Words to Remember From Joyce Rupp

I have needed to be compassionate toward myself when I was hurting. I have also needed to offer compassion and kindness to others. One of my best sparks for love and for forgiveness of old relationship hurts came from an image of myself at the Last Supper table, seeing my “enemies” seated next to me, all of us being loved equally by God. Another image that gave me courage and also freed me from mistakes and wounding behavior of the past was that of a beehive in my heart with golden bees making “honey of my old failures.”

Images have also reminded me how valuable a sense of humor is for healing. Mary Lou Sleevi portrays the widow Anna, in the Gospel of Luke, as the image of a woman who could laugh through the tough things of life: “Anna comes to Her Moment laughing. Those eyes have twinkled as she wrinkled…Her face the free expression of all that’s inside.” Perhaps, most of all, images have helped me to name my need to surrender and to trust God with my life. In order to be healed, I need a desire to let go, to get on with my life, rather than cling to the pain and memory of my old wounds. Some see surrender as negative because, for them, it implies a patriarchal approach to God, a giving in to a “higher power.” I do not envision it this way. I see surrender as a natural part of the cycle of life and, thus, it includes the spiritual path as well. I have learned much about having to let go of control by observing seasonal surrendering such as the plowed fields of spring accepting heavy rainfalls, summer’s fruitful days giving way to autumn harvesting, and winter’s wind whirling snowflakes into banks of beauty. My surrender does not seem passive to me. Rather, it feels like a strong trust in a loving One whose wisdom stretches far beyond mine. God can empower me, work through me, and weave patterns that I do not dream possible. I experience this as a great gift of love.

Dear Heart, Come Home (p. 127-128)

Soul Stuff: Entrusting Yourself

I shared this quote as part of a presentation I led last week with physician-fellows in palliative care. They are finishing up a year with their fellowship; they’ve come to palliative care from a variety of disciplines. For three years I’ve been shadowed by different fellows, working side to side to care, to listen, and to participate in the sacred sendings of patients.

Palliative care doctors are a good group of people, and our work as chaplains borders a neighboring region if I can put it that way. Unfortunately palliative docs are often thought of as last resorts and though that view is changing, their import is only beginning to emerge for addressing pain, discomfort, and the large matter of the unanswered. The affinity between their work and ours in spiritual care makes me think of the word integration.

My talk was on cultivating patience in the medical intensive care unit. The MICU is my primary pastoral context these days outside of my supervision of ministry students, and I pulled materials together for a similar group last year. Toward the end of our discussion, I was reflecting upon the wonderful work of Rachel Naomi Remen, whom I’ve quoted before on the blog.

Dr. Remen is among a small circle of life sustainers for me, especially from this last calendar year. She works with caregivers, teaches physicians of the body and physicians of the soul. And she helps me see better some of the portions of what’s ahead in my own future. That said, this quote was toward the end of my presentation with the staff from My Grandfather’s Blessings:

An oyster is soft, tender, and vulnerable. Without the sanctuary of its shell it could not survive. But oysters must open their shells in order to “breathe” water. Sometimes while an oyster is breathing, a grain of sand will enter its shell and become a part of its life from then on. Such grains of sand cause pain, but an oyster does not alter its soft nature because of this. It does not become hard and leathery in order not to feel. It continues to entrust itself to the ocean, to open and breathe in order to live. But it does respond. Slowly and patiently, the oyster wraps the grain of sand in thin translucent layers until, over time, it has created something of great value in the place where it was most vulnerable to its pain. A pearl might be thought of as an oyster’s response to its suffering…Sand is a way of life for an oyster. If you are soft and tender and must live on the sandy floor of the ocean, making pearls becomes a necessity if you are to live well.

I hope these words and anybody’s words which sit in your ears give you an anchor in the oceans of your life. Being an oyster, being a giver of hope, being a caregiver can irritate you until you release your own soft nature. Remen doesn’t likely mean by soft nature anything but a positive description of the best part of you and me.

When my training supervisor wrote my evaluation from February to September, he remarked upon my growth that he’d seen from two years, though he’s only supervised six months of that time. He gave a high compliment when he said that he’d seen me soften over these months, over these years. I had read these words but forgot about them until the other week. In working on this presentation, I reread that the oyster softened, too.

