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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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June 22, 2011

A Theological Reflection: Magdalene ---By Rachel Findley


Theological Reflection: Magdalene By
Rachel Findley
Kaiser CPE
Supervisor: John Jeffery
June 8, 2011

psyche : soul
1640s, "animating spirit," from L. psyche, from Gk. psykhe "the soul, mind, spirit, breath, life, the invisible animating principle or entity which occupies and directs the physical body" (personified as Psykhe, the lover of Eros), akin to psykhein "to blow, cool," from PIE base *bhes- "to blow" (cf. Skt. bhas-). The word had extensive sense development in Platonic philosophy and Jewish-influenced theological writing of St. Paul. In English, psychological sense is from 1910.

system : web
1610s, "the whole creation, the universe," from L.L. systema "an arrangement, system," from Gk. systema "organized whole, body," from syn- "together" + root of histanai "cause to stand" from PIE base *sta- "to stand" (see stet). Meaning "set of correlated principles, facts, ideas, etc." first recorded 1630s. Meaning "animal body as an organized whole, sum of the vital processes in an organism" is recorded from 1680s; hence figurative phrase to get (something) out of one's system (1900). Computer sense of "group of related programs" is recorded from 1963

apprehend : grasp
mid-14c., "to grasp in the senses or mind," from O.Fr. aprendre (12c.) "teach; learn; take, grasp; acquire," or directly from L. apprehendere "to take hold of, grasp," from ad- "to" + prehendere "to seize" (see prehensile). Metaphoric extension to "seize with the mind" took place in Latin, and was the sole sense of cognate O.Fr. aprendre (Mod.Fr. apprendre "to learn, to be informed about;" also cf. apprentice). Original sense returned in English in meaning "to seize in the name of the law, arrest," recorded from 1540s, which use probably was taken directly from Latin. Related: Apprehended; apprehending.

Psychosystemic: grasping the Soul-web.

She is a frail woman, a little unsteady on her feet, toothless, standing very straight in her battered old shoes. Her eyes shine.

I am trying to see her as a whole person with all of her past and present surrounding her. I wish I could draw or paint. I want to see the web of relationship, of interconnected souls and systems, that surrounds us as we sit down on the sofa in the living room.

She has her icons and mementoes in her room. She prays every day. She sees Mary Magdalene standing before God with Magdalene’s list of people to help, and she knows she is on that list. Sometimes she doesn’t know what to pray for; she lets Magdalene and God work out what she needs. The divine realm interpenetrates her daily life. She and God reach out toward one another.

She lives in an old, not very well-maintained house at the south end of town, not far from the waterfront. There’s a housing project in the next block where guns go off in the night. People in the streets fix old cars; there’s an array of junk coming and going, not abandoned exactly, but in process. My battered pickup fits right in this neighborhood, but I’m careful to lock up. I belong here, and I don’t belong here.

She has her room, and her partner of over 30 years has his room. The living room has a large bird cage for the parrot, and a smaller cage for little birds. The parrot gets noisy unless we say “hello” to him every now and then. There are other pets—little dogs, cats—but hospice has requested that they be kept out when hospice staff is visiting. In this house, animals are part of the world of persons. We hospice workers are delicate creatures, from a part of the world that imagines safety in separation.

The front steps are uneven, and the railing is wobbly. Everything is a little bit grimy but it smells clean. She apologizes for the shabbiness. She used to be a good housekeeper, but she gets tired now. We women expect domestic excellence of ourselves, no matter what.

People come and go through the room as we talk—the landlord’s brother, in painter’s overall; Tom, smiling and a little vague looking; Betsy, corralling the little dog and taking it downstairs. Unlike other places I visit, these folks do not disrupt or interrupt. They smile, say hello, wave, move into the next room or out the front door. I am not seen as threatening or alien.

She says the landlord Jose likes to help people. He’s buying up several houses on this block and fixing them up a little. He’s a nice man; I can’t tell if he’s an idealistic Catholic Worker type or an entrepreneur buying low, helping waifs and strays while he waits for prices to rise. Does he have to be one or the other?

