What was this like for you? I ask this question all the time.
I ask this to lift up what’s been said in the presence of a person, to hear it, and to notice it. This question is one way I process my process when I spend time with people.
It’s come up in how I think about ending meetings where someone has said things they wouldn’t generally say. It’s my way of spending a few minutes before a class, group, session ends to review and re-see what’s happened. I find myself asking, “What was this like for you?”
There are other versions of this question. There are a few reasons why I ask this, reasons underneath my comments above. It’s important for me to walk away knowing how this conversation, this meeting, or this moment was from your perspective. It’s important for me to change and adapt so the next one can be more hospitable.
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.
When I left you, I thought to myself that patient rooms are the best classrooms.
Better than graduate seminars and intensives. Better than syllabi with supplemental reading lists so long they make your eyes hurt.
The simple wisdom coming from the lives of pained people is exquisite, expensive truth that I get for showing up as a chaplain. I didn’t have to pay tuition or get reimbursed for my travel. I didn’t have to buy a book or copy an article. I, simply, answered a page.
You told me something I’ve heard in different ways by other people. You said, my words not yours, that our conceptions of God are ours, that they are personal, and that they can be taken only so far. You used the image of the stars and suggested that we ought to be humble as humans because we “perhaps just stumbled upon the ability to think.”
You said that our ways of understanding God should be humbled by such things. And I’m considering the depth of your words. We ought to be humbled by such things.