May your nature only soften. May it never harden. May you be as soft as you need to be to produce the pearls that await the context of your own soul. May every sand grain get used to your softness rather than your softness falling into hard, gritty sharpness. Don’t clamp your shell. Don’t give up. Don’t harden.

Preparation

I saw an article in the sidebar when I was reading another article about big stores fighting over lease agreements. The piece I saw was about Tim Cook’s comment and his preparing as many people as possible to be CEO.

The comment sent my mind into a small whirl. Because of who I am and what I do, I couldn’t help but query myself and my list of friends and my mentors–all in my head–and ask, “What if people of faith take as their mission something similar?”

I wonder what would happen if we saw ourselves as responsible to prepare others, to equip others, for what we do. In other words, if a part of life is generativity, creating conditions for continuing some thing or some legacy, how well are we at it?

The article as a prompt makes me wonder how I see the future if I’m not about the process of caringly preparing my children, my family, my church, or my sphere for what’s ahead.

Perhaps there is nothing in your future to prepare for. Of course, I think there is something there, something ahead. The prompt, at least, makes you begin to see what may be there.

It makes you consider the question of whether what’s ahead is worth passing on to others.

Soul Stuff: Learning, Abandoning Dreams

I’ve decided to try my hand at writing one post around some of the things I’m reading or thinking. It feels like this type of post will stand with but a little bit away from what I’ve been able to do weekly in my mishmash focus. We’ll see. We’ll try. I’ll try.

That said, I’m reading a book about liturgy and late modernity, two phrases I don’t immediately connect with the general way I blog. I am learning how, perhaps, to see a lot of what I write, think, and say as a liturgical expression and as a part of my relation to modernity, but that’s another post for a later time. In the early part of the book I’m reading (Worship As Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity), the writer outlines an historical intellectual summary as a way to build his main point.

In outlining that history, Graham points to how modernity–a period in history when philosophers began to question things in explicitly scientific ways–was a quest for understanding, a quest for knowledge, and a quest for purity. Purity was a way of discussing how things made sense. Purity meant that life was sensible and understandable, able to be collected and reduced to something that could be put into words.

With the shift in how people thought (and I do think that people were thinking critically before some of these sho-nuff smart people started thinking about how they were thinking) and as modernity turned, that quest for purity had to be abandoned. Hughes named it as “the abandonment of the dream of purity.”

By that, I think he means that the structures that people had for thinking–“This is how you learn this. This is how you show that you know things.”–had to be abandoned. Their dreams for certainty and assurance that they knew the answers that others didn’t. Their certainties with their conclusions. Their findings as the findings as opposed to someone else’s findings. Those dreams shifted.

The shift in thinking involved a corresponding shift in dreaming. In abandoning not only how those folks thought, they also relinquished aspects of their dream life. This grounds continuing education for me in a way I’m opening to because I’m learning that learning means shifting. Learning means movement and that movement is never, solely, intellectual. It’s psychic. It’s emotional.

When I learn, my dreams change. When how I think shifts, how I dream shifts too. I’m not sure a person can learn too much. I am an educator among the many names I’m called. What I do know is that whatever you learn has consequences. What you see and read and take in both informs you and, simply, forms you.

Graham makes this point in a quick fashion and for specific purposes to be sure, but what he says can relate so well to soul stuff. When one part of you turns, other parts do too. Be forewarned: thinking has consequences. Pursuing an understanding will open you up to both possessing new ideas and to abandoning old things. Take heart for what’s next.

“…ponder the intimate immediacy…”

The issue is our tendency to get stuck focusing on what my father or mother, wife or ex-wife, children or friends, pastor or boss thinks of me. What if instead we could join God in knowing who God knows I am eternally in God, before the origins of the universe, and know ourselves hidden with Christ in God forever? …The pedagogy of the mystics slows us down enough to catch up with ourselves. How can we ponder the intimate immediacy of what matters most? How can we learn to not treat ourselves like someone we don’t want to spend time with? How can we settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be? And how can we be more faithful to it?

James Finley in a recent meditation