THE PASTORAL JOURNEY
By Rev. Dr. Ross Kingham
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the concept of the soul was a
mainstay in the understanding of persons that was advanced by theologians
and philosophers and accepted by most people who took the time to reflect on
the matter. All this changed quite rapidly in the early twentieth century.
Suddenly, the soul became unfashionable.
The reasons for this are complex. However, two are particularly noteworthy:
the reaction of theologians against the prevailing Platonic view of soul and
the rise of modern psychology.
Plato's view of the soul had been singularly influential among both
philosophers and theologians for two millennia. Corrupting the earlier
Hebraic understanding of the nature of person, the Platonic view emphasised
an immortal soul that was imprisoned in a mortal body and yearned for
release at death. The rediscovery by theologians of the more holistic Old
Testament view persons led to the discrediting of the Platonic soul and a
rejection of the body-soul dualism associated with it. Tainted by its
Platonic associations, the concept of soul receded to a back burner in the
Any conception of soul whatsoever was anathema to modern psychology. This
was quite paradoxical since the word psychology literally means "the science
of the soul." However, under the over-riding influence of philosophical
positivism, the science of the soul was about to become the science without
a soul as psychologists avoided anything unobservable, taking behavior as
their focus for study. Seeking to align itself with science and distance
itself from religion, modern psychology viewed the soul as unnecessary
baggage from its past and sought to avoid it at all costs. Quickly, it
became equally irrelevant to most other people in an increasingly
materialistic, secular, and psychological culture.
What a surprise, therefore, when suddenly in the last decade the concept of
the soul once again made a reappearance. Led by Thomas Moore's best-seller,
Care of the Soul, publishers quickly recognised a new market and followed
with a spate of other titles on the subject. Even more surprising is the
fact that this renewed interest in the soul and its care occurs within a
context of renewed interest in spirituality. Interest in souls has been
accompanied by interest in angels, channeling, meditation, and Gregorian
Chant. The soul that was rediscovered was, therefore, not some ethereal,
immortal, Platonic essence of being, but a very vital, embodied, spiritual
core of personality.
The significance of this re-emergence of the soul and the corresponding
interest in spirituality is hard to overestimate. 0n the one hand, it seems
to represent a reaction against materialism. Whatever else the soul is, it
is unseen and non-material. As it simply was not supposed to exist in a
culture that gave primacy to the pursuit of things that could be seen, felt,
and put into bank accounts.
On the other hand, the spirituality that has been associated with the rise
of interest in the soul in the past decade is also a reaction against
religion, particularly Christianity. For many of those who are interested in
the recovery of the spiritual, the last place they would look to find
guidance in this quest would be the church. The rise of spirituality appears
to be a response not only to the bankruptcy of materialism but also to the
perceived irrelevance of the traditional religions of the West.
Sensing this, Christians have often viewed these developments with suspicion
and animosity. Dismissively calling these spiritualities "New Age" and
pouncing on the obvious points of divergence from historic Christian visions
of the spiritual life, we have often failed to appreciate the spiritual
hunger that is reflected in those who embrace the non-Christian
spiritualities of the late twentieth century. We have also failed to
understand the shift in dominant worldview that is associated with the
current demise of modernity. As noted by many observers of this shift, the
West is no longer simply post-Christian; it is now also postmodern. The
recovery of the soul and the rise of interest in the spiritual both form a
fundamental part of this development.
The English phrase, 'care of souls', has its origins in the Latin cura
animarum. While cura is most commonly translated as care, it actually
contains the idea of both care and cure.
The meaning of nephesh in the Old Testament is very rich indeed.ranging from
life, the inner person (particularly thoughts, feelings, and passions), to
the whole person, including the body. The soul is understood as that which
distinguishes humans from animals and living from dead. It is also the
source of emotions, the will, and moral actions.
Similarly, in the New Testament, psyche carries such meaning as the totality
of a person, physical life, mind, and heart. Here, soul is also presented as
the religious center of life and as the seat of desire, emotions, and
Many biblical scholars suggest that the best single word for both nephesh
and psyche is either person or self. Both words carry the connotation of
Self is not a part of a person but the totality of a person.
"As a working definition, let us understand soul as referring to the whole
person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of
thinking, feeling, and willing. Care of souls can thus be understood as the
care of persons in their totality, with particular attention to their inner
"Soul care is the support and restoration of the well-being of persons in
their depth and in their totality, with particular concern for their inner
life. The goal of such care can be described as fostering the
psycho-spiritual growth and health of the inner person."
BEING THERE FOR OTHERS
We know well the theology behind being there for others!
It is the theology of 'giving'. 'Giving' is of the very nature of God.
"Every good and perfect gift comes from God"; God is "the Lord and Giver of
life" (Nicene Creed); and in Paul's emotional farewell to the elders in the
church of Ephesus, he says, "In all things I have shown that by toiling one
must help the weak, remembering the words of the lord Jesus, 'it is more
blessed to give than receive"', (Acts 20:35).
Thus, the image of the servant Christ is vividly etched in terms of
sacrifice, the Cross in daily living.
