It is exciting to be writing again. Until June of last year, I had been blogging about my experiences and my reflections, about chaplaincy and Sabbath and food and art. One day, I just stopped, and it took a while for me to notice the numbers on my stat sheet for May at the hospital, to notice how many deaths I had attended, how many patients and families I had journeyed with, how many gut-wrenching moments I had been witness to, and I realized I had just gotten too tired, maybe even a little traumatized, by the sheer pace and volume. Then, with staff transitions and changing responsibilities during those times, the energy drain and the blogging hiatus continued. Reflecting on the last 15 months, it seems only natural that I am now, finally, ready to begin taking a class again for my D.Min., and that the class would be one on theological reflection and one that will get me in the rhythm of reflecting and writing again. It is part of the assignment to write reflection papers every week, and we are reading a lot of material that is new to me.
One of our first readings was “The Art & Practice of Theological Reflection” by Killen and de Beer. I suppose it could be ironic that during the time in which slowing down and reflecting – the entering into experience → encountering feelings → arising images → insight → action sequence that Killen and de Beer describe – might have been most needed was the time in which I had trouble finding space and time and energy to engage. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing any reflecting or processing. I was. Pretty consistently, actually. I was having some major insights into myself, God, faith, and the world, too, but as I began reading the book, I became mindful that while the “smaller” experiences during the last 15 months have been reflected upon, I still have this need to reflect on the “larger” experience of that time. Somehow, I still feel a bit ungrounded, as if I can’t quite see the whole picture, as if there is still a loose thread or two that has yet to be woven into my story.
Perhaps this is where Killen and de Beer would remind me that self-awareness is different from making/finding meaning (p.39). True, and yet my self-awareness has led to action and transformation in the ways that I relate to self and others and God, and led closer to wholeness, and these are the hallmarks, they say, of true theological reflection. Yet, I still feel a bit ungrounded. Maybe I am looking for more nuance. Maybe theological reflection is always recursive in concentric processes, and I am only at the beginning, and the recursive process feels tiring. Maybe the reflection that Killen and de Beer are talking about are for non-traumatic events and experience.
I find myself feeling frustrated and trapped and curious as I reflect on my context and remember patients and families with whom I have worked. Their stories, their images, their feelings, their standpoints lead me to keep asking the questions I have been asking: how does meaning-making of traumatic experiences relate to this? What about those who need to work through their thinking to get to their feelings? What about non-canonical, continuing witnesses of the saints? How does one re-enter experience when one was essentially absent to oneself during the event of trauma (as some trauma theorists might say)? I remember the patient for whom it took 10 years of living post-diagnosis of a chronic and life-limiting illness before that theological reflection happened, and perhaps was only then possible. Is it the need to re-enter the experience and the great pain associated with it that sometimes makes the months and years necessary before theological reflection is even possible? I remember families whose grief and feelings of loss and loss of control, their renarration of the events, their images of the “nightmares,” didn’t lend them a different viewing angle or affective relationship to their experience. It just was. There were no words. Their frameworks weren’t just insufficient. They were shattered. It was pure chaos. The only thing that gave any shape to their lives, any hope of their putting one foot in front of the other that day to leave the hospital to go home, was the standpoint of self-assurance or certitude.
Lex Orandi… Lex Credendi. How we pray shapes what we believe. “We have heard and trust that you are a God who hears and sees our prayers that are sighs, and deep groans, and tears, and the breaking of hearts.” This is often my offering to God, to families, to myself when it feels like there aren’t words. And there are sniffles and tears, weeping and holding, “yes, yes, yes” and “no, no, no,” “O God” and “Lord Jesus”… and there is silence. There are no words and no need for words. I imagine that we are praying in those moments… centering ourselves and trusting that God will give us what we need and keep true to the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us.