Wellbeing and spiritual health for the long haul

The Revd Hilary Ison and Dr Rosemary Gomes recently spoke with Darren Wolf about the importance of making space in a digital world for wellbeing and spiritual health, now and in the season ahead.

Touching on the importance of spiritual reflection and lament in these times, the panel members also speak of taking care of physical and mental health as we look ahead in hope to the future and take the next steps on this journey.

See link for the full webinar.

Zoom courses pass 50

Our courses on pastoral care in trauma-informed ministry, which the team have been delivering since May 2020, have now reached 50 groups of ministers.

The course is still available, and we are also offering a course on biblical and theological reflections on trauma and COVID, taught by Meg Warner and Christopher Southgate.

All enquiries to c.c.b.southgate@ex.ac.uk

Summary of the Courses:

  1. Pastoral Care (3hrs on Zoom, Hilary Ison and Carla Grosch-Miller). This will consist of two sessions: The first covers the nature of trauma in the individual and its physiological character – ‘the body keeps the score’. There are then explorations of how to be more aware of the signals our bodies are giving us. Trauma has the character of overwhelming our resources. It is therefore very important for clergy to be aware of their own strategies of self-care. Finally there is an exploration of three models of resilience. The second session covers collective trauma – its likely effects on communities, and the way in which those effects shift over time as the traumatic event is processed. There is reflection on the pandemic and the fact that it is ‘a trauma that keeps on giving’ – we are not yet safe, so the dynamics of recovery cannot unfold fully. There is guidance on leadership styles and good practice in pastoral care of the traumatised. There is also an exercise on the use of lament by individuals or communities, and brief reflection on liturgical practice after trauma.

This course has also been adapted for use with hospital chaplains.

2.  Biblical and theological reflections on trauma and COVID (3 hrs on Zoom, Meg Warner and Christopher Southgate) Again two sessions:

The first session is on the Bible. It notes that many key biblical texts in both Old and New Testaments were written (or reached their final form) in the context of trauma. These are therefore robust resources to aid us in reflecting on such experience. The Psalms of lament may be of particular importance in giving voice to the unvoicable. Consideration is also given to models of resilience in the Scriptures, drawing on Dr Warner’s work on the character of Joseph.

The second session is on theological reflection, especially focussing on COVID. It considers explanations for how such a virus could be part of God’s good creation. It also explores expectations of God’s action in the world, related to the internal narratives by which congregations live. Finally it considers where, for the Christian, hope may be found in a time of pandemic.

 

 

Forthcoming article by Christopher Southgate

In the journal ‘Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith’ Christopher Southgate explores questions such as:

why are there pathogenic viruses in God’s good creation?

what underlying narratives lie behind Christians’ responses to the pandemic?

where is hope to be found?

The journal is available on-line at www.asa3.org. The article is due out in March.

Our new book goes to the publisher!

Carla Grosch-Miller tells me that the ms. of the book Trauma and Pastoral Care: a ministry handbook has gone to Canterbury Press.

The book is due out in June 2021 and can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. 

This is among other things the fruit of the many courses we’ve run with clergy over the last nine months or so. I think it’ll be a great resource.

Christopher Southgate

February 2021

We are offering a course for groups of ministers on Zoom

Trauma-informed Ministry

in a time of COVID

 

delivered by the Tragedy and Congregations Team

 

The Revd Dr Carla Grosch-Miller

The Revd Hilary Ison

Professor Christopher Southgate

 

Since 2017 the team has delivered 20 training days in various settings for Anglican and URC groups. We have provided a range of resources as the COVID crisis has unfolded.