Louis Marteau, in Words of Counsel , tells the story of Veronica. According
to tradition, when Christ was staggering under the weight of the cross up
the slope of Golgotha, a woman called Veronica, moved with pity, went up to
him and wiped his face with a towel. The imprint of his face was left on her
towel. At that point, says Marteau, "Veronica could not see how she could
alter the prevailing social structures to gain release for this innocent
man; she could not see how she could remove his burden; she could only offer
what little help she could in presenting him with a towel with which to wipe
So it is in much pastoral ministry: just as Christ was able to wipe his face
on that towel so that he could see and move on towards his eternal destiny,
so we hope that the offering of our towel may enable others to be able to
see, and so continue on their journey. But the towel we use is ourselves,
and the image of their suffering becomes implanted on (us), and we accept
the pain, even though it leaves its mark.
"We have to say with Ivan Karamazov that nothing can make up for a single
tear from a single child, and yet we are (called) to accept all tears and
all the nameless horrors which are beyond tears."
There is a story told by Johannes Tauler (Dominican, mystic, C14th, of
Germany): a Dominican sister, in her early childhood, repeatedly asked
Christ to reveal himself to her. In the midst of her devotions, Christ did
appear to her, but wrapped in thorns so she could not embrace Him without
clasping the thorns as well. Thus, says Tauler, anyone who wishes to take
the Christ Child must submit to suffering.
"Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity. When I give, I give of
myself" (Walt Whitman, Songs of Myself). This applies to all in the helping
But we know all this. Most of us know it too well: the images of sacrificial
leadership litter the scriptures and church tradition;
they are reinforced throughout our theological education;
and all this is compounded by the very personality types that are typical of
us who are people-helpers.
Hugh Eadie in a study of Church of Scotland parish Ministers in the late
sixties, describes 'the helping personality' ("principally motivated by
altruistic ideals and the wish to be helpful and concerned"). This applies
to about 2/3 of any clergy group.
'Idealised Self Image': The Appeal of Love.
This, based on ideals of being loved and lovable, is the springboard for the
"helping personality". The person sees him/herself as being essentially
loving and is motivated by the wish to be helpful, loving and considerate,
compassionate and affectionate. This is the ideal which the person tries to
attain. Sometimes the helping person will impose these expectations and
ideals upon him/herself: "I ought to be patient, generous to others,
Essentially, the helping person sees him/herself as a 'mover towards
"People helpers" are most vulnerable to anxiety provoked by experiences
associated with isolation or aggression. Such anxiety can be reduced so long
as she/he effectively pursues the ideal of being a loving person. But if
she/he is frustrated in fulfilling this idealised expectation at any point,
then his/her anxiety is likely to be re-stimulated. When this happens, the
refuelled anxiety will probably trigger a new effort to attain the ideal! So
failure to attain the ideal intensifies reinforcement of it!
This is another characteristic of the 'helping personality'.
In order to achieve his/her idealised self, the person becomes ambitious,
striving, hardworking, over-conscientious, and engages in compulsive
over-work. People in caring professions tend to become perfectionists, at
least in selected areas of their work, choosing to become exemplary models
of responsibility, dedication and loving concern. They will then try to
engage in perpetual activity and excessive working hours, being 'on-call' 24
hours a day, and by appearing to be available and concerned at all times.
Otherwise he/she will fail to live to the idealised self-image. These
compulsive-obsessive behaviours will always be rewarded by those whom we
serve, but not by the family and/or the intimate friends of the
people-helper. Those who are served by a compulsive-obsessive carer will
cheer him/her all the way to a nervous breakdown, a cardiac arrest and/or
the divorce court.
An additional complicating factor for the carer who embraces the role of
'giver' too passionately, is the possibility that his/her ego becomes
identified with his/her role. (Archibald Hart) The ego is confused with the
self-giving, loving, lovable, overworked image of 'carer'. This is why we
ask each other, "How are you? Busy?" And this is why some carers face
retirement with deep fear: "If you take away my role, what will then be left
'TEACH US TO CARE, (.AND NOT TO CARE)', T. S. ELIOT
ASH WEDNESDAY 1930
'.Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still'.
This poem, Ash Wednesday 1930, follows T. S. Eliot's conversion to the
Christian faith. All too often, our caring is based on the assumption that
it takes place in a wasteland, rather than in a garden (in Four Quartets,
Eliot sees the world as a rose garden).
Eugene Petersen points out that much of our caring is simply collaboration
in sinfulness, in selfishness. It is to collude with care-eliciting
behaviour which is motivated by other than wholesome agenda. Such 'care' has
nothing to do with 'cure'. It can be exhausting but not therapeutic.
The late Fritz Kunkel practiced psychiatry in Los Angeles for many years. He
used to talk about the ego-centric person as manifesting a particular range
of behaviours. One of these behaviours is described by Kunkel with the image
'Turtle'. The 'turtle' is the person who hides under her or his shell, away
over there in the corner, out of the way, plaintively calling out, softly,
"I'm alright! Don't worry about me! I don't want to cause anyone any trouble
at all. You don't need to be concerned for me! I'm doing OK here in my
shell!" In making a show of being alright, and constantly calling others to
his or her plight, the 'Turtle' dominates the whole show.
