Archive for July, 2013

CPE Journal #22: July 9th

The clock keeps ticking! I can’t believe that tomorrow there will only be two and a half weeks left…and not even that many, because I’m only on the unit two days in the last week.

Today one of my classmates shared a really beautiful worship service with some great quotes. Here was my favourite one:

“Religion is compared to a seed, not to a gem. Although it takes a great deal of time and endurance under high temperature and pressure for a gem to be made, not a sprout could come from it in a billion years.” (Seok Hun Ham, Korean Quaker)

There were many other stunning quotes but this one made me write this reflection:

A seed is so fragile. A gem is far more predictable. A gem is frozen once forged; a seed is always dynamic. Although it is small, it is far greater; although it is fragile, it is far stronger; although it is mortal, it is far closer to immortal. A seed is a gift that we cannot create ourselves. One seed gives rise to many, and in one seed we trace generations of plants and trees and everything that feeds from them. A gem gives nutrition to no-one.

It is therefore in fragility that we may find the greatest strength.

It made me also pair seeds with stars. Although stars are brilliant, they burn mortally and eventually die, but their material and particles infuse the whole universe with carbon – a source of life.

These quotes were so great I may slip more into further entries. For now I’ll close this one with the last prayer, from my soul-brother Thomas Merton:

“There is no leaf that is not in Your care. There is no cry that was not heard by You before it was uttered. There is no water in the shales that was not hidden there by Your wisdom. There is no concealed spring that was not concealed by You. There is no glen for a lone house that was not planned by You for a lone house. There is no [one] for that acre of woods that was not made by You for that acre of woods.

But there is a greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.”

Amen, beloved. Amen.


CPE Journal #21: July 6th

So yesterday was pretty chaotic! Last week was my second (and last) week on call. I did get a call on Thursday but I didn’t end up having to go in.

Yesterday, I decided to go and check on Voice after the awful wait to have that fluid drained in Radiology. The room where Voice had been was empty but all the stuff from before was still there – flowers and the like. I went to the nurses station and they told me that Voice had had to be transferred to the ICU at 1am. I went to tell the pastoral care worker who usually works the ICU, and she told me I could go and visit Voice myself if I wanted. I decided to do that at the end of my day.

I ended up spending way more time on the unit than I normally do, which seemed to be the pattern for my whole week. I saw delightful “Wink”, who is said to drift in and out of coherence but who seems far more coherent than the accompanying family member thinks; “Sky”, who was only three years younger than me and experiencing terrible pain as a result of the recent surgery; “Flat”, who was lying in bed with a mostly open stoma which had started bleeding profusely while the dressing was being changed and so was applying pressure, waiting for the doctor to come upstairs. It was quite bizarre to sit and talk to someone in that condition, but Flat is fairly oblivious to most things – “Flat” is actually a description of the patient’s voice. I also saw “Fish”, who made me think I would have to call a code because of fluttering eyelids and twitching feet, which actually turned out to be the prelude to tears. I also saw Storm, who felt energized by storms and was waiting for the perfect one. I also met the latest crop of nursing students from Kwantlen at the behest of a really sweet RN (the same one who introduced me to the first group) and told them about what was offered by pastoral care.

Finally, I went down for the first time (since the St. Paul’s tour, that is) to the ICU to see Voice, who (a bit ironically) couldn’t speak because of the breathine tube. Instead, Voice wrote on a clipboard. To ask what time of day it was, Voice drew a moon with stars and a sun, and divided them with a slash. Eventually, in the middle of writing something, Voice fell asleep. It made sense – there had been no sleep the night before.

I have been feeling much more connected to people.

I have been feeling much more connected to myself.

There are only three weeks left!


CPE Journal #20: July 5th

In my last post I talked about reclaiming pieces of ourselves, and I found that over the last little while I have been able to do that with something that was a great source of shame to me for many years: childhood “meltdowns.”

When I was a little girl I would regularly lose composure and begin to wail and cry over all kinds of things. Some of them were silly things – here’s a great post on that – but some of them were because I was being bullied.

One of my clearest memories of this is of being on the school bus. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. There was a little boy who was sitting in the seat behind me – I even remember that his name was James – who kept reaching over the back of my seat to poke my head or tug at strands of hair. I kept telling him to stop, but of course he wouldn’t. Finally, he put his whole hand over and raked his fingers over it, tugging a whole bunch of hair back. I don’t particularly remember if it really hurt or if it was more because I was startled, but either way I started wailing. I remember leaning forward and drawing in a big breath to do it. I’m sure the bus driver was ready to throw all of us off the bus at that point.

