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The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to "recovery of the soul" and promoting competency in the clinical pastoral field.

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February 3, 2005


The annual Anton T. Boisen Award was presented in 2004 to Myron Madden at the annual meeting of COMISS in Alexandria, Virginia, December 5. The following text is Myron's response on receipt of the award.

My Journey in Clinical Training by Myron C. Madden, PhD

It was in June of 45 that Dr. Wayne Oates took a handful of his graduate students from the Baptist Seminary in Louisville to a state mental hospital in Danville, Kentucky to do twelve weeks of clinical training. I was home from the big WWII experience and had the tough experience of the Battle of the Bulge. But I was as frightened of the mental hospital as I had been of the battle field. At that point I wasnt sure that mental illness wasnt contagious.

At the end of this unit of training, the hospital C.E.O. asked me to accept the job of being the chaplain of the hospital. I was able to work out an agreement with Wayne Oates to do an extended program to complete my graduate work at the seminary. This required a commute twice weekly to Louisville, ninety miles distant. After the graduate degree three years later, there was no job! Baptists at that time were not aware of their need for clinically trained clergy.

Finally, some seven years later, the church I served as pastor had a member who was head of Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, Raymond Wilson. At that time Mr. Wilson was interested in developing a clinical training program and he asked me to take on the position. It was there that I joined in helping Baptists develop respectable programs in clinical training. During the early 60s there were four national certifying bodies. Besides Southern Baptists there was the Council for Clinical Training, the Institute for Pastoral Care, and the Lutherans had their own program. In the mid 60s these four training and certifying bodies merged into one the ACPE or the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.

As I best recall COMISS came into being as a need for one voice to help unite the Babel of many tongues. However, I had no part in the development of COMISS.

I would like now to share what I have learned in my work of more than forty years as a learner and a teacher in CPE. I now am fully retired, but have a rather unusual place in the larger process. That is, I serve as chaplain to the C.P.S.P. (the College of Pastoral Supervisors and Psychotherapists). I consider it as one of the greatest honors of my life to be chaplain to such a wonderful organization.

Some of Lifes Learnings

Edward Jones, a Pulitzer-prize wining novelist, said, You never get over having been a child. Soren Kierkegaard said, Every unhappy individual can be traced back to some false impression received in childhood.

All this is to say that clinical training did not shut out the past to give me a new beginning. Rather it gives me the tools to explore my own history in a more realistic way. For example, it helped me understand what Jesus meant by call no man your father upon the earth. This is His call to look at our parents as peers, to see them as truly human, not super-human as they seemed to us as children.

I had a friend a few years ago who was eager to share an experience related to this. He told of going to a restaurant in their home town. As they sat waiting to be served, my friend said he sat back and studied his parents carefully. He was himself past fifty years of age. But in looking at them it suddenly dawned on him that these were two old, old people. What he most wanted to share was his reactions. He said, I suddenly hated them for being old, and for the awareness they would soon die. He hated them for being mortal. In his disgust, he wanted to walk out and leave them to eat without him.

C.P.E. is a process of helping us see our parents as mortal and human. We have to accept it for them before we can accept it for ourselves. When we cannot accept it for ourselves, we cannot live into our true adulthood. C.P.E. is only a beginning of the process of opening the book of childhood.

C.P.E. taught me that every child lives in a blissful state in the pre-school years. I do not remember my own as well as old Thomas Traherne. He spoke of it this way:
All appeared new, and strange at first, impressibly rare and delightful and beautiful The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal cherubims! And young men glittering, sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys & girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die the city seemed to stand in Eden

I will add that Tolstoy once said, From my first to my fifth year was an eternity. From my fifth year to the present (70) is but a small step.

Not only does every child have a garden, but every garden has a snake. In fact it is a garden of miracles where snakes talk and horses fly. It is a time before time, a time without limit and space without decay. C.PE. becomes an experience of allowing our garden to melt down to ordinary time and space. The shelves in my aunts store ceased to be self-replenishing. It was quite a jolt for me at six to learn she had to buy all that stuff she had for sale. When I learned that, I gave up wanting to be a merchant.

C.P.E. has made me face the real world in ways I have been reluctant to do. The real world says, Pay your debts. At first I delayed and hoped my banker would either write it off or delay his demand for the principal.