People who lack self-esteem and who are hurting and insecure, can take up a
great deal of space in the world of relationships. And carers may be sucked
in to the vacuum.
Some of the people with whom we minister are needy, selfish, ego-centric.
Many are beautiful people.generous hearted, lovers of God and of neighbour;
Many are open to ongoing personal development, although, in the case of the
aged, with diminishing intellectual capacities.becoming more of themselves,
braver, more thoughtful, more inward.
Some may be unwell and poor, but possess qualities of rich and haunting
In the case of older persons, they have abandoned their stereotyped roles -
such abandonment must be one of the gifts of ageing - and become more fully
aware of their human qualities.
Their transitions have been frightening and immense, and they are more
conscious than the many of us of the greater transition that lies yet ahead.
They know deeply the pain of darkness and fear, the warmth of human touch
and divine presence, and the potential of prayer and of patience.
And we, the carers, are called to help others to listen to God, receive all
of God's gifts, and to recognise and love the God who is the ultimate One
with whom they have to deal. We are called, if you like, to be carers of
their soul, as hospitable companions.
In being there for others, we are called to a demanding ministry of both
giving and, simultaneously, it seems, of receiving.receiving the offerings
of women and men out of the richness of their older years, who frequently
desire to be fellow pilgrims for us. In companioning others, we are
Henri Nouwen tells the story of 'Bill' (Bill Van Buren, Daybreak L'Arche
.... Writing these reflections was one thing presenting them in Washington,
D.C., quite another. When Bill and I arrived at the Washington airport we
were taken to the Clarendon Hotel in Crystal City, a collection of modern,
seemingly all-glass high-rise buildings on the same side of the Potomac
River as the airport. Both Bill and I were quite impressed by the glittering
atmosphere of the hotel. We were both given spacious rooms with double beds,
bathrooms with many towels, and cable TV. On the table in Bill's room there
was a basket with fruit and a bottle of wine. Bill loved it. Being a veteran
TV-watcher, he settled comfortably on his queen-size bed and checked out all
the channels with his remote-control box.
But the time for us to bring our good news together came quickly. After a
delicious buffet dinner in one of the ballrooms decorated with golden
statues and little fountains, Vincent Dwyer introduced me to the audience.
At that moment I still did not know what "doing it together" with Bill would
I opened by saying that I had not come alone but was very happy that Bill
had come with me. Then I took my handwritten text and began my address. At
that moment I saw that Bill had left his seat, walked up to podium, and
planted himself right behind me. It was clear that he had a much more
concrete idea about the meaning of "doing it together" than I. Each time I
finished reading a page, he took it away and put it upside down on a small
table close by. I felt much at ease with this and started to feel Bill's
presence as a support. But Bill had more in mind. When I began to speak
about the temptation to turn stones into bread as a temptation to be
relevant, he interrupted me and said loudly for everyone to hear, "I have
heard that before!" He had indeed, and he wanted the priests and ministers
who were listening to know that he knew me well and was familiar with my
For me, however, it felt like a gentle loving reminder that my thoughts were
not as new as I wanted my audience to believe. Bill's intervention created a
new atmosphere in the ballroom: lighter, easier, and more playful.
Somehow Bill had taken away the seriousness of the occasion and had brought
to it some homespun normality. As I continued my presentation I felt more
and more that we were indeed doing it together. And it felt good.
When I came to the second part and was reading the words, "the question most
asked by the handicapped people with whom I live was, 'Are you home
tonight?' " Bill interrupted me again and said, "That's right, that is what
John Smeltzer always asks." Again there was something disarming about his
remark. Bill knew John Smeltzer very well after living with him in the same
house for quite some years. He simply wanted people; to know about his
friend. It was as if he drew the audience toward us, inviting them into the
intimacy of our common life.
After I had finished reading my text and people had shown their
appreciation, Bill said to me, "Henri, can I say something now?" My first
reaction was, "Oh, how am I going to handle this? He might start rambling
and create an embarrassing situation," but then I caught myself in my
presumption that he had nothing of importance to say and said to the
audience, "Will you please sit down. Bill would like to say a few words to
you." Bill took the microphone and said, with all the difficulties he has in
"Last time, when Henri went to Boston, he took John Smeltzer with him. This
time he wanted me to come with him to Washington, and I am very glad to be
here with you. Thank you very much."
That was it, and everyone stood up and gave him warm applause.
As we walked away from the podium, Bill said to me, "Henri, how did you like
my speech?" "Very much," I answered, "everyone was really happy with what
Bill was delighted. As people gathered for drinks, he felt freer than ever.
He went from person to person, introduced himself and asked how they liked
the evening and told them all sorts of stories about his life in Daybreak. I
did not see him for more than an hour. He was too busy getting to know
The next morning at breakfast before we left, Bill walked from table to
table with his cup of coffee in his hands and said good-bye
The next morning at Breakfast before we left, Bill walked from table to
table and said goodbye to all those he knew from the evening before.