We now offer half-day Zoom meetings with groups of 12 ministers. These will provide:

  • opportunities to articulate experience of the COVID crisis
  • a chance to make connections between these reactions and trauma theory
  • explorations of the dynamics of communities after a tragedy
  • biblical resources for addressing our current situation

To book one or more meetings please contact Chris Southgate at c.c.b.southgate@ex.ac.uk

We normally ask a contribution of £100 per meeting towards staff costs. Please let us know if this extent of contribution is a problem. To see more of the group’s work, look at the project book Tragedies and Christian Congregations: a practical theology of trauma (Routledge, 2019). This is also available from Professor Southgate (£30 p&p).

This project has received funding from the Templeton World Charities Foundation Inc., and is now in receipt of a grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation (in association with Sarum College).

Meditation on Ps 73

Ps 73

There’s a lot that’s not fair in the impact of this Covid-19 pandemic. It is not a ‘great leveller’ as many have claimed previously.  Those who are poor, in crowded homes, in care homes, those from ethnic minority backgrounds and those suffering domestic abuse are disproportionately affected to name but a few.  And there are many, many more who have been personally affected with illness and bereavement, often alone in the cruellest of circumstances through no fault of their own.

One of the aspects of trauma is the shattering of our assumptions that life is basically safe and reliable, and that if we work hard and play fair, things will generally go well for us – our efforts will be rewarded. The psalmist cried out to God – it’s just not fair, where’s the justice in this? I keep faithful to you, I pray, I keep the commandments, and yet others who ignore you and ridicule me for believing in you, seem to be rewarded with good fortune far more than me?

It takes a lifetime to grow into what we were told in childhood –  life isn’t ‘fair’! We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t rage about it sometimes. Only by doing that, by naming before God our anger about things, can we work through to a place of accepting what is, and find God meeting us in that place. ‘Then thought I to understand this, but it was too hard for me’ says the psalmist, ‘until I entered the sanctuary of God…’ (v16). As Jesus did in Gethsemane, bring your anguish, your confusion into God’s sanctuary, God’s presence, till it is spent, and your soul can begin to quiet in his presence and know;

‘Though my flesh and my heart fail me,

God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever’ v26

Our perspective is shifted, and from that place of stillness and strength in God, we begin to move forwards to be and do what we can.

Hilary Ison

April 2020

 

 

 

 

Meditation on Ps 23

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.

 

You can probably recite this psalm by heart. And, like me, you may have prayed it at the bedside of the dying, chanted it in a quiet sanctuary or entreated it earnestly to yourself in times of trouble. The words flow into and over us as balm to our souls. We breathe deeply the green of the pasture. Our heartbeat slows as we approach the still waters. We drink deeply of the assurance of God who fears neither death nor dark valleys, who leads us on a right path even through disasters. We sit at the table and know that there is enough, there is more than enough. The blessing hand has been laid on our shoulders; our cup overflows. Surely, goodness and mercy.

Psalm 23 is ballast for trying times. These days we need all the ballast we can get. We need the breath of peace, the kind that passes understanding, the kind the Good Shepherd breathed on his disciples in his post-resurrection appearances. We need the clear, cool stream of living water he poured into the thirsty woman’s cup. We need the green, the growing newness of spring – life emerging from the empty tomb, that feeds body and soul.

When the world is topsy-turvy, when our own homes may feel like a prison, when the news is bad and the shadows are long, we are reminded of where our true Home lies. It lies in the hands of God who made heaven and earth, who walked amongst us and bore the worst humanity could dish out, who even now sighs too deep for words. Good Shepherd, Host and Friend, be with us now and forevermore.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller

 

 

Meditation on Ps 134

Psalm 134                                        

A Song of Ascents.
1 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
   who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place,
   and bless the Lord.

3 May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
   bless you from Zion.

This is the final Song of Ascent, those psalms that pilgrims may have sung as they approached Jerusalem or the Temple districts. It is an invitation to prayer addressed to those who stand by night in the house of the Lord.

We are living in a kind of night now, as the pandemic eclipses life as it was before. What kinds of prayers are uttered in the night? Honest prayers. Vulnerable prayers. Prayers that groan or weep or wrestle. Prayers of gratitude. Prayers of earnest supplication. Real prayers.

