Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Memorize This

I just spoke to a UU minister pal whose father died early this morning.

She seems to be doing okay, although very tired.

As she was talking about his last hours and the family's vigil at the hospital she told me that there was an Episcopal chaplain who was sweet and trying very hard to be helpful to this big Catholic family.
However, when her mother asked the chaplain to pray the 23rd Psalm she didn't know it.

Pastoral failure can come in so many forms.
Sometimes it comes when we're unintentionally insensitive, or even intentionally so. Sometimes pastoral failure occurs because we're just too burned out or angry or confused or otherwise occupied to be the loving presence we ought to be.
And sometimes it occurs because we have failed to acquaint ourselves with ancient words of comfort that have consoled generation unto generation.

I should think that every chaplain -- no matter what their persuasion -- should know the 23rd Psalm. For the sake of this argument, it doesn't really matter that the 23rd Psalm gained ascendancy in the schmaltzy Victoria era. The point is, it's one of the Greatest Hits in the Western world, and every single one of us doing ministry in a religiously pluralistic context the Western world should know it. Even if you occasionally say "Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death" by mistake instead of "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," you should know it. By heart.

The Lord's Prayer is another one to commit to memory. Unless you're a rabbi or an imam, in which case you can certainly sit that one out.
But everyone who can say it without offending their own god's commandments or violating the integrity of their religious calling should have that one in their chaplain's goody bag, too. Why? Because when people are suffering and can be consoled by these prayers, it's not your business to inform them that your personal theology is in opposition to words like "Lord" and to concepts like locating God in a distant "heaven." Save the exegesis for some other time. Shut up and pray.


Blogger fausto said...

Oh, my! It was the Episcopalians who taught it to me, way back in 4th grade! They were so grave and serious about it, I assumed they all knew it!

I still have it memorized.

The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters;
He restoreth my soul.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
Even for His Name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,
I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me:
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
For ever.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I'm confused as to why an Episcopal minister wouldn't know the 23rd Psalm. Wouldn't that be part of her learnings about the Bible?

Are seminarians taught prayers from non Christian traditions or is it up to them to learn them on their own?

Blogger Songbird said...

I'm surprised the Catholic person asked for it, since the King James incarnation of the 23rd is not part of their tradition. Many Catholics think it's a Protestant thing.
But your point is well taken, nonetheless.

Blogger Jess said...

Shut up and pray, indeedy.

John once forgot the end of the "Our Father" during CPE. It had been awhile. Luckily the patient didn't seem to mind too much.

Blogger Clyde Grubbs said...

The end of the "our father" is a Protestant thing. So John was probably taken for a Catholic.

Memorization is becoming a lost art.

The last few days I have been saying Augustine's prayer: Hope has two beautiful daughters. Anger and Courage. Anger with the way things are, and the courage to work to change them.

The prayer mobilizes my anger for activity.

Memorizing a a repetorie of psalms and prayers and hymns is a good thing. I commented on this to my wife and she asks was this Episcopalian a U.S. guy. We met one on a plane two weeks ago from the Sudan, and he was a wonder Episcopalian but was African not U.S. in his way of doing ministry.

Blogger boyinthebands said...

I will confess I do not know the Twenty-third Psalm by heart, and I
think I have a pretty good memory. I get recite it if prompted -- and
lots of other things, including nearly all of the 1979 Episcopal rite
two, prayer A Eucharist. Just don't make me do it unaided.

I would counter your advice with this: keep a liturgical help handy. I'm
a big fan of the Episcopal Church's wee prayer book abridgement for the
armed forces. Carried one throughout CPE. Includes material in Spanish,

Blogger Bill Baar said...

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

I've memorized this one and say it to myself on bumpy airplane rides.

People really ought to memorize more for just those moments.

I knew the 23rd pslam but someone would have had to jog my memory to connect the 23rd to it...remind me its the one with the shadow of the valley of death in it.

Blogger LinguistFriend said...

The problem is more general.
Since modern people find that they can look things up with a computer, they decide that they do not have to learn facts (or texts), and they do not have to learn to solve problems. They also have no way of checking whether the answers they receive from the magical rite of pressing buttons are accurate in their correspondence with reality, or true in the sense of being logically consistent. Thus they are intellectually crippled by leaning uncritically on a device intended to facilitate the solving of problems. This is certainly one of the facts underlying the present downhill slide of American education, as my students regularly remind me.
It is a different point from what specific mental tools a minister needs to be adequate in dealing with human beings in a pastoral interaction, but it does underly the minister's capacity for acquiring and organizing mental tools to do his/her job.


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