It Was Fear That I Saw

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes. And I don’t say that as a pin of honor or badge on my lapel. It was a dreadful thing when I first started seeing fear so regularly. There’s nothing like the naked, bold, and startling fear in the eyes of a person who watched the slow-coming death of someone they love. Love makes us hold tightly. Love, often, is the enemy of surrender. And I thought about it when a woman asked me, in a way, about my own loves.

When I first started in ministry at Sweet Holy Spirit, my role was primarily administrative. Aside from some relatively small amount of pastoral care, I functioned the way an executive pastor functions, looking at costs, praying about meeting budget, managing operations, getting to know a staff, decreasing that staff, trying to compensate the staff based upon the unique and faithful expressions of ministry’s vocations. I brought an attorney on retainer, developed relationships with insurance agents, learned about wage demands from the IRS, and became a master at explaining differences between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Being an executive pastor who was in the seat when the pastor was away was more responsibility than I was ready for. It aged me. It still does in a way. And I remember seeing fear in those days. But it was a different fear. It was a fear of missing marks that were mostly set in the wide generous room of a large church. I had my own fears. But in terms of the real fears of others, I was hardly exposed to much. I was the person who kept at the overarching system so that the good folks in our church could come and hear the words spoken. But I hardly had enough time with those folks, those listeners. They would have taught me differently about different fear.

When I came to New Community, I came, in part, because it was twenty times smaller than my home church by my conservative estimate. I would be able to pastor in a classical way, and that vision is one that I’ve been able to live. I’ve been in homes, around tables, having conversations and not just at the office or even in my study at home. I’ve been able to search the lives of others at their leadership and invitation. I’ve seen more fears in the eyes of our people.

And still, my church is “relatively young” church. I find myself over the years putting up three or four fingers when I tell people how many times I’ve visited hospitals for the people of New Community. It’s relatively young, I tell them. People don’t ask the pastor to come to the hospital when a baby is born, and twenty and thirty-somethings don’t generally get hospitalized and require pastoral visitation. Where I preached twelve funerals a year (as part of a staff of ministers) at SHS, I’ve done almost as many weddings during some of my ten years at New Community.  Fear looks differently in those congregational contexts.

When I started working as a chaplain, I started seeing fear differently. In the medical center, I saw it all the time. I see it all the time. I can see it daily if I choose. Unfortunately, there is always somebody (perhaps a somebody in 900+ beds) negotiating with fear.

The good thing about being a chaplain who is also in the supervisory education process is that you’re always doing action, reflection, action. Always working in that CPE model of learning. In fact, you have to stop yourself from doing it. At home, in the congregation, in conversation with people who know nothing about this model of learning. Stop being shaped the education and be. Still, it relates to how you see yourself.

You become a process person, loosening your grip on content and becoming more interested in what’s happening, what’s taking place, what process we’re in, rather than the superficial and low-hanging surface of what’s merely explicit. Process is hardly ever explicit. And fear is the same. You have to see it even though it’s facing you.

That’s why relationships falter because it takes a therapist or a spiritual director or a guide who’s outside the dyad to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?” or “This is what I’m seeing.” or “If you keep in this direction, where are you headed?” These aren’t content statements but process ones.

You begin to see your own fears. You make friends with some of them. You give grace to them, gifting them with new understanding because the words behind and under those fears are understandable. They are real just like the fear.

Significant, Lasting Change

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

What is contemplation? Simply put, contemplation is entering a deeper silence and letting go of our habitual thoughts, sensations, and feelings. You may know contemplation by another name. Many religions use the word meditation. Christians often use the word prayer. But for many in the West, prayer has come to mean something functional, something you do to achieve a desired effect, which puts you back in charge. Prayers of petition aren’t all bad, but they don’t really lead to a new state of being or consciousness. The same old consciousness is self-centered: How can I get God to do what I want God to do? This kind of prayer allows you to remain an untransformed, egocentric person who is just trying to manipulate God.

That’s one reason why religion is in such desperate straits today: it isn’t really transforming people. It’s merely giving people some pious and religious ways to again be in charge and in control. It’s still the same small self or what Merton called the false self. Mature, authentic spirituality calls us into experiences and teachings that open us to an actual transformation of consciousness (Romans 12:2). I think some form of contemplative practice is necessary to be able to detach from your own agenda, your own anger, your own ego, and your own fear. We need some practice that touches our unconscious conditioning where all our wounds and defense mechanisms lie. That’s the only way we can be changed at any significant or lasting level.
From Fr. Richard Rohr’s newsletter

Opening to Depth

by Leeroy7

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Evelyn Underhill, when talking about the Lord’s Prayer, said that we prefer to live upon the surface and ignore the deeps. I was reminded of the deeps when I was sitting near the new boy the other night. Dawn was asleep for the evening time frame, and I was not.

Bryce was sleep too. Me and Brooks were together. We were negotiating. He was sleepy and resistant to sleep’s power. I was trying, siding with sleep, lulling him like the last couple weeks.

I told him that he was tired. I told him that I wasn’t going to hold him all the time, every evening, until he went to sleep and while he stayed sleep, and on and on. These are words that just come out and though I was sincere, I felt like I was talking to myself.

Still, we made progress. He was not on my lap or in my arms. He was next to me, on his side, held against the couch, sidelined the way he likes to rest after he’s eaten. He was looking at me. I saw depth in his gaze.

Certainly it was the depth that I brought to the moment. It was the kind of deep moment that sleep deprivation and wonder at humanity-still-new gives a parent. It was slightly humorous, this depth. Normal people don’t experience this particular depth.

It’s like Underhill’s comment. When we’re normal, we stay on the surface. The experience, the unsettling experience, of being deprived makes you abnormal. Abnormality opens you to depth.

To be clear, I am not as sleep-deprived as I could be. And though my friends would say differently, I’m not as abnormal as I could be. But I’m opening slowly. I’m trying to attend to the deeps. I’m trying to be open to what’s there.

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Jon Tyson

Photo Thanks to Jon Tyson

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Jaco Hamman (Becoming a Pastor, 71):

Ministry, like any other truly human activity, emerges from your inwardness, for better or worse. As you lead and pray, you project the condition of your inner space and those around you. Ministry opens the window to your soul.

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Talia Cohen

Photo Thanks to Talia Cohen

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Carrie Doehring (The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach, 111):

People become most aware of their values when they reach turning points in their lives and must make choices or when they are thrust into decision making because of a crisis. Prior to such moments, they may not have thought much about the values that orient them to the meaning and purpose of their lives. At its simplest, theology is a way to talk about people’s deepest values.

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Caleb Morris

Photo Thanks to Caleb Morris

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Howard Thurman (Disciplines of the Spirit, 113):

When a man is despised and hated by other men and all around are the instruments of violence working in behalf of such attitudes, then he may find himself resorting to hatred as a means of salvaging a sense of self, however fragmented. Under such circumstances, hate becomes a man’s way of saying that he is present. Despite the will to his nonexistence on the part of his environment or persons in it, he affirms himself by affirming the nonexistence of those who so regard him. In the end the human spirit cannot tolerate this.

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks by Julien Sister

Photo Thanks by Julien Sister

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Gerald May (Simply Sane, 107):

Whatever is being held, one can ease one’s grip. In the midst of any situation, no matter how tense or pressing, it is possible to relax. First the body, just easing the muscles and allowing the limbs to become flexible. Then the mind, in the same way, relaxing. Not avoiding the tension of the moment, it is possible to relax into it. Deeply….Whenever a knot is found, it can be allowed to loosen and perhaps unravel completely. Never by picking at the knot itself, but rather by easing the tension upon it.