Wednesday, April 20, 2011
What I have learned: an integrated reflection
Self care as an act of self love through prayer
Spirituality for the Contemporary World has provided me the opportunity for reflection and the opportunity to gain key insights.
Ministry begins with me! That may sound like egocentrism, but it is really the very deep realization that to exercise a non-anxious presence and to care for others one must exercise care of oneself. I learned the importance of self-care at the end of my first semester seminary. When I realized that leaving a very unhealthy situation where I was placed in jeopardy was the very best thing I could for myself was to establish a boundary and leave the situation. I found myself in a new city with not many resources or at least where to find them. Fifteen months later I am beginning to see the value of this experience and how I am growing from it. What is the probability I might find myself in a new place in ministry and a bomb might be thrown my way? How do I center myself so I can take care of myself? So self-care comes first before you can take care of anyone else. This course has helped reinforce the insight.
In the past few months I have been seeing a certified pastoral care counselor. This relationship is now evolving into a relationship of life coach. My pastoral care counselor/life coach is a UU Buddhist. I surmised that his theology and spiritual practice grounded in Buddhism could help me as a Christian. He has helped me identify patterns in my behavior that I was not able to identify on my own. He has helped me see how I construct the world.
One insight my counselor/coach has reinforced that self awareness and the ability to present oneself begins with prayer. He suggested that I do centering prayer. I have tried Centering Prayer many times but fall victim to my monkey mind. He said that’s the point—your mind is always going to wander. You only can let go of the “monkey mind” through practice. By persisting in the practice of meditation, the process of meditation, however, can lead to insights.
As Marjorie Thompson points out “contemplative prayer has the quality of inner Sabbath.” Thompson additionally lends the insight that contemplative prayer “words fall away, and the most palpable reality is being present to the lover of our souls.” Being present to God, ourselves and others is greatly enhanced by the act of contemplation. This act of self care is also an act of self love.
I often view fasting from food as a spiritual discipline and a practice I have tried to be more intentional about during Lent, especially. However, Thompson also points out in Soul Feast that we need to fast from the excesses of a consumerist society. Even our most intimate relationships have often suffered from this consumer mentality: “enjoy while useful, but discard when no longer satisfying.” Fasting from so many things we consume can be freeing. I have quit smoking various times throughout seminary and feel the need for a once-and-for-all. I am going on Chantex, a drug that has proven successful in helping people quit smoking. I have tried many things in the past: hypnosis therapy, energy work with a treatment for addiction, Wellbutrin, cold turkey, the patch. Studies show that it takes 7 to 8 times to quit smoking successfully. I think prayer will also be helpful.
Ethics and Spiritual Care
In reading Lebacqz and Driskill'’s book, the idea of pastoral neglect on a myriad of issues from money, stewardship, feminist theology, and social justice suggest there is a whole lot of neglect. I find it interesting that when I was open to receiving the Spirit for the first time I was led to a spiritual community that did not neglect any of these issues but did engaged them and engaged them all well. There were testimonials from parishioners on how they practiced a healthy spiritual discipline of systematic giving and one parishioner in particular said that the first bill she paid every month was her pledge to the church.
While the skeptics might argue the church was just looking out for its treasury, I actually read these testimonials and they helped shaped my spiritual practice of giving. My priest suggested that to head anxiety off at the pass that we should make a practice of giving a gift whenever we feel anxious. I had a discussion about stewardship with my peers in the refectory recently and I am not sure my peers agreed for the need to talk about stewardship as a spiritual discipline. If Lebacqz and Driskill’s fin. dings are accurate, then only 25% of parishioners pray about their finances.
This church also delivered sermons from a feminist framework where I heard sermons about women for the first time. The male priests publicly stated that ordaining women to the priesthood was healthy. The church had three significant social justice ministries—refugees, clothing store for children, and a residential addiction/recovery program. This church is extremely healthy and attracts people and engages them in ministry because of its intentionality in living out its mission.
Now that I am in seminary and have seen how some other churches function, I know that my first church was and is exceptional. Many churches are in some state of neglect on any one issue or range of issues on the spectrum of money, feminist (and what about GLBT issues) and social justice. I wonder if this neglect is a function of only having so much time to do everything and just the average level of dysfunction you will find in most churches. You have to walk before you can run and nurturing a church into a state of health can take several years.
A key learning that I gleaned this semester was that we need to care for people in a diversity of social locations and situations in many churches. We may be confronted with caring for parishioners who se moral values and ethics are so different than our own. Providing pastoral care first and foremost means that people must feel loved and that they are treated with respect and dignity and seeking care. It is important to be able to withhold our personal feelings while being able to extend quality pastoral care to those who need it. Being at EDS has taught me to be more aware of the needs of those who are transgendered and the special gifts and life experiences they bring to a congregation. I have been exposed to issues around polyamory. But irrespective of my views how would I counsel a couple who wanted to enter into this sort of arrangement. I do not think that my role would be to provide advice but help the couple define their own theology around marriage, love, and sex to equip them to make their own decisions within the context of their values and to ensure that their most intimate relationships reflect the values of marriage: fidelity, trust, honesty, mutuality, reciprocity, and commitment.