That’s one of the only instances of real physical bullying I can remember, but there were a few others. Most of all I remember that my tormentors tended to be male, which is why I have difficulty trusting a lot of young men. As I got into high school boys would call me names and laugh at me. “Crazy Clare” was one I remember particularly well. Girls would bully me too, mostly with intimidation, threats, and further name-calling.

As a child, I remember responding to this with screaming and name-calling myself, and sometimes simply walking away to cry loudly. More often than not I would run and tell someone that I was being bullied. What I remember being told, over and over, was, “Just ignore them.”

Of course I would do that, but it wouldn’t work. Children are merciless. They love nothing more than repetition, especially when the action causes such great fireworks as I was able to provide. So I would return and tell a grown-up again.

What was most often said to me – and what became internalized – was that it was my own fault for “giving them a reaction” or “being so emotional.”

It took me until last year to realize how pathological that response was.

Basically I was being told that it was my own fault for being bullied. The only possible solution in this idea of the world was, “If you don’t want to be bullied, don’t get bullied.”

Now, my giving them a reaction was absolutely what caused them to keep doing it. I’m not naive – I’m sure the kids were very entertained by my outbursts. But to tell me this, between the ages of 5 and 13, was not appropriate. For one thing, the result was that I became driven by deep shame. I’m sure the people who told me that it was my own fault for giving the bullies what they wanted could not have conceived of the truth that I have on multiple occasions locked myself in the bathroom to look at my red sobbing face in the mirror and say to it, “Shut up, you disgusting pig. Look at your stupid pig face, stop that crying right now.” I’m not vengeful towards them for saying something that was entirely logical. But I do think that it was incredibly careless and, let’s face it, stupid, to tell a child that she is responsible for someone else’s terrible behaviour of her. I do not remember any bullies ever being taken to task for how they treated me. I remember sitting in a classroom at age 12 being harassed right at my desk by the boy sitting next me. After saying, “Shut up,” about fifteen times, I finally yelled, “Can you just shut up for once?” This only made it worse, of course, and eventually I just ran out of the classroom crying. This was a hugely shameful memory for years, not only because everyone saw it and teased me about it afterward, but because I really thought it was my fault for being so “sensitive.” When I think of it now, all I can say is, “What the hell was the teacher doing while I was being bullied?” It was happening right in front of her and she didn’t do a damn thing.

So now you know about my “meltdowns” – and I can tell you how I have come to reclaim them.

I am starting to see these events not as sources of shame, derision, and weakness, but as little pieces of fire that refused to be stamped out. When I was treated unfairly or bullied, my immediate reaction was to rail against that perceived injustice. At times to adults it would have looked like simple childhood outbursts, but I have already recognized in my own personal work that they were the result of a perceived disconnect between the beloved child that I knew I was to my Mum with the object of scorn and contempt that I was to many other children. Eventually, these outbursts were bullied or disciplined out of me. I remember crying alone and suppressing all the anger, finally resulting in someone who made friends easily and desperately but finds it difficult to maintain commitment, because of experiences with impermanence, being tricked by friends, or being followed with taunts.

I am finally reclaiming that little child who still refuses to be silenced. What I once referred to as the Poltergeist – something that makes a huge mess and a lot of noise inside when I feel triggered – has become a little girl throwing things around in her room because no-one will accept or validate her anger. I’m in the room now, as she lies exhausted on her bed, and I’m holding out my hand. I feel some niggling doubt and a little echo from the devil that hides in her room with her, trying to tell her to take the easy way out. It’s easier to go back to being the one in need of rescue, the one who can do nothing on her own but be rescued by Mummy.

I can’t accept this, though, because I’ve already been rescued. I was rescued on the day of my baptism. I can’t be rescued again because the chains are in a pile at my feet. The child keeps picking them up and piling them onto her back, and they keep falling off – that’s what all the noise is about.

Next to Adult Me is my Lord. We have both explained over and over that the chains are broken. My Lord tells the little child every day – even when I refuse to go into that room because it’s too scary – but the little child does not believe.