It was clear to me that he had made many friends and felt very much at home
in these, for him, so unusual surroundings.
As we flew back together to Toronto, Bill looked up from the word-puzzle
book that he takes with him wherever he goes and said, "Henri, did you like
our trip?" "Oh yes," I answered, "it was a wonderful trip, and I am so glad
you came with me." Bill looked at me attentively and then said, "And we did
it together, didn't we?"
Then I realised the full truth of Jesus' words, "Where two or meet in my
Name, I am among them" (Matthew 18:19). In the past, I had always given
lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I had wondered
how much of what I had said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that
most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill
and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten. I hoped and prayed
that Jesus who had sent us out together and had been with us all during the
journey would have become really present to those who had gathered in the
Clarendon Hotel in Crystal City.
As we landed, I said to Bill, "Bill, thanks much for coming with me. It was
a wonderful trip and what we did, we did together in Jesus' name."
BEING THERE FOR SELF
'.Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still'.
More and more clergy, lay church leaders and other people-helpers are
realising the importance of discerning and observing boundaries between
personal and professional roles in preserving their welfare.
We can note further to Hugh Eadie's understanding of the 'helping
personality', that in thinking again about the idealised self-image being
one of being loving and lovable, the carer may adopt a negative attitude to
his/her own personal needs: "I should not be concerned with myself,
self-centered, irritable, impatient. Intolerant, angry, frustrated, hostile,
hurting, demanding or dependent on others".
He/she is influenced by the need to appear loving and lovable above
everything else, and so personifies the ideals of self-effacement and
self-denial. The carer is most likely to deny his/her self-care needs.
He/she is often resistant to receiving from others. Stress, internal
conflicts, depression, and anxiety and apparently mild psychosomatic
complaints tend to be ignored or concealed, in order to maintain the
Many of us have been trained in such a way that we feel it our bounden duty
that, at all times and in all places, we should minimise our self-care
"Teach us to care, and not to care."
Caring becomes dangerous if it becomes our obsession and our main source of
esteem: we come to believe that we only have value if we are there for and
with others. But to promiscuously inflict ourselves on others is not really
caring. Not to collude with persons who have deep dependency needs does not
mean that we choose not to love.
There is a common fear of silence, of drawing aside to be alone with
oneself. Morton Kelsey tells the story of a clergyman on the ragged edge of
breaking down, who once went to see Carl Jung for help. The clergyman had
been working fourteen hours a day and was feeling emotionally exhausted.
Jung asked if he wanted to get well. The clergyman, surprised and indignant,
replied that of course that was what he desired. Jung then told him to work
just eight hours a day, and to sleep eight. The remaining hours, he was to
spend in quiet, alone in his study.
The clergyman was willing to do as he was asked, and was hopeful that this
would help him with his problem.
The next day the clergyman was careful to work only eight hours. At the
evening meal, he explained to his wife what Dr Jung had said, and then went
to his study and closed the door. He stayed in that room for several hours,
playing a few pieces by Chopin, and completing a Hermann Hesse novel. The
next day he followed the same routine, except that in his study that evening
he read Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, and played a Mozart Sonata. Soon after
he went back to see Jung complaining that he was feeling no better than
Jung listened attentively to the clergyman's account of how the previous two
days had been spent. 'But you don't understand", Jung told him. I didn't
want you with Hermann Hesse or Thomas Mann, or even Mozart or Chopin. I
wanted you to be all alone with yourself " At this point, the clergyman was
shocked and gasped, "Oh, but couldn't think of any worse company!" Jung then
made the reply which has been repeated so often since, "And yet this is the
self you inflict on other people fourteen hours a day."
Clearly, to heed the call to embrace being so that, affirmed and
strengthened, we may be effective in our doing, requires special openness
and courage. It is easier to deny the call and to accept less than our
Creator's intention for us: the inevitable result is a considerable
workload, but poor quality of work and of living.
One of the difficult lessons we have to learn in life is that the quality of
our being can be lessened by that doing which is done badly. We have become
so convinced of the need to express our faith in action, that we fear that
the moment we pause in our doing, we will be diminished as persons. It is as
if we have come to believe that the sphere of doing is the most real one in
which we can live, and that the sphere of our being is to be embraced only
fleetingly, as a momentary luxury which we can indulge ourselves in the most
tentative manner, before returning to where real reality exists. And so some
of us fear the sphere of being.
As Thomas Merton says, "everything depends on the quality of our acts and
experiences. A multitude of badly performed actions and of experiences only
half-lived exhausts and depletes our being'.
The point is that we suffer in our inner land when we allow our outer land
to be the passion of our lives. In wanting to be able to point to our
significance in outer land achievements, be they buildings erected, or
programs completed, or positions held, or people blessed, we can be
impoverished. Outer land achievements have the power of take-away junk food
to sustain us for the journey: often attractive, comparatively easy to
attain, but destructive over time. The challenge is to find room for myself,
my own self, for the care of my own soul.
2. BE YOURSELF
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
ADVICE FROM A CATERPILLAR
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at
last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in
a languid, sleepy voice.
