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Posted February 14, 2006

Book: Images of Pastoral Care: Classic Readings
Author: Robert C. Dykstra
Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri, 2006, pp. 248

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The essays [in this book] are grouped in three sections and, with few exceptions, appear chronologically within each part after a brief introduction of the whole. Part one introduces early work of Boisen, in which he describes clinical patients as living human documents worthy of theological exploration. Two additional essays at once endorse and critique Boisen’s original metaphor. This section also includes two other classical biblical metaphors of care. The good shepherd has shaped pastoral care for generations but comes to prominence in contemporary pastoral theology in the early work of Hiltner. The image of the good Samaritan is presented here with a contemporary twist from a feminist perspective in an influential essay by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner.

Part two introduces several additional images. Each image embraces internal contradiction or paradox to describe the bewildering nature of pastoral care and its impact especially on the minister’s own life and faith. This section presents the images of wounded healer and wise fool (or circus clown) that have wielded significant influence in ministry for decades. It also includes more recent images of the intimate stranger and ascetic witness that, likewise, rely on paradox in attempting to capture the rich complexities of pastoral work.

Part three offers an array of additional images, a number of them emerging recently. These images suggest the growing emphasis within pastoral theology on broarder social and spiritual concerns of congregations and communities, especially groups frequently marginalized. Such emphasis leads to a consideration of needs beyond those of individual parishioners who previously comprised the principal focus of pastoral care. Here the caregiver becomes a theological diagnostician, an athletic coach, an agent of hope, an indigenous storyteller, a midwife, a gardener, even an outlaw in the widening horizons of pastoral care.

Each of the essays has been drawn from its original source and, in most instances, substantially edited so as to concentrate specifically on its author’s case for a particular image of care.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Chaplain in Crisis

I have suggested, however, that the family members are not the only strangers in crisis in this situation, but that the chaplain, too, is a stranger, both to the emotionally hurting “host family” and to the realities of the crisis of sudden death. My suggestion that the chaplain may also be in crisis here, if this is accurate, challenges the one-way understanding of ministry in the literature.

When I am called by the emergency room staff to be with a person facing the sudden loss of a loved one, I often experience the types of distress described by Lindemann: somatic tension; a sense of unreality, floating, or the slowing down of time; guilt (for example, for not wanting to go into this situation, and for wanting to escape it as quickly as possible, or for my relief that this is not someone I know, or for failing in my own relationships); hostile reactions to others, including an accumulating irritability or exaggerated anger with loved ones; the loss of patterns of conduct involving a restlessness stemming from a sense that since life is short — an awareness so evident in the emergency room — it therefore must be live “hard,” with constant fervor and intensity. All of these are common companions of mine and of many other hospital chaplains I know.

The Family as Host

If the realization on the part of ancient Israel (and reflected in the teachings of Jesus and the early church) — that welcoming the stranger meant a serendipitous welcoming of God — is accurate, then the chaplain responding to a call to welcome victims of loss should find himself or herself not only representing God to this family, but also welcomed by God in this family as well. It is clear that unless the family members are willing to welcome the chaplain into the depths of their existence, the chaplain both will be powerless to assist the family and will not receive any comfort from them.

Should the family allow the stranger-chaplain to “sojourn” in their lives, however, the chaplain conceivably would experience certain needs being met by this family: biological, political-cultural, and theological needs. Again, this is often the case. As the victims begin to tell the chaplain “what happened” (if they know), of the nature of the person who may be dying or already dead and the nature of their relationship with him or her, of their confusion, guilt, helplessness and vulnerability a psychosomatic soothing of the chaplain’s own anxiety and tension.

Politically, the chaplain experiences a validation of his or her pastoral presence in the hospital, an awareness that the chaplain does indeed serve a necessary function even in a public institution in which the role and functioning of chaplains seem frequently misunderstood; the family’s openness to the chaplain (and frequently only to the chaplain) “justifies” (does justice to) his or her presence.

Culturally, the chaplain also receives here exposure to traumas and deep joys isolated from the experience of many Americans, gifts from the “company of strangers” that Palmer noted. The chaplain as stranger is welcomed into a larger and more connected world of humanity when welcomed by this “host family,” and life is given the color, texture, and drama so lacking in much contemporary experience.

What, though, does the chaplain receive theologically when welcomed as stranger? I would like to reflect on this question in the concluding paragraphs of this essay.

Table of Contents:

Part One
Classical Images of Care

1. The living human document
2. Reclaiming the living human document
3. The living human web
4. The solicitous shepherd
5. The courageous shepherd
6. The self-differentiated Samaritan

Part Two
Paradoxical Images of Care

7. The wounded healer
8. The circus clown
9. The wise fool
10.The wise fool reframed
11. The intimate stranger
12. The ascetic witness

Part Three
Contemporary and Contextual Images of Care

13. The diagnostician
14. The moral coach and counselor
15. The indigenous storyteller
16. The agent of hope
17. The midwife
18. The gardener
19. The midwife, storyteller, reticent outlaw