Her mother was deserted by her father before she was born. Then, shortly afterward, her mother died, too. Her aunts sent her to live in a charity orphanage in a convent. She went to the best Catholic school in the City, and she was a “bad girl.” She learned how to launder and iron the habits, and she learned the catechism, and she learned to love Mary Magdalene and the Infant of Prague. For her, Magdalene is the beloved sinner, the one the respectable men couldn’t throw stones at because they too were sinners, the one Jesus loved, the apostle and saint. So many abandonments in my own family—we are kindred. Magdalene is her special gift to me. Does our past create us? Does divine love free us to live into our true selves?

After high school she came up to this town and met her husband, a submariner, at a dance at the ship yards. They had three children. He drank beer all the time. He was away for six months, home for six weeks. When he was home he beat her—broke her nose, slashed her arm with a knife. They stayed married until he died. My Chuck spent a few years here, supervising the construction of subs, most likely while she was still married. Our spheres are not as separate as we might imagine.

After that, there’s still a blank place in her life—we’re working our way into her story, week by week. Weaving the web, darning the holes.

The daughter stayed in town, but she died two years ago. The sons moved away to places with more opportunity. One has a lovely wife, the other has an alcoholic wife. New chances, or old choices.

She loves her pets. She loves her long-time partner, though he is in failing health and “getting grumpy,” saying angry things that hurt her. She loves to walk outdoors. The people on the streets call her “Ma.” They help her get where she needs to go. They sit at a table in the sun sometimes, talking and laughing. When she sees a man hit a woman, she hurts inside. Community: full catastrophe living, as Zorba would say. Connection and vulnerability and pain.

She’d be safer in a SNF. Fewer fall risks, and they’d probably remember to give her meds on time, and the gunshots would be further away. But she’d lose her connection to her community. Hospice likes our patients to be safe.

We talk about death, about family, about history. She just recently managed to tell her sons she’s got cancer. Her partner won’t talk about it, and he never leaves his room while I’m there—his health is failing, and he doesn’t want to meet me. What face does he see overlaid on my service?

Her nurse tells me she’s not dying very fast; just a little good care, and her symptoms are vastly improved. Maybe she doesn’t really even have cancer. She may be discharged soon.

What would my ministry look like if I stopped separating prophetic ministry from pastoral ministry, if I saw the whole community in which she’s embedded as my pastoral responsibility? I don’t know.

I am just feeling my way into this town. I am an woman of privilege, ignorant of this world, and I don’t want to imagine that I have a lot of superior wisdom—just the freedom to admire, respect, and love a woman who embodies courage, resilience, persistence, and kindliness.

I witness to her journey. I don’t know what else to bring to her, to her community, to my own soul-web.

Rachel Findley is a resident in the CPSP- CPE training center at the Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo, CA. She is currently providing pastoral care and counseling to hospice patients. She is a Quaker, and also an interfaith minister ordained by the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley,CA . She has the usual full-catastrophe personal life and professional history. She loves to walk around outdoors under the sky.

Editor's Note:

Use Google Translate in order to read the article or view the Pastoral Report in your native language: Enter the Pastoral Report's URL ( into Google Translate, choose your language and click. The PR is now viewed in your chosen language.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:26 PM

June 6, 2011

Tolerance and Encouragement: Among the Roots of the Clinical Pastoral Tradition by Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

<img“We believe we should
make a space for one another and
stand ready to midwife one another
in our respective spiritual journeys.”
“We commit to being mutually responsible to one another
for our professional work and direction.”
[from the CPSP Covenant]

23 May 1911 - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle [NY]
Four of the Applicants for Ordination Had Agnostic Views.

