BISHOP CHANG: Each of us had our own feelings as we viewed this video. For me, this is about the seventh time that I've seen this clip, and each time it generates within me a new response. And some of those responses are not very pleasant, but they have to be dealt with if we are to have hope and consolation. Dr. Robert Kegan, our first keynoter, will share his reflections on this video. He comes to us from the Harvard School of Education and will provide us with an opportunity to hear something about his perspective as an educational specialist.
And so may we now listen with ears of faith that we may be formed by his words as you seek to name the grief in our community.
DR. ROBERT KEGAN: I want to say that I'm grateful for the chance to be with you and that I accepted this invitation at once because it is not that often that I have an opportunity to speak as more than a developmental psychologist or more even than as a counselor or psychotherapist, who, like many of you, is regularly called upon to attend directly to suffering, but to have a chance to speak also as a fellow person of faith, as someone who believes that we do live in the presence of a ceaselessly generous life-giving, life-sustaining force. In Hebrew we say, shehecheyonu v’kiymonu v’higi-onu lazman hazeh. That's a kind of acknowledgement of a power that sustains us and preserves us and brings us all to this present moment.
I come from the Jewish background and I lived and studied
for a time among the Hasidim, a mystical branch of Judaism, and I've had many
occasions to ponder something that they said frequently there that maybe it is
not so much that God is in the world as that the world is in God. But the reality of suffering which we're
called to contemplate is often considered a reproof of faith, a kind of taunt
to faith, evidence of the naive nature of faith. It creates a puzzle for believing
people. How can there be a God in a
world where innocent people suffer? How
can there be an all-loving, all-powerful God in a world where innocent people
suffer? At best, like a sophomore
syllogism, we can work out the logic that there could be an all-loving god who
is powerless to intervene, perhaps the god who can only weep on September
11th. Or there could be a powerful God
who is indifferent, but how can there be a loving and powerful god in a world
where the innocent suffer? Among many of
my secularly Jewish friends and colleagues, the question is framed, how can
there be a God after
As a friendly, and I hope you will feel, respectful observer of a sister faith, I have long admired the relentlessly non-fairy tale nature of Christianity which at its graphical elemental core, Jesus on the cross, refuses to let us hide from the troubling question that suffering provokes. Your faith puts it squarely in our faces. A human form nailed to post suffering and apparently abandoned, the very image provokes the question not in some dry, philosophical voice, but plaintively how can there be a loving and powerful god when there is this? Jesus himself said, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" How can there be a God after Auschwitz, after September 11th, after the individual suffering of many of the brave and generous people that we listen to and will have a chance to listen to on the video.
When I began training as a psychotherapist, I was frequently seeing people for the first time, that critical first encounter, and I often had a recurring internal experience. They would sit across from me and eventually they would proceed to tell me of their anguish and I would find myself shocked or sympathetic or concerned about or aghast at the awful things that had happened to them and I would think to myself, "You are in such great pain. It's so awful. You should really go talk to a psychotherapist." And then I would remember ... that they were and that it was I. And then that would be followed by the familiar second thought, to myself, of course, "Yes, well, but what do you think I can do about it? I mean look around you. You don't see any fancy machines here. I don't even have any drugs. I have no magic wand to turn back the clock. It's just you and me on a couple of chairs next to a small table and what has happened to you has already happened and it should never have happened, but it did happen and there's no way anyone can go back and prevent it. So what do you think I can do?"
