I cannot think about the notion of Caring, one of the elements of Pagan Ministry as articulated in Shanddaramon’s The Five Rings, without thinking of the support and care that Theo provided for his brother, Vincent, during their lives. I have loved the work of Van Gogh for many years, but generally was not aware of the powerful relationship between he and his brother. It was in part to this relationship that I wanted to visit their grave, and took this photo recently while in the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent Van Gogh, and his brother, Theo, were buried next to one another.
I do not have any evidence that Vincent and Theo had a spiritual connection to one another in a religious notion, though it was clear their profound connection was indeed spiritual in many ways.
Thinking about this from a more academic perspective, offering support for those who engage in earth-based religious or spiritual practices may be something anybody of good will can offer to others. However, it takes more effort than just being kind, and if somebody is doing this as the result of feeling some internal or external notion of calling to provide ministry, it requires a deep sense of spiritual practice, inner strength, and honesty, upon which acceptance, respect, empathy, patience, and trust (Shanddaramon, p. 29) can be built and embraced.
Vincent did this with paint and color and light and texture, though many of us do this with words and time spent with another. As the author went on to mention (p. 34):
People want to tell the truth about themselves; they want to tell their own story – especially to someone that is open and caring enough to listen.
I will go one step further — the attribute of spiritual caring also involves helping others articulate their own stories, as without a single sacred book, set of standard beliefs, or credo of “approved” or expected beliefs / practices, it can be disorienting to even make sense of our own stories without the help of others. It can be hard to make sense of any beliefs that may not be mainstream or fit into clear boxes that others may create.
This can come about through a process of Sacred Listening, where the person engaging in a spiritual care (ministry) actively listens to and helps the person seeking spiritual support to articulate his or her own story, one that is accepted and affirmed as a powerful step in empowerment and self-affirmation. Doing this without judging or rolling one’s eyes or giving direction as to how one should be feeling or doing is the trick. To be fair, this is not meant in a fuzzy or wishy-washy way, but more about helping one to accept and make sense of one’s beliefs, especially when those may not be widespread, accepted, or even recognized.
While not intentionally done as an aspect of spiritual ministry, imagine what loss we would have if Theo did not do this for Vincent?
This posting is part of my ongoing, shared journaling related to the Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course I am taking during the summer of 2017 at Cherry Hill Seminary.
You are welcome to join me on this journey!