'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied,
rather shyly, 'I - I hardly know, sir, just at present - at least I know who
I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed
several times since then.'
'What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. 'Explain
'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid sir' said Alice, 'because I'm not
myself, you see.'
'I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.
'I'm afraid I can't put it more c1early,' Alice replied very politely, 'for
I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different
sizes in a day is very confusing.'
'It isn't', said the Caterpillar.
'Well, perhaps you haven't found it so yet', said Alice. But when you have
to turn into a chrysalis - you will some day, you know - and then after that
into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?'
'Not a bit,' said the Caterpillar.
'Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,' said Alice; 'all I know is,
it would feel very queer to me.'
'You!' said the Caterpillar contemptuously. 'Who are you?'
Each of us is called to be who we are, in the fullness and uniqueness of
that incarnation of the Divine Presence.
Abbe de Tourville: "We are the brothers and sisters of the saints. They
became holy in their way; we must become holy in ours, not in theirs. Come,
come! We must wake up and try to be that which we are reasonably meant to be
and not that which other people have been. One does not become holy by
copying others but by making good use of what is truly part of oneself."
3. RESPECT YOURSELF!
a. Emotional life.
The business of denying self-care needs is a tiring one, and can demand
quite a frightening expenditure of energy. John Sanford describes this in
terms of the individual maintaining his/her 'persona', the front, or mask,
which is assumed as a way of coping with the outer world . For example, the
energy expended by the carer in not allowing anger to be visible to others,
presenting a mask of diplomacy and patience, can be deeply draining, and
leaves many in a continual state of low grade depression.
Further, in 'living the persona' we are in danger of getting out of touch
with our own self. As Sanford points out, no one can be saintly and
religious, filled with faith, patience and selflessness all the time. We can
strike a pose and seem this way, but if that is not what we genuinely are
and feel at the time, we are not real but something of a fake .
Clergy tend to fall into two roles in particular: the hero, or the clown
(from 'recovery' literature on dysfunctional families, quoted by Hands and
Fehr ). (The other two roles learned in dysfunctional families adopted as
survival strategies quoted by Hands and Fehr are scapegoat and the lost
The hero fixes on others, achieves status in the community, and focuses
energies and affect on the problems of others. The hero works long hours,
skips holidays, or if on holiday is bored and restless. She/he is well
trained to run away from the emptiness and loneliness that might be
uncovered during 'time off', feeling it is safer to keep working. This
culminates in the development of the 'Messiah complex', the hero's delusion
that his or her efforts are both supremely ordained and indispensable for
the salvation and health of others.
The mascot or entertainer. This person tries hard to divert attention from
the abuse, neglect or lack of love in the family of origin. The clown's
attention, like the hero's, is directed towards others - but to make them
laugh or to keep everyone smiling. The clown's emotions are limited to one
tolerated feeling - 'gladness'. Clowns are conflict-avoidant, even to the
point of phobia. They are chronically nice, and this blandness is
unfortunately often equated with virtue. They placate, and tend towards
burnout due to the expenditure of energy required to stay 'nice' and
therefore to keep repressed all other natural feelings that were forbidden
in the family of origin.
'Brian', in a demanding ministry situation, slamming the table at an Elder's
meeting that had got bogged down discussing a simmering issue in the parish
regarding acoustics in the church, was reprimanded for not siding with one
group or the other. He bellowed "This job is bloody impossible!" The impact
on himself was quite remarkable, and sobering. The impact on the elders was
miraculous. The way was opened for genuine, mutual caring that was fresh and
In some way, it is crucial to name our feelings and face them honestly, as
our friends. Otherwise, we survive the first half of life, but face
increasing ambivalence and exhaustion as we enter the transition to midlife,
when it is imperative that we work at the agenda that Jung speaks of, of the
'afternoon of our life'.
b. Welcoming our own process of ageing.
About four years ago I was first asked "Senior's card?" I was so taken aback
that I turned to the lady next to me at the counter of the coffee shop, a
complete stranger, and yelled, "No-one has ever asked me that before!"
Jung claimed that we cannot live the second half of life in the same way as
we live the first half; that there are issues peculiar to the second half of
life that demand our acceptance and our courageous attention. We become
vulnerable on more and more fronts. The issues of dealing with the
undeveloped agenda from the first half of life cry out for attention.
In facing the questions of our 'shadow', it might be helpful to consider the
words of the apocryphal gospel of St Thomas: "If you bring forth that which
is within you, it will save you; if you do not bring forth that which is
within you, it will destroy you."
c. Intimacy Needs: Our Openness to Genuine Friendship.
Many clergy are deeply lonely. Charles Schultz has a character in Peanuts
ask, "Do you know what you are going to be when you grow up?" Charlie
Brown's reply - which is echoed in the hearts of many clergy - is
It is not a sign of weakness to be hungry and thirsty! It is not a sign of
failure to be dependent, or to enjoy a friendship. We are created with these
needs! It is a sad form of psychological and spiritual flagellation to
pretend that we are superhuman or inhuman. Hunger and thirst for friendship
are vital for our health!
