with the first meeting and then the second until I captured what my last prayers for him had been. Had I prayed a prayer of benediction? I generally tried to.
He joined a different cloud of witnesses and not just the one the scriptures speak of. His face became associated with his room so that when I walked by, I said another goodbye, and it was like that on the unit. He was still a teacher to me, a teacher in how to acknowledge what was happening in me, a teacher of remarking on a man’s grace-filled transformation, and how to continually respect the boundary that we give all that we have when we’re there and that when we’re not there, somebody else is.
He became an occasion for me to remember the other patients who I thought of in similar ways, even if there was one or two profound ways that distinguished him forever in my memory. He will be one of the people I look for when I slip through the split in the veil myself one day. I will anticipate him as a host quite like he was when he welcomed me at the hospital, and I believe he’ll be smiling widely and probably calling me by a title and a last name.
There are several reasons to take CPE units. I started reflecting on some reasons in the previous post, addressing preliminary but powerful gains in the early process of CPE, in the application components, and in the readying work which comes with the structure of the program itself. Here I want to comment on a few of the guts of the program to answer why CPE as an education is vital:
Thinking takes time. It takes time to consider people and things and influences and connections. The education needs that time, requires that time of you, but it does so in a pervasive way. You don’t feel like you’re doing CPE work one minute and cutting it off the next. So the work pervades your other life areas–in a good way. You slow down, giving the education permission to alter the other parts of your life. The time you’re learning extends, and, hopefully, you are able to apply your lessons to the rest of your life.
Your sphere of ministry grows. I don’t know that ministers look for more responsibility, but my sense of things is that chaplaincy brings an entire zone of ministry that we were, before the experience, outside of. You begin to see yourself as a minister to a larger congregation, if that language helps. You see yourself and your ministry as a chaplain and, therefore, as bigger than the parochial zone of the congregation.
Praying for people changes you. You become more empathic when you pray for others. Pastors are used to this, but we aren’t used to really thinking through those prayers, thinking through those people, and CPE pushes you to consider your approach, your words, and how you pray. In CPE we think about the people and the prayers. We’re thinking about whether to pray or not to when it comes to a particular person. It reshapes what prayer is and isn’t, what it can be. You consider the God to whom you direct your words and the people in the room listening.
You’re pressed to write. You don’t write for publication in CPE, but you write weekly, at least, once a week in process notes. You write verbatims where you recount a portion of a conversation and includes non-verbals, impressions, thoughts, interior questions and impulses when you can. You’re writing but you’re doing a big kind of writing, writing where you mine an event for the sociological implications, the psychological considerations, the theological connections and so forth. You write and it touches how you start seeing. So you interact with these views, these sections, until they become how you are in the world. It’s just starting to happen to me where this shaping is taking place.
Peer groups empower you. One of my friends in the previous group said something to me that I’ll never forget. In fact, everyone in my previous group has said at least one thing I’ll never forget. How many times can a pastor say that truthfully, that someone said something you won’t forget? It doesn’t happen because we live in a world where we talk so much that we don’t hear ourselves much less take the time to truly hear another. We probably never feel truly heard, particularly because most pastors are afraid of therapy and unfamiliar with spiritual direction. Being listened to might scare us! The peer group opens you up to the possibility of holiness encountered through the care-filled presence of others. And it makes you think you’re capable of doing the same.
Recognizing your junk becomes easier. This can be frightening and very informative. You begin CPE by thinking about your origins. You’re asked about that stuff sometimes, particularly when you act out and people who’re just meeting you ask you questions about why you do what you. This recognition enables you to see conflicts with people in a new view. It calms you because you’re more aware of you and more aware of when something is “all you” or not you at all. The beautiful thing is in your ability not only to see your stuff for what it is but also to get the tools to address your growing edges, to ask yourself “Is this working for me?” and to change however slowly you need to.
You start the practice of being gentle with yourself. This started for me with spiritual direction, but CPE echoes this lesson. In CPE we’re focusing on the clinical method and reflecting on our ministry to others. But as part of that focus, we learn how to give ourselves a break, how to care for ourselves in concrete and specific ways, even when those ways are not dramatic and when they are, simply, going home and sleeping after 4 deaths on your unit. Of course, the learning extends to other places. Because we learn how to be gentle with ourselves, we teach out of that. We live out of that. We tell other people the same and it sounds right because it comes from a place of close integrity rather than a distant pulpit.
You see death differently. Most ministers are acquainted with death. Christian ministers proclaim a Savior who is acquainted with our sorrows, whose skin is dressed in our grief, and who, sadly, dies as part of an unfolding picture of grace. In CPE, you start seeing the small and grand openings of death. You have to start saying how normal death actually is. You make some sense of it theologically and press yourself to make faith sense of the event that’s been happening forever. You see death as a respite for the woman who has been in and out of the hospital for years because she was praying for it to come. You embrace the death of the old man who sang aloud and always laughed and who saw death as a passage to the door of heaven. Death becomes broader than what we mourn. As uncertain as it is, it is different.
Life has a lift to it. You hear words differently. You realize that two cardiac events for the same person almost always means a soon-coming death. But you walk away from the hospital and you want to live in response to what you saw. You want to hug your mother tighter or you slow down to listen to your son even though you have no idea what he’s talking about. You linger with your spouse or call your friend to hear their voice mail message all the way through. You live and laugh at things you see on the street. You look like you’re foolish. You are a little.
What would you add?