Eventually I learned something that you all may know, and though it came to me only gradually, it came to me as a kind of miracle and it is as fresh a miracle to me today as it was when I was first gradually encountering it 30 years ago. And it has great bearing, I think, on the question of whether your faith will have children, and vice-versa. The miracle that I did have something to offer, that we each do, something that you might call my witness, something that my clinical supervisor would probably have called empathy, something that I have come to call "attending,” the power of attending from the literal Latin tendere, to hold. I learned I had something to give which was different than anything I had known to give or thought amounted to a gift. Not a solution to a problem, the gift of my analytic mind. Not advice, the gift of my wise experience. Not reassurance, the gift of my own faith or optimism. Not even consolation, the gift of my sympathy, but accompaniment, attending to the other's experience, making known my efforts to understand, to give voice, no matter how hard it might be to give voice to the helplessness, to hopelessness in the other's experience, stuttering strange words hoping to resonate, strange in a culture of relentless doing. So it is as if you may feel more alone than you have ever felt before, it gets no better and you wonder if it ever will, being in the valley of the dry bones, making public shared between us the experience itself, that it will live between us in this life on these chairs by this small table. The difference this can make I have found to be extraordinary. The horrible things that have happened have still happened, but the suffering is altered. A person has an experience that they are not alone in some fundamental way, an experience of an answer to one of the most profoundly religious questions that we can ask, whether we really are alone here in the universe, an answer that feeds one's soul, for our children an answer to a question they may not yet know consciously that they have, an answer we can bring "down here where all ladders start," as the poet Yeats said, "in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart."
In one of my first books I told a -- a little story about Rifka that I want to share with you. She was an older Eastern European Jewish woman and her English was filled with her accent. Her language I might need to do a quick gloss on, since I'm guessing you don't all speak fluent Yiddish. "Kreplach,” I notice it’s not on the room service menu here, is a doughy noodle dumpling kind of thing. And a "schmaltz" is actually chicken fat, as she means it. "Mazel" means luck, as in "mazeltov,” good luck. I also want to say, so you won't be put off by it that she uses the word "idiot" in a kind of old-fashioned, classical, clinical sense to refer to a very mentally disabled person. She does not mean it, I don't believe, in any derogatory or uncompassionate way. So here's an effort to get her voice here a little into the room.
"I vas at the superduper food store last night, came
home, the whole family, my boys vat are away at college and my daughter with
her husband that doesn't work, I should bless him. So I am making for my Harold like he likes
it, kreplach to eat and vita for my Louis that came home for the weekend with a
girl a matzoh ball soup with schmaltz.
And what should happen? I need
the aggravation? There is no
schmaltz. I got a houseful of guests, a
fancy girl from
I want to show you another picture. This is from Breughel the Elder. It will look to you just kind of like a landscape or a seascape, but it is actually as narrative a picture as might be and in order to get the narrative, you have to see that in the midst of this whole picture there in the lower right-hand corner, something very strange, two fleshy legs in the water, and this is a painting that is called “The Fall of Icarus.” And the poet Auden celebrates this painting in one of his poems and he said that the old masters captured an essential truth about suffering, that it is momentous to the sufferer, but the rest of the world just carries on and takes no real notice. In his own words in the poem he tells us to look: "How everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster. The bowman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure. The expensive, delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on." The world of the picture, the so-called "truth" that Auden commenced to us is to my mind a world without God. But the absence of God in this picture for me is not that a divine and protecting hand fails to enter the scene just before Icarus is about to plunge into his drowning depths. To me, the absence of God in the picture is precisely as Auden says, "how everything turns away." What if the good news it not that a God will save us from sorrow or suffering or even ruin? What if the good news is that we are not forsaken, that we are not alone, that we are attended to, accompanied, a truth that lives alongside Auden's truth, this oscillating pulse of our own soul, this interplay of desolation and consolation, of wilderness and reunion which we heard about in this morning's service. "And where is this God," your children will ask you, your teens will ask you. "Can I see him? Can I touch him?" And I believe the answer to this is emphatically yes, though I'm not sure how quickly I would tell them. Rather, I would want them to experience it. The old rabbis teach that the best reply to the child who tells us bravely or defiantly, "I don't believe in God," is this. "What you think is so interesting to me. Can you describe a little this god to me you don't believe in?" And then the child might say, "Well, I don't believe in a god with a big long beard. I don't believe a god who sits up in a heavenly throne." As the kids I know might say, "I don't believe in a god who looks like the old rabbi who only shows up for Yom Kippur services." And the rabbis say that's their time for their stunning reply, "Well, neither do I." And so a new kind of conversation can begin.