"If we are to love all people, we must begin by loving someone - then
another, and another, like a stone sending out ripples across a lake. Loving
everyone is often an excuse to avoid the pain of loving someone." (Cardinal
"...And so praying to Christ for one's friend and longing to heard by Christ
for one's friend's sake, we reach out with devotion and desire to Christ
himself. And suddenly and insensibly affection passing into affection, as
though touched by the gentleness of Christ close at hand, one begins to
taste how sweet and how lovely the other is. And thus with that holy love,
with which we embrace our friend, we rise by that to which we embrace
Christ. It is, as it were, only a step to heaven where God is all in all. (S
t Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot of a 12th century Cistercian community near
"What is friendship, when all is said and done, but the giving and taking of
wounds?" (Frederick Buechner, Godric).
Recently, a minister was sharing with me the dilemma of finding she is
constantly being a friend to others in parish ministry, but finding it hard
to receive friendship from others. Her father had died two weeks earlier,
and she told me of her grief, and of the love of those in her parish for
her, expressed in so many ways especially in the previous fortnight. Yet all
these signs of love for her seemed to be hedged in with strong feelings of
reserve. Then she told of times of deep intimacy she had shared with some of
those same people - at times of their joy or pain. "That's it", she cried,
"It is there for them! Always for them!"
It is all a question of balance. If we tilt too much towards being givers,
we run the risk of becoming worn and jaded. If we tilt too much towards
being receivers, we become too dependent, too cloying, too fragile to
exercise leadership in any real sense. We need the great wisdom to know how
to plan the days and months of our lives so we can enjoy the scintillating
sensation of being able to stay on the tightrope, enjoying the thrill and
the challenge of such a feat.
BEING THERE FOR GOD
'.Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still'.
T. S. ELIOT
ASH WEDNESDAY 1930
In Belfast, for over 30 years, leaders of the IRA and the Protestant
Unionist have met secretly, hosted by Church leaders, in a long series of
meetings striving for peace in that land. They have always met in the same
building, and in the same room. At one end of that room is a large mural: it
is a depiction of a tree; and each time those leaders have met over the
years, each person has attached a leaf to that tree. a cry for the healing
of the nations. (James Haire's father once showed him that mural and
explained the meaning of it to James).
Let me offer you an image: the tree growing beside the river of life, whose
leaves are for the healing of the nations! Revelation 22:1-4.
One aspect of our openness to the renewal which is our Creator's intention
for us lies in the degree of our preparedness to be recipients of grace.
Saint Elizabeth Seton, the first US born saint of the Roman Catholic Church
and founder of the Daughters of Charity, was a woman who endured incredible
personal and family suffering. She once said: "We must be so careful to meet
a. Stillness of heart
The psalmist expresses it simply: 'Be still, pause a while, and know that I
By such an approach to God, we are able to move beyond prayers of habit and
tradition, words which come easily to the lips as the occasion requires (and
which often are entirely necessary and appropriate), to prayers of the
heart. Such prayers need an environment of mental stillness, an inner
privacy and devotional attitude. This is the place of the heart praying in
secret, with the door firmly closed against pace, pressure and a watching
audience (Matt.6:6). It is here, in this place of quietness, that we are
blessed by communion with the Lord. Here, in contemplation, prayer is not
something we do. It is rather an experience of being.
Human beings were not created for perpetual motion. We find it difficult to
become inwardly still, in the words of John V. Taylor, 'because we are
forever whisking through the present moment. We almost never live in it. We
are like champion sprinters in the 100 metres race, leaning forward, pushing
our center of gravity several metres ahead, so that if we suddenly become
still we should fall flat on our faces. So the world around us, the reality
of this present moment, is blurred, unclear, empty in fact, because we have
already left it behind. "
John V. Taylor also tells how he began to learn in his missionary days in
Africa of the gift of an experience of total presence. In village life, he
recalls how a child or an adult might enter the room where Taylor was, and
how the visitor would squat on the floor with no more than an occasional
exchange of words after the initial greeting, while Taylor simply continued
with whatever he was doing at the time. Then, after half an hour or so of
simply being together, the visitor would stand, saying, 'I have seen you',
He says, "I can imagine that people who have not outgrown such simplicity
would find it quite natural to sit, silent and attentive, in the presence of
God for an half an hour, saying only 'I have seen you' at the end".
b. Willing to be Blessed in Body and Mind.
Remember the first of the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness, to
turn a stone into bread? Christ's reply to Satan was "Scripture says, man
does not live by bread alone" (Luke 4:4). Perhaps you have had an experience
when, in the midst of a time of intensely demanding ministry, others have
been caused to comment on what they see in you. They may even have suggested
that you have been working too hard, or perhaps with questionable
priorities, and that you might be in need of a rest. At such times we need
to hear again Christ's subtle reply to the Tempter: not "Man shall not live
by bread" but "Man does not live by bread alone".
We are not angels or disembodied, pure spirits. Such things as rest, leisure
and appropriate forms of physical, psychological and spiritual refreshment
are essential for our health. We must learn to resist the temptation to
reply: "I do not need bread".
