As part of a recent pastoral care class, I was invited to create an image of care that would capture my growing understanding of my pastoral role and identity. Using Robert Dykstra’s book, Images of Pastoral Care: Classic Readings (2005) as a starting point and drawing particularly on Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer and Bonnie Miller-McLemore’s Living Human Web, I created the image of the Injured Advocate.
Image of pastoral care
The Injured Advocate acknowledges the validity of all types of suffering: individual suffering, as well as suffering caused by factors outside of a person’s individual agency in society. Like Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer, the Injured Advocate is aware of his/her own pain; injuries suffered as a product of personal strife, as well as those caused by the context into which they were born and/or currently reside. The Injured Advocate is aware of his/her personal and collective injuries and has come to learn from them. Furthermore, by recognizing and coming to peace with his/her personal suffering, he/she becomes empowered to seek out the root cause of it, devise countermeasures for addressing it and help others in and with their own suffering.
Injured Advocates are at home with their own souls
Additionally, and in further keeping with Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer analogy, the Injured Advocate has cultivated a stance of hospitality within his/her own soul and feels at home, which in turn allows him/her to be open, listen and attempt to understand the unique spiritual, personal and societal struggles of others. Like an emergency situation on an airplane, one must put their own oxygen mask on before assisting others. If one is not at home and unable to embrace his/her personal suffering, it is impossible to be fully present for the suffering of another. This stance of hospitality ultimately allows the Injured Advocate to provide space and empower other individuals to find their own peace and methods of understanding and addressing their suffering.
Injured Advocates and pastoral care: solidarity with the suffering of others
The Injured Advocate also is informed by Bonnie Miller-McLemore’s image of the Living Human Web. Like the Living Human Web, the Injured Advocate recognizes a solidarity of suffering in the human experience, but also draws attention to the outside factors that contribute to individual/communal suffering. In other words, this model of pastoral care insists that suffering must be understood within a specific social context and that larger historical and societal factors contribute to an individual’s unique, personal suffering.
The Injured Advocate addresses the two demons in pastoral care, which, according to Emmanuel Lartey (2003) is the prevalent tendency to either excessively spiritualize or politicize suffering. In other words, a balance must be struck between addressing personal suffering/making existential meaning of personal suffering and rushing to action and advocacy/addressing the systemic and societal causes of suffering.
Overall, the Injured Advocate is an image of pastoral care that is rooted in and informed by the experience of suffering and pain and it tries to strike a balance between addressing individual/communal suffering and the societal structures that contribute to that suffering, two often polarized extremes.
Injured Advocates in the Moravian Church
In my current context of ministry, the Unitas Fratrum (i.e. the World Wide Moravian Church), I believe this balance is crucial. The thriving parts of the denomination to which I belong are in parts of the world, like Africa and the Caribbean, that have been colonized and marginalized for the majority of modern history. Offering care as an Injured Advocate in these contexts means at least five things:
- I use my own experience of suffering to identify, empathically connect with, help explore, and address a person’s/community’s unique physical and spiritual needs and suffering
- I offer care in a way that helps that person/community explore suffering and make meaning of it in light of life with God
- I offer pastoral care that names the social dynamics that create and perpetuate individual/communal suffering
- I own my personal connection to and complicity in the societal structures and history that contributes to personal and communal suffering
- I encourage a person/community to engage suffering in a way that empowers them to see and address the suffering of others – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate the captives, and help the poor.
Though my ministry as a Moravian might be limited to the continental United States, it still will involve relationships with people of all societal backgrounds. Walking the balance between spiritualization (making meaning) and politicization (action/advocacy) is imperative in any context. Pastoral care should acknowledge and address the wounds of the individual, the wounds of society, and how those two aspects relate to each other.
Dykstra, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). Images of pastoral care: Classic readings. Chalice Press.
Lartey, E. Y. (2003). In living color: An intercultural approach to pastoral care and counseling.
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- The Injured Advocate: A Reflection on Classic Images of Pastoral Care - October 8, 2020