Then we humans are prone to make vows when we are young. Vows about what we will or will not do related to emotional pain, poverty, hurt or stress. A vow made becomes an emotional debt either until we pay up or otherwise deal with it. A good example here is a vow about what we will do for one or both parents when we grow up. For example, we know what makes them happy, such as a new dress. Time passes and we put our money elsewhere, and put off getting that new dress. But guilt builds up because of the delay in giving the dress and fulfilling the vow.

Unfulfilled vows can become very troublesome when a parent or a beloved family member dies without getting the gift promised in the vow. We often take too seriously the childhood vow. In good ministry we can help people get released from such vows. After all, the parent did not extract the vow, neither did God seal it. One can be released from a binding vow by having a person make a claim for such release in your presence.

C.P.E. taught me the meaning of the priesthood of believers. I will give a case. A lady sought me out in counseling to tell a story of an unacceptable sex act. The next session she came saying she had never shared her secret except to God. She said, I confessed that thing to God a thousand times and it came right back on me as strong as ever. Last week I told it to you and now the guilt is gone. What is the difference in confessing it to God and confessing it to you? I responded that in telling it to God, she took no risk. In telling it to me she couldnt be sure I could listen without going screaming out in the hall or shouting it from the house top for help. But she could hear me when I brought her Gods word of forgiveness and grace. After confessing to God, she never hears God speak a word. If God has spoken, she might have been left wondering about her mental health. Isnt that what goes with hearing voices?

Go back to Kierkegaard, he spoke of the damage done. To a child who gets a false impression in one way or another, such things are usually related to a false impression spoken by a person of authority, such as a parent, uncle, aunt, or older sibling. If they choose, they can fill a young childs world with gnomes, witches, sprites and goblins. The child may be left believing that a monstrous spirit will do what the older person promises.

Alfred Adler said most every person comes from the early years with a psychological scar that is as debilitating as a defective organ. Again Tolstoy said his first five years were an eternity, while the remainder of his life (speaking at 70) was only a small step.

Sigmund Freud perhaps dealt with the first five years with more understanding than any scholar of the 20th century. In his self-analysis, done at age forty, he was able to open the book of childhood as no other person ever was able to do.

Remember that Thomas Traherne spoke of how he was ravished by the beauty of things in his garden. We add to that the wonder of the created world. It is like Job said, Things too wonderful for me. Then Irwin Yalom speaks of the terrors of the universe. Add all this up and know that the five or six year old child must build defenses against both the wonder and the terror of existence. I suppose some of you remember how you felt in seeing the pictures delivered from the Hubble Space telescope. They took me back to the edge of my childhood feelings of terror in trying to contemplate infinity for the first time. It made me too dizzy to stand up.

All this means that in early childhood we cant keep on looking at existence as Thomas Traherne first saw it and described it. We are forced to re-shape it all and cut it down to bearable portions. Otherwise the glory of it would destroy us.

Have you ever thought that the second coming may be the event that takes us back where we were in the first place? Where we were as infants. We will just leave it there, I certainly cant take it any further: only to declare that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

We adults have for the most part forgotten our childhood experiences. We need to remember that while they are forgotten, they are not blotted out. They linger only to be awakened at odd times and exceptional occasions. But I remind you, You never get over having been a child.

Another thing I learned in C.P.E. has to do with confession and forgiveness. I learned that I am not forgiven in simply telling it to God. I must select my brother or sister to tell it to, so they can show me I am forgiven and accepted by how they deal with me as a sinner. We dont so much confess things to God, as we repent before God and confess to our priest at the elbow as Carlyle Marney called it. I have lived to witness this process bring sanity to the insane and wholeness to the broken in spirit. I say that when people are truly heard, they are truly blessed.

My own life has been blessed in being a part of the clinical training movement. While I am no longer active in CPE, I do have what I value as a vital connection in being the chaplain of the College of Pastoral Supervisors and Psychotherapists (or the CPSP). They keep me in a feeling of continuing kinship with Anton Boisen whom you all know is the father of the clinical training movement.

As I understand Boisen, his was an intent to bring blessedness into the lives of all people, especially to the sick and marginalized.

As I understand COMISS, you are faithful to our beginnings, holding us all to the central issue, of bringing blessedness to all people.

I would like to close with a prayer of Soren Kierkegaard that reminds us how to stay on track.

To Will One Thing Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the one, who art one thing and who art all! So may thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, Thou that givest both the beginning and the completion. May Thou, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing and as the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution. That the first may be like the last, the last like the first in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. Amen.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at February 3, 2005 9:41 PM

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