Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The core skill -- helping people find their way

Today I spent a few hours with a graduate student friend helping her think through some fascinating papers she's writing about the world of the ancient Rabbis. At one point -- as I was pounding my first on the table repeating something I had already said several times before -- I started to doubt myself. Was I really helping her? Was I being too harsh? Should I be gentler?

Then she cleared up all the doubt in my mind by suddenly saying, "you're a lot more patient with me than anybody else."

Clearly she was experiencing me not only as helpful, but as gentle. I know that my chaplain students this summer often experienced me the same way. And what really surprised me was that what I was doing with my friend felt so much like what I did with my students in my individual meetings with them -- what I did with my students is try to help them think through their work with patients and, also, how they understand their personal paths as people working in ministry. I tried to slow things down for them so we could think together. I summarized for them what I had heard about what they were thinking, and gently quizzed them when something was unclear to me. In visual terms, I tried to hold up their thoughts and experiences in the air in front of the two of us, so we could look at it and consider it together. In this way, I tried to help them find their way.

As I try to take advantage of the relatively quiet and reflective time I have before me in the coming weeks to try and work on finding my own way, it strikes me that helping people to find their own path may be the core set of skills I've been developing as I work towards full certification as a Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor. The number one basic component of that skill is also a core skill in the task of pastoral care to people in need -- listening. Listening with genuine curiosity and interest. . . . Wherever my path as a rabbi and as an educator may be taking me, I think that will be the core of what I will have to offer to my students and others who come before me.

I have to say it feels very good to be here. I thank the Blessed Holy One for leading me to this place where I have such an incredible opportunity.

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