It has taken me seven years, but I am slowly letting go of those chains. I’m sure the little girl will pick them up again sometimes, but hopefully she can try to remember that they are not binding her. They are nothing.

It has taken me seven years to be “born from above.” What a labour – but look at who emerges.

How beautiful too to consider the cosmic implications of this, as well as the eternal. I am always being born, always living, always dying, always rising. But in this, I have come home to myself.

I therefore wrote the following letter to that child:

Little girl, I see you. You are not alone, and you are strong. They are wrong to treat you badly and it’s not your fault. Those in charge are wrong to imply that it is your fault. You are not in charge of the behaviour of others. You are not responsible for anyone’s cruelty to you. Do not fear. I am with you, because you are in me. I see you, and you are loved.



CPE Journal #19: July 4th

This week was much better than some of my last few. I got a chance to sing some Gregorian chant for “Halo” – who loved it – and today I stood with “Voice,” who wailed through dreadful pain waiting to be taken to Radiology to have fluid drained from a lung. I also sat with a First Nations person who told me about piecing a broken life back together after finally beginning to address the terrible things that happened at residential school.

My supervisor recommended a book that I actually had at home but hadn’t read yet. It’s about toxic shame, and I’ve seen myself in its pages way too many times. I’ve been exploring the identity I carried for years as a child and beginning to take it apart, piece by piece. I don’t blame anyone for escaping work like this. I feel like I’ve hit an apex of personal discovery and while things are looking massively up for the future – for probably the first time I’m beginning to actually love myself as I am – this has been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s so much easier to run away from what you think is lying beneath your waves. Last night I met with someone who’s been going through some really difficult struggles, and I found that as we spoke I began to illustrate what I saw in my mind: a vast ocean with unseen depths. Some of us imagine a giant monster like the Kraken will be let loose if we allow ourselves to travel too deep, and so we shun personal work and challenges, too afraid of the grief, anger, and baggage beneath those waves. We pushed it down there hoping to drown it during childhood and maybe beyond that, and we’ve long forgotten what it looks like, because we were never given tools as children to fully comprehend it, like a monster under the bed – so much more terrifying because our imaginations can conceive of more terrifying things than we’ve ever seen with our own eyes.

This fear of our unknown depths is a great tragedy, because it means we are essentially afraid of ourselves. Such fear is driven by a great schism within the self. Do we really think that our inner core is so monstrous that it should remain beneath in darkness “where it belongs”? This to me is actually a form of sin – not something that God condemns with angry judgement but that God laments with weeping. The God who said, “Do not fear; I have redeemed you” did not create a monster. Your own inner splitting has crafted a lie. There are no monsters beneath this ocean – only the pain, fear, grief, rage, and shame that has driven you to this self-distancing.

Pain, fear, grief, and rage that were avoided during childhood were likely avoided for the purposes of the inner strength of children. Children are labeled as weak and helpless, but in some ways they are among the strongest of us all. In order to survive, they will go to vast lengths to protect their own fragility. A child growing up in a household of abuse cannot comprehend caregivers that are broken or unstable because that would pose a great threat to the child’s coping skills. Instead, the child says, “I must be bad to make my parents this way.” This alternative is controllable. A child can re-gain a sense of autonomy if she believes that she has some control over the abuse, which in her mind she can have by altering her behaviour. Over time, of course, this sense of not measuring up becomes a part of her role, her identity. She believes that is worth nothing but abuse, shame, and torment. Her brain’s survival tactic has now become a terrible illness – like an addiction which provides temporary relief from one’s inner depths but only at the cost of shackling someone to it.

God is not a dualist. God does not ask you to tear yourself along the dotted line! God gave you the depths, and it’s from all depths that life emerges. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – and life comes out of Chaos. I think of Chaos as the first element. Those of the Abrahamic faiths celebrate God’s creation out of Chaos, and Christians celebrate Jesus walking on the water, either rendering Chaos impotent or, I think, passing through without fear, recognizing its power and becoming one with it. Jesus was not afraid of the monsters that lay beneath – because there are none. He embraced pain, fear, grief, and rage, and shone the light on them. They are only minnows beneath the surface, or dust bunnies under the bed.

I have seen the minnows that I thought were once a Kraken, and rejoiced. Although only Christ can walk on the surface of the world’s chaos, I have walked on top of my own – toward a voice that said, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”