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Thinking Out Loud

Our Shared Spiritual Path

by Michael Jinkins | Aug 09, 2016


Fred TurpinEditor’s note: Today’s “Thinking Out Loud” blog post is guest-written by Dr. Fred H. Turpin (pictured). Fred is a Louisville Seminary alum (MDiv ’72) and a member of Louisville Seminary’s Caldwell Society.

Let me begin by stating that I am not, nor never have been, the pastor of a congregation. That has never been my calling. I have been a chaplain at hospitals and worked summers as a chaplain at national parks. Though I love to preach, I could never attempt 45 sermons a year. I envy the creativity of pastors who are able to do so regularly, just as I envy the ability of Michael Jinkins to write so many “Thinking Out Loud” weekly messages over the years.

My spiritual pathway led from a chaplaincy at a hospital for the terminally ill (and finding amazing depth and even solace while holding those who were dying), to a five-year fellowship in psychoanalytic training in New York City. Add decades of marriage and raising children, directing three pastoral counseling centers in Manhattan at the same time, countless years of my own intensive training analysis, and additional years of spiritual direction - what life experiences can one include or exclude since each and every day shapes one’s spirit to attend to the hints and whispers of that great mystery we audaciously refer to as God?

Over the years I’ve learned, with help from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, to be suspicious about creeds and dogmas, insofar as they claim to formulate rather than allude to a power that may only be illuminated and never indicated with any hope of precision. Far too often, the ego takes the words of creed and dogma as literal statements of truth, and in such cases dogma ends up being flat, narrow and shallow. Much of my own inspiration is found in dreams, in writing poetry, in walking along a path in quiet woods or in spontaneous prayer at the ocean’s edge.

A very wise chief psychiatric supervisor once told a group of us to never place upon a patient an expectation that they would grow or change, as our unvoiced need to see such changes would inevitably create resistance to change in those we wished to help. He advised that if we had a need to see change, then buy a plant.

Not too many years ago, a small group of clergy and laity met with me to review my ministry. The meeting opened with prayer and then a complaint by one of the pastors that the previous Sunday the man who was to read Scripture had arrived only fifteen minutes before the procession was to begin. This lay elder apologized to the pastor by saying that he and his wife had been out all night, as they were members of a group of swingers (as in participants at group sex parties). The pastor said he wished the man had never revealed this news, as now he could never again allow him to participate in worship.

On the other hand, I heard this lay elder as presenting a very personal opening for later investigation, sensing what he revealed as possibly a form of confession. How often do we allow our own judgmental voices to close rather than open doors of inquiry? But my task, in my capacity as a therapist, is far easier than those who are pastors.

First of all, I’ve had years of advanced training following a doctorate, hundreds of hours of supervision and personal analysis. Second, the boundaries are much tighter and in some ways more limited. I never go to dinner with a patient. I don’t even ask “How are you today?” as that begins a session on the level of social norms.

Second, I know we each protect our deepest suffering with various levels of denial, pretense and persona. We far too often present ourselves as we think others wish us to be in the hope of finding approval. (Oh what a web we weave to prevent real, honest encounter.) Without the “I-Thou,” almost always accompanied by strong emotion and tears, we seem to be fencing rather than touching. In my office I keep a small statue of the Hindu god Ganesha, the god of resolving resistances. Looking at Ganesha from time to time reminds me to be aware, if not lessen, my own resistances to personal encounter in the moment.

Only through God’s grace are we able to get out of our own way and notice that opening where meaningful relevance and ultimate mystery can be approached, affirmed and shared with others. I try to treasure those few seconds when I wake in the early morning and do not yet know my name. I also try to meditate upon my personal need to ask for and to offer forgiveness, and then to make time for gratitude at the beginning and close of the day. Without compassion for our own journey, without spending time in rapport with our soulfulness, what do we really have to offer to others?

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