Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The elegant simplicity in brilliant pastoral care

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person
in our lives mean the most to us,
we often find that it is those who,
instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures,
have chosen rather to share our pain
and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
The friend who can be silent with us
in a moment of despair or confusion,
who can stay with us
in an hour of grief and bereavement,
who can tolerate not knowing,
not curing, not healing and face with us
the reality of our powerlessness,
that is a friend who cares
— HENRI J.M. NOUWEN (1932 – 1996)
It’s a long quote of Nouwen’s but every bit of it is like 24-carat gold to a world that so often gets care for the individuality in humanity wrong. Individuals getting individuals wrong. And corporations doing it with reckless efficiency. And churches, especially the bigger and striving ones, that have lost the art. But it is commonly found in most chaplaincy.
There is something fundamentally ordinary
about the choicest pastoral care.
And there is something incredibly fundamental about why. The Holy Spirit is either part of the moment or He isn’t. The moment we think we can do it on our own, we don’t need Him, and the Spirit of God will force Himself on nobody, no matter how much the vulnerable person needs it. The pastoral helper either invites the Presence of God into the space or they don’t.
When we get out of the way
in the pastoral care encounter
the person we’re helping can have
an encounter with the Holy Spirit.
I was once asked in a therapeutic setting during my training to explain how I did my pastoral care. All I could say, given that I was like a deer in headlights needing more time to answer, was, ‘I don’t know.’ It is a mystery how the Holy Spirit works, but I know the less I try to do in my own wisdom, the more situational wisdom I’m ‘provided’ with.
Truly I am either lost for words or I could write volumes — but neither helps me explain the Holy Spirit’s work amid pastoral care settings. Majestically, God is a mystery, thankfully.
I know the more I try to think
the more my thinking is blocked.
Yet, discernment for vital cognitions
of the Spirit is essential.
As I remain open entirely to experience the person before me, suddenly I’m given what I need; to listen better, to use gestures to encourage, to interject briefly for more information in demonstrating true curiosity of respectful interest, to compel the other person to perceive they consume my being at that moment. It’s all about them.
If pastoral care is anything about me,
the practitioner,
it loses all its power and purpose.
A huge part of this is having the capacity to bear the brunt of their pain. Those gifted in pastoral care are not daunted by another’s anguish, and indeed are impelled to engage with another’s passion through the power of compassion. I know that’s true for me. I’m drawn to pain. I’m taken by depth. I crave it. So my job is often about being patient in superficiality.
When I talk about elegant simplicity, I mean the simplicity on the other side of complexity, i.e. once the mystery of brilliant pastoral care has been worked through. In the context of pastoral care, elegant simplicity understands why practice needs to operate as Nouwen has described. It must. There is something integrally other-worldly about pastoral care that brings healing in a way that never feels like a human being has had anything to do with it or procured it.
Perhaps pastoral care at its core
is that rare friendship of the
Person of God through a human being.
** It’s worth saying that I put pastoral counselling and mentoring into the broad category of pastoral care. Counselling cannot not be pastoral care. Same with mentoring.

No comments: