This summer I had the incredible privilege of being part of the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Unit out of St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. For those who are unfamiliar with CPE, this is the training required to become a certified spiritual care provider (chaplain) within Canada and the United States.
Throughout the course, my peers and I have had opportunities to share daily reflections with our class. Today, I led my final reflection and my supervisor suggested I share my writing more widely. It was then that I discovered that I had not blogged for a very long time, and so, thought I would share some of these writings with you. Whether or not you ever find yourself in a CPE placement, I believe that this body of work can give some insight into the personal formative growth which takes place during this process. I also hope that if you are a ministering person, you may be able to adapt or resonate with these writings in different ways which will edify your church or ministry. Please enjoy what I have written below:
Seeing Past the Brokenness
We are all broken people. We have all faced trauma, misunderstanding, and hurt. There are people whom we cannot forgive, there are people who cannot forgive us. CPE has been a time of self-reflection and growing self-awareness. Perhaps this has been distressing at times. It is not easy to name our brokenness. It is not always easy to put words to and articulate feelings we’d rather not have. It takes immense strength to allow others into our story. It takes courage to be vulnerable and it takes courage to minister to others despite our own doubts, fears of inadequacy, and triggering moments. My spiritual director referred to this process as the darkness a caterpillar goes through to transform into a butterfly.
In CPE we listen to the stories of others, even as we are becoming more aware of our own stories. There may be parts of our story we have never shared, parts we rarely share, parts we’d rather not share, and parts too painful to share. Of course, there are also the parts we love to share, the parts we want to share, and the parts we hope others will remember when we share. We are all complex people, living in diverse tensions with the desire to be fully known, fully loved, and fully respected.
When we feel insecure it can be tempting to compare our brokenness to another’s. Either considering ourselves above or beneath them. It can be hard to welcome our woundedness instead of to dismiss it. To sit with and acknowledge discomfort rather than to rush in and attempt to fix it. Jeremiah 6:14 says “you can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.”
The Catholic writer Henri Nouwen wrote about being a Wounded Healer. In his words he stated, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘how can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘how can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous also speaks about how the worst moments of our lives can transform the lives of others. It reads “showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing that makes life so worthwhile for us now. Cling to the thought that in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have – the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.” However there is one caveat “obviously you can’t transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your own house is in order and that great events will come to pass for you and countless others.” The suggestions the authors give for ensuring our “own house is in order” include: prayer and asking God to direct us to those we can help, meditation, surrender, admitting our shortcomings, lessening past baggage, and being willing to give freely of our time with no strings attached. In the context of our work, I would sum it up in the words “self care” which can look different for every person. We cannot be at our best for another when we ourselves are running on empty and have nothing left to give. Thus it becomes important to find time to refuel and recharge through silence, solitude, debriefing, nature, journalling, or whatever else is life-giving for us.
May God gift us with grace and compassion as we become wounded healers one to another. Amen. (The actual class reflection ended in a prayer however I did not include it here due to Copyright laws since I took it from another source).
The Garden of Our Souls
During the last several weeks, we have all been on a unique journey. Sometimes the journey has been long and weary and at other times unexpected bursts of colour flash across our eyes. All of us have been like young tender shoots growing in fertile soil. Sometimes there has been a lot of churning and pruning, but we have never lain dormant.
We have all been planted here in this season and at this time. God has brought us together from different cities, provinces, and even countries for a purpose and while it could have been any group doing CPE this summer, it has been our group. And while we could be working anywhere, God has specifically planted us at our unique placements because of a specific reason perhaps known to us or perhaps known only to God.
Yet this location is conducive to our growth, and a place where we are being tended, nourished and protected. Oftentimes this has been a painful process which requires patience. Yet, as our petals unfurl (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) we can take joy in the wonder of delight rather than interfering with the process.
We are all different types of flowers. Perhaps we are a tiger lily or an orchid, a rose or a daisy. Each one requires something different to grow, but each one is beautiful, fragrant, and brings satisfaction. Each unique flower adds to the mystery of our special garden and has its own unique function. We give thanks to our Good Gardener for planting us and helping us to grow and bring light and love to all.
The Ocean of CPE
By: Deborah-Ruth Ferber
The following is a reflection I wrote for my class 2 weeks before the unit ended which my supervisor-educator encouraged me to share widely:
It’s hard to believe that 10 weeks ago we all arrived at St. Paul’s (an inner-city hospital in the heart of Saskatoon). Some of us took a car and arrived in 15 minutes, some of us drove for a few hours, and some of us flew in from different provinces. Many of us left behind familiar surroundings (physically, mentally, and spiritually) and embraced the unknown and the terrifying. When we first got to class we eagerly greeted one another, making small talk and getting acquainted. The extroverts eager to make new friends, and perhaps the more shy and quiet gently treading to see if the water was safe enough to leave the shore for. At some point all of us decided to jump in.
At times, we did a magnificent butterfly stroke, sometimes we did a doggy paddle, and occasionally we relied on someone else throwing us the life ring because we felt like we were drowning. We always resurfaced, taking a breath of air (and sometimes a gulp of water along with it), and we headed back into the ocean. At times we strapped on an oxygen tank as we plumbed the depths of the ocean’s bottom seeing fish and plant life we have never seen before. At times we simply had to use a snorkel to stay on the surface, and sometimes a shark or jellyfish would come and we would feel frightened, and other times we laughed as we pointed to the clown fish. Sometimes the sea was smooth and calm, other times it was stormy and we wondered if we should bail and head to shore. But we all stayed, we all saw the magnificent whales, dolphins, and seahorses, and we all became stronger and more confident swimmers.
The patients we supported also put a great deal of trust in us. They trusted us to swim beside them when we could barely float. They trusted us to throw a life jacket to them when they felt like they were drowning. At times they mistook us for a life guard, all the while we ourselves were barely able to do a front crawl. And so, the patients became our teachers, their voice that of a swimming instructor, not so much because they taught us how to swim, but rather because they told us what they needed to stay afloat.
Now after 10 weeks we are not certified lifeguards, but we know enough not to drown and we have learned how to call out if we feel like we are drowning. And this has been growth for us all. We might not all aspire to be fish or dolphins, but we can all aspire to swim alongside another as they question whether they are a starfish, a lantern fish, or a seahorse. The ocean is certainly vast and big enough for us all and we add to the biodiversity and colour of the deep.
Prayer: Eternal One,
You meet us on the shore and walk with us on the sand until we are brave enough to enter the water.
You join us while we play with sand castles on the beach,
All the while showing us that there is something more.
You give us strength to swim when our being feels depleted.
You help us surface when the ocean depths engulf us.
You bring us to safety when we are drowning.
You don’t abandon us on a solo life raft,
But rather you invite us into your boat as you row alongside us.
The sea and this world are filled with predators,
There are sharks who threaten to devour us and rays which threaten to sting us,
And yet, you are our protector.
When the storm rises and we fear shipwreck,
You walk towards us on the waves,
Graciously bringing us to a new day.
And as we see dawn appearing on the horizon,
We thank you for your faithfulness through our dark night.
Everlasting hope, in the same way as you have been our captain, may you grace us to be lifeguards for one another.
Lighthouses on the rocky shore,
Guiding your pilgrims home.