One form of 'bread' that we need, and some of us need it more than others,
is solitariness. In Paul Tillich's words "language has created the word
'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone and the word 'solitude' to
express the glory of being alone."
Life is more than 'doing'; it also embraces the magic of 'being'. All
ministry is more than 'doing', which can sometimes be a way of distracting
ourselves when we should be allowing ourselves to be more comfortable with
solitude. How easy it is to try to fill our diaries with every conceivable
commitment to such a degree that we shield ourselves from facing our own
self in times of aloneness. For such a facing of our own self can be a
painful, and 'busy-ness' can be an anaesthetic for the pain that we fear we
might experience if we were to allow ourselves to be alone. "Come apart and
rest awhile" is one way Jesus describes this drawing away from the busyness
of ministry to be better equipped for the demands of ministry.
But more than that, to be more and more comfortable in solitude can also
release us for what Nouwen calls 'the ministry of absence' (cf. the
'ministry of presence'). That is, we are ministering to our parishioners
when we are absent from them, thinking of them, praying for them, gaining
new perspectives on their lives from a point somewhat removed from them.
In addition, to plan for, and protect, times of solitude re leases us from
cloying, unhealthy dependencies upon others. There is an unbalanced kind of
adherence to others, whether it be constantly hankering after their physical
presence or uncritically devouring their articles or books, or attending
conference after conference! Some fill as much of their spare time as
possible with others, effectively preventing times of personal solitariness.
Take a walk,
lie on the lounge room floor, go for a swim, sit under a tree, meditate as
you gaze at a lit candle, take the phone off the hook!
c. Willing to be touched in the Deep Places by the Spirit: Disposed to
It is so easy, especially given the demand of our work on our time,
gradually to lose the fire in the belly, to be reduced to going through the
motions. As Carl Braaten expressed it, "You may teach a musician to compose,
but that does not put music into his head ". No amount of in-service
training to improve the skills of caring can substitute for the music! Hear
The Place of Silence
Silence is an act of worship. I have found, in short times of meditation, as
well as a on an extended retreat, that in periods of silence there can be a
profound engaging of human spirit with divine Spirit. Sometimes it is at
that place beyond words, beyond the reception of sight and sounds, that our
spirit (as well as our mind) can interact with the living God. Silence
becomes, in Thomas Merton's phrase, 'an act of worship'. Silence is thus
'holy ground', to be preserved and valued for the sense it offers of the
There is a particular wisdom that derives from being comfortable silence. It
is a wisdom that can impact upon others:
In the words of W.B. Yeats:
"We can make our minds so still like water
That beings gather about us that they might see,
It may be,
Their own images,
And so live for a moment with a clearer,
Perhaps even with a fiercer life,
Because of our quiet"
T.S. Eliot has written,
"Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence... "
There is a time for being singular,
Enjoying vertical slivers of grace
We, who love community,
Need separateness too
For the adoring.
Protestants, thinking to be right
(The sign of true worship!)
Have argued long and hard
About the 'Real Presence':
Is that bread, that wine, now Christ?
These friends don't argue,
For them, the one all-powerful drawing centre
Is not in music or preacher or any such thing.
For hours on end, day in, day out,
Their centre is God.
Their program, Love.
They make their retreat with generosity of
A gentle dropping of obsessions,
In silent devotion.
Not a whisper in the room of prayer,
Scarce a sideways glance,
Just carpet, stained glass windows and
The Blessed Sacrament.
Moved by the responding, sitting, kneeling, lying
in silent love-filled praise,
I, too, kneel and pray.
Silence provides a setting for impregnation by the Spirit.
Buber's 'voice of the hovering silence" is the voice of wisdom. This action
of the hovering, caring Lord is a reminder of the almighty God who refuses
to be trapped in an immersion in our world view, but who watches caringly
over us, from the wide perspective of all-seeing grace. Our need is to find
the humility and the grace ourselves in the presence of the hovering
silence, and to do it often enough to demonstrate our conviction that the
Lord's wisdom is our only desire.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your
To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you? Thomas Merton
The Place of Waiting
It is only in tranquillity that our spirit can absorb true wisdom. This
place of gentle quiet is not readily sought out by most of us. We can abuse
even 'silent prayer' so that in our praying we destroy the quiet of
expectant waiting on the Spirit. Some of us will do anything except wait!
John Bell, in May 1999, told of Celtic insights into Christian spirituality.
He said, "Perhaps we don't wait because we don't love!" ("If a salesman,
selling something I don't especially want, phones and says, 'Can I visit you
at 3.00pm tomorrow?' and I agree, if he hasn't arrived at 3.00pm, I maybe
will wait five minutes for him. But if someone I love deeply phones and
says, 'May I visit you at 3.00pm tomorrow?' If they haven't arrived by
3.00pm, then I will wait 24 hours for him/her!")
In one of his prayers, Thomas Merton urges us to endeavour to attain silence
Set me free from the laziness
that goes about disguised as activity
when activity is not required of me,
and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded,
in order to escape sacrifice.
