Monday, November 28, 2011

pastoral clinical week 9

(this is week 9 although it's my 8th reflection. last week was our midterm.)


If you could see the image reflected on my computer screen as I write this, it would be of me leaning forward and a large white cat curled against my chest so that my arms have to make a wide circle coming from extreme ends of the keyboard in order to type. This would be the most relaxed I have been this past week.

It hasn’t been a rough week, just a busy one. Generally, I think of Thanksgiving week as a time of rest and recharging. Normally, in the academic world, it is, and I did have off from seminary classes. However, between the time I spent at the facility and the time I spent preparing for another wedding, plus the time spent with my wife’s family, I ended up thinking (fantasizing, really) about quitting everything and moving back into a van.

Again, not a rough week, but a tiring one. Last Monday was a long, eventful day full of conflicts and confrontations among our group of CPE cohorts. While no major bombshells were dropped, and no new conflicts were begun, I had a feeling of lassitude and exhaustion throughout it. It was nice to hold the seminar in someone’s home rather than the boardroom at the facility, and that gave a nice change in atmosphere, but it also lent the day a sense of informality and ease that wasn’t really borne out by the discussions. Too often I feel as if we are developing artificial conflicts, each given the opportunities to open up and disgorge some wrong or imagined wrong that, in real life, we ignore or pass off on the other person as a momentary issue brought about by too little sleep or not enough fiber. I remember being in Direct Centering in the late 80s and undergoing this process for weeks at a time, and while CPE seminar is sometimes dreadful, I have to admit it has nothing on that.

But that’s not to say I don’t find some fault in the way we relate to one another. The emphasis on seeking some true rationale inside ourselves, while it’s a good idea, also lends itself to the opportunity for some of us to enlarge petty grievences into major issues. These take up a lot of time and energy that should be spent on more immediate topics (like clinical issues).

At any rate, adding to the tiring week for me was Thanksgiving Day itself, spent with my in-laws. This isn’t usually an issue, since we typically spend one day a week with them, but between my wife’s father being in hospice and her family congregating on him for a day, it just added up to a load of quiet drinking and football watching. I lit out for the facility for a few hours the earliest I could.

There was also the preparation for a wedding. I love officiating at weddings—of all the pastoral work I do it’s probably the element I enjoy most (next to just visiting churches). I love the meetings over coffee and talking with the prospective partners about their past and what they want to do and how they’d like their ceremony to look. I love pointing out to them little elements they hadn’t thought of, like the symbol behind a minor change in words or the subtlety of the two of them shifting from one side of the altar to another. I love writing the homily, using information I’ve gleaned from those visits to come up with a new metaphor for what their marriage can be. And of course I love the actual ceremony itself, the quickening of my pulse as I count down the final hour with them, making certain everything is in readiness and, if it’s not, making quick decisions about how important that element is (it’s rarely important). I often tell my couples my job will be to remind them, “Everything’s all right.” This Saturday’s wedding was no different except that my wife accompanied me, and that made all the difference to me. I really enjoyed sharing the ride over and home and having someone with me at the reception and dinner. She felt somewhat fifth wheel-like, she said, and doesn’t intend to join me again. But it was nice to share this part of what I do with her.

Finally, I was asked to do a Thanksgiving Seder for the congregation in Burnsville I sometimes preach for. I’ve done many of these and they’re all different. It’s all a matter of choosing words and rituals that will mean something to the congregation. This one wasn’t difficult to compile—I chose all the readings and communion that morning—but the emotional preparation is wearying and by the time I was finished I wanted nothing more than to sleep in the sun with my dogs, belly-up. The cat reflected in my computer screen will have to do for now.

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