It was one of the longest drawn-out meetings of the Presbytery ever held, and two hours of it or more were in executive session, it being nearly midnight when the ministers and elders decided to ordain and license seven young men, four of whom came from … [one] Seminary. It is known that there was decidedly divided opinion in the matter of making ministers of these four men, for a number of the ministers found it convenient to leave the room before it was finally decided to vote for the ordination of the young men … .[:] Robert A. Watson, Elmer Fred Eastman, Anton T. Boisen, and Herman N. Morse. …

Four Young Men Were Agnostics and Undecided in Their Faith
It was ascertained that the four … young men did not absolutely “deny” anything, but they were agnostic – did not know – or were undecided enough in their faith not to affirm certain fundamentals … . As has been said, for more than two hours there was an earnest discussion and much was said on both sides of the case, and it is known that there were quite a good many of the presbyters who thought it would be a good idea for the … young men to take a little more time and get straightened out, but the argument on the side of ordaining them prevailed, and arrangements were made to make them licentiates and fully ordained preachers … .

The argument back in 1911 – 100 hundred years ago – concerned “vital piety” versus “literal orthodoxy” –
but a lot of other terms could be plugged into the “this” versus “that” equation.

The question is, can we indeed accept that different people are in different places on their spiritual journeys-
and that different people need different supports in their growth?

We can be blunt about “making space” – and serious about “standing ready to midwife”.

The question is, can we be persistent enough and patient enough to
work with each other on what constitutes really good clinical pastoral work?

Can we be tolerant and encouraging while together becoming better?

Thus, perhaps it is worth noting that Anton Theophilus – “Lover of G-d” – Boisen (1876-1965) wandered a bit, almost not making it through ordination – yet we benefit greatly from his religious contributions. Likewise, perhaps it is worth noting that Flanders Dunbar (1902-59), as a woman at a certain point in time in a certain faith group did not even have the option of ordination – yet we benefit greatly from her religious contributions. Either could have been told, “Go away”.

Boisen’s ministry came alive through accepting Dunbar’s guidance, offered with persistence and patience.
Dunbar’s ministry came alive though providing Boisen’s guidance, offered with tolerance and encouragement.
Both benefited from their working together – from their becoming better versions of themselves. The world benefited, too.

Each found greater spiritual fulfillment and contribution within an atmosphere of
mutual respect and cooperative striving toward achieving a higher standard.
They expected much of each other – and, together, they delivered.


The newspaper story can be found on-line.

Many who have read Boisen’s autobiography may recall that Fred Eastman became one of Boisen’s lifelong closest friends, Many, however, may not be aware of the important role Eastman played in changing the nature of congregational religious study and worship. Boisen encouraged clergy to study “living human documents” – living people in all their complexity. Eastman encouraged clergy and their parishioners to contemplate carefully chosen biographies and carefully staged plays that presented human dilemmas in all their complexity. Each tried to add something simultaneously more “down to earth” and more introspective to the worship life of the average church.,9171,751419,00.html

Hermann N. Morse was no slouch either. He championed nationwide missionary work within the United States and is considered a diplomatic architect of what became the National Council of Churches.,9171,857235,00.html

Whatever became of Robert A. Watson could not be determined, except that he ministered in North Carolina.

Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD is the leading historian of the clinical pastoral movement. Many of his published writings are posted on the Pastoral Report. Readers can use the PR's search engine found on the left side-bar to locate his articles. As a practicing psychiatrist, his writings reflect his daily investment in his clinical practice of providing psychotherapy and care to his patients. Contact Dr. Powell by clicking here. -Perry Miller, Editor
Editor's Note:

Use Google Translate in order to read the article or view the Pastoral Report in your native language: Enter the Pastoral Report's URL ( into Google Translate, choose your language and click. The PR is now viewed in your chosen language.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 9:00 AM

NCTS-EAST Fall Dates Changed

Due to conflicting dates, Francine Hernandez, NCTS Coordinator, announced that the dates have been changed for the 2011 fall gathering of the NCTS. The event will now be held November 7-8, 2011 at the Stella Maris Retreat Center, Elberon, NJ.

The previous announcement on the PR reflects the change of dates.

-Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 8:28 AM