Ending the Week with Thanks: Holy Week Edition

I read Kari Patterson's blog regularly, and she regularly wraps up her blogging week with gratitude.  (Look: I get nervous when people talk about gratitude.  I understand if it makes you twitchy, too.  Joyfully receiving is marvelous, provided we're not pressuring one another to ignore hard feelings and cover them up with nice ones.)  Gratitude is a both/and for me-- life is hard, and there's beauty.  Here's the beauty from my week:
  • Sunshine for the first time in eons. It was perfect.  And I kept finding myself outside during my favorite part of the day, the hour before sunset when the light is soft and golden.
  • Epistolary friendships, in email and on paper.  (I'm way, way more reliable on paper, by the way.)  I'm charmed by good writers, and delighted by those who share their hearts in print.
  • Daffodils.  Tiny yellow ones that Dave bought from a fundraiser at work.  They're blooming their little heads off on the bright grape-kool-aide-colored shelf on our back porch.
  • Caring supervision.  I know I've mentioned this a lot lately, but I think Proverbs has it wrong:  it's a good boss who's worth their weight in rubies.
  • Deer!  14 of them in one field while I was out driving this week.  They were splendid.
  • Abraham Verghese.  I read Cutting for Stone a couple of weeks ago, then The Tennis Partner this week.  Perfect prose.
  • Snuggling.  Dave's been working around the clock, for many, many days straight, but he hasn't been out of town.  When he finally crawls under the covers in the wee hours, it's so good to be able to reach out and rest a hand on him.  I don't love his long days, but I'll take them over travel.
  • Healing.  Last weekend, Dave did have to travel for work at the last minute, but this time (first time ever!), I went with him.  While he... did something with a server? I talked to the women behind the desk.  When I told her I'm a chaplain, she told me her own story.  Once again, I remembered that healing is far more common than it seems.
  • Kindness.  This week, I was called to a very difficult, very distressed patient.  I watched how firm, kind, and respectful her Patient Care Assistant was, and I marveled at his character.  I love watching anyone do a job well, and he did his beautifully.
  • Jesus.  It's not like me (in a big way) to give a Sunday School response.  Despite that, as I've been stomping and crying at some significant NoFairs!, I paused when I realized that Holy Week is exactly the time to remember that life isn't fair, that ugly things happen, and that if Jesus didn't have a beautiful, easy life, maybe that's not the goal here.  


Wednesday Prayers: Laughter in Disaster

My friend M is getting married next month, and I told her what I tell every engaged person: something will go wrong. Count on it. That's normal. It's OK.

Our wedding was so simple (translated: we were so poor) that there wasn't a whole lot to go wrong. You can't break it if you don't have it! Our darling friends did decorate the wrong car, though-- garlands streamed from a guest's rental. (In my opinion, that was less a mistake and more a dodged bullet.)

I'm holding M and her fiancé D in my prayers today, but I'm also praying for the ability to laugh through chaos, to separate the window-dressing from the substance. There's SO MUCH that's just for show, and it's very loud. The grace to hear the quiet things of value beneath the din of our gorgeous shows is a real gift of God.


Wednesday Prayers: God-Images

My hospital supervisor is, as usual, trying to kill me with his insightfulness and compassion.  Swords or pistols?  No, he duels with gentleness and clarity.  I'll take poniards, any day.

He sent me a link to a TED talk on shame from BrenĂ© Brown, found here, and then I watched her previous one on vulnerability, found here.  I watched it in the middle of writing a paper for my Doctrine class, and the overlay was perfect.  Now, I'm thinking quite a bit about how my perceptions of God have sometimes inoculated me against shame, and  at other times have robbed me of a sense of worth.

I think a lot of people have observed that there's a connection between shame/worth and who they understand God to be, but I noticed yet again that the God-image who comforts others is painful to me, and the God-image that brings me freedom is a prison to others.  When I was in my 20s, I let authority figures dictate my God-images, and they didn't see me when they chose for me.

Today, I'm praying my gratitude for beginning to leave unhelpful images behind, and for finding freedom.

Which God-images are you praying with?  Are they bringing you shame or grounding you in worth?

Now, I'm off to find a good Pantocrator icon...


Daily-ness in Friendship

I've been part of a number of conversations lately about how hard keeping up friendships can be, and I keep thinking that part of it must be the way friend time (originally, and maybe more accurately, typed "fiend time") is separate from daily life.  I'm suspicious of the whitewashing that goes along with nostalgia, but I wonder if friendships really were easier to maintain when people gathered to complete tasks together.  If we chattered over laundry (which we all have to do), instead of Going Out, would it be easier to fit one another into our days?  Sewing circles and quilting bees were practical before anything else, but they glued women together.

A few weeks ago, a seminary buddy hopped in the car with me to run errands-- he needed to talk, and I needed to pick up packages.  Years ago, I spent more fun time with one couple painting their nursery than I have before or since. One of my favorite college memories (well over a decade ago now) is of a friend playing DJ while I packed up my dorm room, as he chatted with me and made my oxfords dance with my strappy sandals.

How can we make friendship about Companionship, rather than Entertainment?  I like throwing the occasional party, but I don't think isolated events successfully make us part of each other's lives.  How can we start letting our mundane details overlap?  I want to figure out how to live our lives together, instead of interrupting them for each other.


Wednesday Prayers: TBD

This week, I'm too tired for words. I've got prayers running around my head, but not the energy to get them further than that.

How about you? Prayers simmering below the surface, or are they out and about?


Family Systems Theory and Multigenerational Curses

There are genuinely hideous creatures among the skeletons clattering in my own family's closets (often brazenly striding into the light of day).  I struggle to sort out how they are and are not part of me. When hopelessness creeps into my peripheral vision, this is what it looks like:  Fear that it is not possible to inherit peace and goodness from a system bulging with violence (and acceptance of violence).  Fear that nurture and love is missing from my genetic code.

In both church and broader culture, the family (biological, not the brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ kind) defines us.  My name itself reveals which family I belong to.  In my seminary experience, pastoral care instruction has been mostly about the Bowen Family Systems model.  Some Bowen experts claim that, even with a great deal of work, we can only become a step or two healthier (more differentiated) than the rest of our family of origin.  We either stand on our forefathers' shoulders, or they clutch at our ankles.

I'm puzzled by the theological choice to (almost exclusively) use family systems theory as the basis of pastoral care.  It has its place, but in a setting where we celebrate diverse theologies, can't we acknowledge diverse models of pastoral care, too?  We need grounding in current psycho-therapeutic concepts, but I can think of several situations where a strong correlation between emotional/spiritual potential and a person's family of origin sounds just like a multigenerational curse.  It's the sins of the fathers, visited on their sons for a thousand generations.

What does the family systems model say, from a spiritual perspective?  As ministers, our care always communicates ideas of who God is and how God engages with humanity, so we'd better pay attention to what we're communicating.  Can God move in this world?  Does God heal?  Can we be transformed in this world, or only in the next?  Can we become better through our own efforts?  How much better?  Where will my help come from?  How do I know what's important about who I am?

When I hear the skeletons knocking about, whispering about my desecrated foundations, I long for some sort of sign from God.  "Is this who You are?  Are You saving me from all this? Or did You sign off on it?"  

It is utterly unhelpful to have these questions answered for me, and I think these are some of the real questions of pastoral care.