The great gift of the psalms is that they invite and enable prayers we would not want heard in the light of day: earnest laments that explode with rage, tremble with fear or curse the source of our pain. We can even shake our fist towards God: Why have You allowed this to happen? God can hold it. It has all been prayed before. The relationship we are offered with the Holy is intimate and truthful; the veil of pretence has long been torn. And once we offer the raw pain of the real to the Source of our being, we may sense the quiet presence of the One whose love will not let us go.

As the days and weeks of this pandemic unfold, our emotions may surprise us and our losses confound us. Our patience is tested; we come to the end of our ropes. We snap. We struggle. We give thanks for small mercies. Through it all, through the destabilising uncertainties and unsettling “new normal”, we can rely on the reality that God is. The earth may rock and roll, the nations may roar, but God remains, steadfast and sure, ready to catch our tears and set us on our feet, steady and strengthened to do what must be done.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller

 

Meditation on Ps 19

Meditation on Ps19

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
    Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
    do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

My favourite psalm. But how does it speak to where we are this week? Well, first of all in disconcerting ways. Verses 1-6 speak of the great cosmic song of nature. We know this song can be very violent – as is often said, we ourselves are made from the dusts of stars, and those stars exploded with inconceivable force. And this violence of natural processes has come very close to us this year. We fear it, as many modern First World people have forgotten to fear nature.

The psalm says there is a great unheard song to nature (vv. 3-4), a song in a language we cannot make out, and the psalm says that, paradoxical as this must seem, the song cries out ‘Glory!’ The cosmos in all its violence and threat and harmony and beauty speaks of the unimaginable power and fecundity of God’s creation.  

Then the psalm makes a strange turn, and starts talking about God’s law. The English here is misleading: ‘Torah’ here is much closer to ‘Bible’ (so Westermann). God has written us a song on a human scale, a song of what right living looks like (and sent Jesus to sing it to us). This is the song of wisdom and the fear of the Lord, ‘sweeter than honey/quintessence of bees’ (Robert Alter).

Within the cosmic anthem is our own small song, a song of prayer, for only God can guard our wisdom against our unwitting sins. And the prayer is summed up in the last verse:

Let the words of my mouth (and my emails, my Zooms, my Tik Tok and my texts)

and the meditation of my heart (literally the murmuring of my heart)

be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Wherever we are, however un-wise we feel, and however strong or weak the murmuring of the hearts of those we love, let that be our prayer today.

Christopher Southgate       April 21 2020

 

 

Meditation on Ps 31.9-16

Meditation on Ps. 31.9-16

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye wastes away from grief,
    my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[a]
    and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
    a horror[b] to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

Although the Psalmist is writing in a very different context, there are extraordinary echoes for us here of our present situation, even being avoided in the street… The parallels are not exact, but verses 12-13 could have chilling resonances for some elderly people in care homes. Not that there is a plot to take their life, but some of the present public discourse implies that such lives have already been written off, are the inevitable and necessary casualties of the crisis.

And there is, buried or not so buried in many of us, terror, bound up in a strange way with grief at so much loss of opportunity, loss of intimacy. All sorts of things I planned for the next few months are gone; I live both with the frustration and sorrow of that, and also the real fear that being in a high-risk group I could be dead in a fortnight.

And yet, and yet, and yet, like so many lament psalms, this makes a turn to trust and to prayer. God is God, beyond knowing, and yet God has made [himself] known – we can cry out to [him] ‘You are my God’ – we can accept, and draw deep comfort from, a sense that our times are in [his] hands, and in all those times, nothing can separate us from [his] love (Rom. 8).

I am struck too by the way the beginning and end of this passage make links with that most ancient of blessings, the one from Numbers 6. I give it in the version I learned, long ago:

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you

May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you his peace.

Christopher Southgate, April 21 2020