There are several reasons to take CPE units. I started reflecting on some reasons in the previous post, addressing preliminary but powerful gains in the early process of CPE, in the application components, and in the readying work which comes with the structure of the program itself. Here I want to comment on a few of the guts of the program to answer why CPE as an education is vital:
Thinking takes time. It takes time to consider people and things and influences and connections. The education needs that time, requires that time of you, but it does so in a pervasive way. You don’t feel like you’re doing CPE work one minute and cutting it off the next. So the work pervades your other life areas–in a good way. You slow down, giving the education permission to alter the other parts of your life. The time you’re learning extends, and, hopefully, you are able to apply your lessons to the rest of your life.
Your sphere of ministry grows. I don’t know that ministers look for more responsibility, but my sense of things is that chaplaincy brings an entire zone of ministry that we were, before the experience, outside of. You begin to see yourself as a minister to a larger congregation, if that language helps. You see yourself and your ministry as a chaplain and, therefore, as bigger than the parochial zone of the congregation.
Praying for people changes you. You become more empathic when you pray for others. Pastors are used to this, but we aren’t used to really thinking through those prayers, thinking through those people, and CPE pushes you to consider your approach, your words, and how you pray. In CPE we think about the people and the prayers. We’re thinking about whether to pray or not to when it comes to a particular person. It reshapes what prayer is and isn’t, what it can be. You consider the God to whom you direct your words and the people in the room listening.
You’re pressed to write. You don’t write for publication in CPE, but you write weekly, at least, once a week in process notes. You write verbatims where you recount a portion of a conversation and includes non-verbals, impressions, thoughts, interior questions and impulses when you can. You’re writing but you’re doing a big kind of writing, writing where you mine an event for the sociological implications, the psychological considerations, the theological connections and so forth. You write and it touches how you start seeing. So you interact with these views, these sections, until they become how you are in the world. It’s just starting to happen to me where this shaping is taking place.
Peer groups empower you. One of my friends in the previous group said something to me that I’ll never forget. In fact, everyone in my previous group has said at least one thing I’ll never forget. How many times can a pastor say that truthfully, that someone said something you won’t forget? It doesn’t happen because we live in a world where we talk so much that we don’t hear ourselves much less take the time to truly hear another. We probably never feel truly heard, particularly because most pastors are afraid of therapy and unfamiliar with spiritual direction. Being listened to might scare us! The peer group opens you up to the possibility of holiness encountered through the care-filled presence of others. And it makes you think you’re capable of doing the same.
Recognizing your junk becomes easier. This can be frightening and very informative. You begin CPE by thinking about your origins. You’re asked about that stuff sometimes, particularly when you act out and people who’re just meeting you ask you questions about why you do what you. This recognition enables you to see conflicts with people in a new view. It calms you because you’re more aware of you and more aware of when something is “all you” or not you at all. The beautiful thing is in your ability not only to see your stuff for what it is but also to get the tools to address your growing edges, to ask yourself “Is this working for me?” and to change however slowly you need to.
You start the practice of being gentle with yourself. This started for me with spiritual direction, but CPE echoes this lesson. In CPE we’re focusing on the clinical method and reflecting on our ministry to others. But as part of that focus, we learn how to give ourselves a break, how to care for ourselves in concrete and specific ways, even when those ways are not dramatic and when they are, simply, going home and sleeping after 4 deaths on your unit. Of course, the learning extends to other places. Because we learn how to be gentle with ourselves, we teach out of that. We live out of that. We tell other people the same and it sounds right because it comes from a place of close integrity rather than a distant pulpit.
You see death differently. Most ministers are acquainted with death. Christian ministers proclaim a Savior who is acquainted with our sorrows, whose skin is dressed in our grief, and who, sadly, dies as part of an unfolding picture of grace. In CPE, you start seeing the small and grand openings of death. You have to start saying how normal death actually is. You make some sense of it theologically and press yourself to make faith sense of the event that’s been happening forever. You see death as a respite for the woman who has been in and out of the hospital for years because she was praying for it to come. You embrace the death of the old man who sang aloud and always laughed and who saw death as a passage to the door of heaven. Death becomes broader than what we mourn. As uncertain as it is, it is different.
Life has a lift to it. You hear words differently. You realize that two cardiac events for the same person almost always means a soon-coming death. But you walk away from the hospital and you want to live in response to what you saw. You want to hug your mother tighter or you slow down to listen to your son even though you have no idea what he’s talking about. You linger with your spouse or call your friend to hear their voice mail message all the way through. You live and laugh at things you see on the street. You look like you’re foolish. You are a little.
What would you add?