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Posted July 31, 2006

Book: Grief, Loss and Death: The Shadow Side of Ministry
Author: Halbert Weidner, CO, Dphil
The Haworth Pastoral Press. NY. 2006. Pp. 81

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

No amount of research, study, or planning can prepare pastoral caregivers for the stress placed on their personal lives by the demands of their ministries. But Grief, Loss, and Death: The Shadow Side of Ministry can help anyone involved in pastoral counseling close the gap between their professional and personal needs, encouraging them to use the stress, loss, and grief that accompanies pastoral caregiving as opportunities to humanize their ministries and reaffirm their faith. This unique book offers comfort and solace to those in the chaplaincy who are torn between professional obligations and the limits and boundaries of the shadow side of their ministry - the human side.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Evading Focus, Losing God, or, What Was the Question?

A nun I knew worked a heavy schedule as a rural nurse among the poor in Appalachia. Every imaginable demand was made on her. Part of her identity and mission was a deep sense of God so she decided to make a special kind of retreat. Poustinia is a Russian word for a hermitage and she chose a place that provided the Poustinia style retreat. It included the hermitage, simple food, and the Bible. That was it. No tape players, no radio, nothing but silence. Nothing to read except the Bible. She thought this was a wonderful contrast to her daily existence when she made the arrangements, but as the day drew near, so did the dread of the retreat. Finally, in a kind of a fog she arrived at the first day of the retreat. On stepping inside the hermitage, she heard an inner voice say, "Am I not good enough company for you?" in the Hindu scriptures we can find this very challenging description of the basis of ministry:

In the center of the castle of Brahmin [God], our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower, and within can be found a small space. We should find who dwells there, and we should want to know the One. . . .the little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe. The heavens and earth are there, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars; fire and lightening and winds are there; and all that now is and all that is not; for the whole universe is in the One and the One dwells within our heart.

Questioning whether or not God is good enough company for us is surely a shadow over ministry. Other religions that take God as good company find our Western hearts dried out. Another priest I knew had given lots of workshops along the lines of theological and pastoral updating, but he was asked to give a retreat to priests and he was very reluctant. He went to an old priest who had decades of experience and asked advice. "Get them to pray!" said the veteran. When I was writing about teaching prayer in the 1970's, spirituality was a hard sell among priests or Protestant colleagues in campus ministry. Once, upon coming home with two colleagues, one Methodist, one Presbyterian, I was asked about my prayer life. My friends and I bonded over social justice issues and they had never had a peer who was committed to such work and "piety." I felt a bit like a native of somewhere with an anthropologist sticking a microphone in my face. I tried to explain mediation, psalms for morning and evening prayer, and the daily Eucharist. When I finished, my Methodist friend puffed on his pipe and said, "I've often thought I should have a devotional life." Later, when I was in John Wesley's London house, a shrine of Methodism, I sent my friend a postcard of the little room Wesley used in the morning and in the evening for private prayer. The Methodists certainly started out with a method for the spiritual life. Now, if anyone wants an excuse not to pray, ministry is as good as it gets. Everything we do we do for God. The work is never done so there is not time for prayer. If we are praying and someone needs us, we go from God to God. So there. We find God everywhere except in our own hearts.

Table of Contents:

1. Stages of growth or the stations of the Cross?
2. A feast day funeral
3. Rod and staff: co-workers
4. The death of dialogue
5. Nothing person: lawyers and ministry as business
6. Evading focus, losing God, or, what was the question
7. Who is in charge here?
8. The family of the minister: sex, love and grief