But give me the strength that waits upon you
in silence and peace.
Give me humility in which alone is rest,
and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.
The Place of Healing
The images of the world - beauty, success, power, wealth, blitz us by day
and by night, and induce inadequacy and guilt. We may buy that fridge, save
for that 5-star holiday.but there is always an endless array of yet more
enticements which are too many to ever claim in total, too grand, too
numerous, ever beyond reach, and so we are left with a perpetual hangover,
stunned by our sipping this bitter-sweet wine, envious for what
On the other hand, we have this dream of the tree by the river of life, with
its leaves being for the healing of the nations! A source of wisdom and a
source of the greatest love.vitality for our polluted, wearisome planet.
In St George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail, Edward Hays
tells of a wise old dragon who talks with George, the middle-aged, urban,
non-hero who is on a spiritual quest...
"We are all wounded, George. As we journey through life we have all been
injured - hurt by parents, brothers, sisters, schoolmates, strangers,
lovers, teachers . the possible list of the guilty is long.."
(The dragon then tells George a story by way of illustration.)
"Once upon a time, a great samurai warrior with two huge swords hanging from
his belt approached a monk and said, 'Tell me, holy monk, about heaven and
hell.' The orange-robed monk looked up at the warrior from where he sat and
replied in a quiet voice, 'I cannot tell you about heaven and hell because
you are much too stupid.' The samurai warrior was filled with rage. He
clenched his fists and gave a fierce shout as he reached for one of his
swords. 'Besides that you are very ugly,' added the monk. The samurai's eyes
flamed and his heart was incensed as he drew his sword. 'That,' said the
little monk, 'is hell.' Struck by the power of the words and the wisdom of
this teaching, the warrior dropped his sword, bowed his head and sank to his
knees. 'And that,' said the monk, 'is heaven.'
'You see,' continued the dragon, 'the words of the monk touched old wounds,
perhaps wounds that were made when the warrior was a child and was called
stupid, dumb, or ugly. It was his wounds that caused hell to capture him.'"
The place of worship is the place of healing.
The Places of the Unknown
St George again...
George is trudging through the night on his pilgrimage into the unknown. He
is met by a dragon.
"'Do you have a name?' asked the dragon, looking me straight in the eye.
'Well, yes, I'm called George,' I replied.
'George? Is that all, just plain George?' asked the dragon. 'Nothing in
front of it, like Saint George or Sir George? How can you be treated with
respect as one on a quest if you have no title? Who will believe you if you
are just plain George?' . 'Sorry, George. We will have to give you a proper
title if you wish to go on a quest.' With a dramatic flourish the dragon
drew himself up to full height and announced in a deep, regal voice, 'I,
thew Celestial Dragon, dub thee with the title 'ST.' You may have it printed
on your laundry tags for your socks and underwear and have it painted on
your letterbox - hence to be known by that title to everyone.'
'With all due respect, Dragon, you can't do that. Only the Pope can make
someone a saint.'
'ST, my dear quester,' said the dragon, 'doesn't mean "Saint"; it is the
abbreviation of the four-letter word 'Sent'. You, my friend, are
George-who-is-sent, or Sent George. You have to be sent before you can
become a saint..'
As with Abraham, we are called, sent, into the unknown, the place of
mystery. Let us never forget that. The unknown is where God is.
God's call leads us ever from self, and from an undue appreciation of our
strengths and gifts, towards the heart of God.
The Place of Hospitality
'No one ever perished from overwork. We only suffer burnout if we are not
fed enough bread along the way.'
Our hosts on our life-journey include:
~ The Spirit of Christ
~ Our own giftedness - we are to befriend the whole of our own self
~ Spiritual direction
~ Attending to the smallest things. Even the most fragile, passing moments
of beauty, of wonder; deeds of kindness, the smallest of crumbs, have a
sustaining, nourishing power
~ Community - worshipful communities of the Spirit,
where power and weakness and grace are all acknowledged,
where we may be held,
where there is to be heard the sweetest, finest music,
where others will help you lay aside what you need continue to carry no
. like the paralytic man's 'four friends', community is the place where
other exercise faith on your behalf, and minister grace to your grief and
The Place of Contemplation
Victor Hugo, in Les Miserables, tells of the criminal Jean Valjean, who
spent twenty years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean has a
life-transforming encounter with God after a chance meeting with a
small-town Bishop who accepted and loved him unconditionally.
It wasn't any theological words or arguments that won Valjean's hardened
heart - it was the
Bishop's love. The Bishop is pictured this way:
"The Bishop's day was full to the brim with good thoughts, good words and
good actions. Still, the day was not complete if cold or wet weather
prevented him from spending an hour or two in the garden before going to
bed... He was then alone with himself, collected, peaceful,
adoring...affected in the darkness by the visible splendour of the
constellations, and the invisible splendour of God.
"...He dreamed of the grandeur and presence of God... Without seeking to
comprehend the incomprehensible, he gazed at it. He did not study God; he
was dazzled by God. "
Read more at:
By Rev. Dr. Ross Kingham. Reproduced with permission.