There's an old story some of you may know, but it's worth repeating and remembering about Upright John, a God-fearing pillar of his community who lived by an enormous river which, when our story begins, is already swelled to its banks. The weather bureau forecasts a terrible storm. It warns all those who live near the river to evacuate their homes and move to higher ground. But John's view about this is, "I am a man of God. God will take care of me. I don't need to move." When the storm comes and the river begins to flood and the water is near John's doors, the city fathers pay him a personal visit. "John, we are concerned for you. You've got to go." And John replies, "God will take care of me. I'm fine right here." And when the flooding covers the first floor and an emergency rescue boat comes up to the house, John calls out from the second-story window, "God will take care of me. I'm a man of God." And when the flooding covered the second floor and John sat out on the roof of his house and an Army helicopter comes and hovers over him and a rope ladder's dropped and a bullhorn announces, "John, you must come how. Grab hold of the ladder," and John refuses. "I am a man of faith. I walk with the Lord. The Lord will provide." And when he died and met his maker, he was angry and despondent. "My Lord, I've walked in your light all of my days. How could you not provide for me in the hour of my greatest need?" And God said, "Not provide for you? I sent you the town fathers, an emergency rescue boat, and an Army helicopter. What more did you want?" "You were attended to," the Lord said to John.
We are attended to, but sometimes we cannot see it or feel it. Your faith will have children if they are well held, if they feel well held, if the person we are holding is not just a person of our imagination, but the person who is actually there in front of us. It may be helpful to remember, as my own field teaches, that as the self grows, the very context of holding needs to change. There's not a more iconic image in the world's art than the Madonna and Child, Mother and Child. This is a delightful secular version of the Mother and the Child in the bathtub. In infancy when the whole physical world is an extension of the self, when there's no division between me and not-me, the mother, her gaze, her enfolding arms are an extension of the infant. Here's holding literally and physically. There may be no greater gift the mothering one can bestow on the infant than the non-anxious bodily response to the child's own distress, the child's first suffering. A baby cries, it's worth remembering, every day, often more than once. And it's interesting to think about the difference between comforting a baby to make it stop crying, and comforting the baby to just be with the baby in the baby's distress. Every therapist knows that our most costly feelings are not really our bad feelings, our feeling a wreck, but our feelings about out bad feelings, our feelings about being a wreck, and what do we learn about being in distress when we are joined in it only to sort of make it go away? That when we are in distress, we are somehow not ourselves, that we are somehow out of faith with who we actually are, or that we are still every bit as much ourselves, still every bit as much included, still every bit as much a part?
The young child -- a quick tour here through the lifespan or through the children's years. The young child of three to four has begun to make distinctions between itself and others in the physical world, but psychologically the membranes are still quite permeable. Maybe you've had the experience of having a young child come up to you and continue a conversation with you that they must have begun in this own heads. They come and say, "So then what did you and Johnny do after that?" You have no idea what they're talking about, but they've been thinking about you in their heads and then you happen to appear conveniently enough and so they continue the conversation, a good example of how in early childhood at a psychological level we are still sharing one mind, one heart. Now the child is well held not only physically, or even primarily physically, but through the direct accompaniment of the child's quite unitary feelings. We call them the "-ads" in psychology: mad, glad, sad, "Ooh, that hurts so much. Ooh that just kills," direct response of a child's unitary feelings. By seven or eight years old, the child is more in charge of herself. When my daughter was little, we had her in a bedroom that must have been like a library in an earlier day in this old house 'cause it was all open shelves. We thought it would be a nice room for her. She could see her clothes, her toys, and she did love that bedroom when she was little, but when she got to be six or seven, she started complaining she didn't like her room anymore, it's a baby room. Finally one night I said, "Well, okay," you know, "what can we do about it?" Well, she wasn't sure and then, like a light bulb went off over her head, she suddenly exclaimed, "Drawers. I want drawers." And this is not a bad metaphorical comparison between earlier childhood and later childhood, the psychological shape of the self from the open-shelf-self, where we're sharing one mind and one heart, to the self that now has a certain containment, the drawer-self that has a certain privacy that can let you in or not let you in, that can hold things and contain things. And what I'm implying here is that suffering is done by a self and the self, ah, is a different window into suffering as we grow and develop and it may help us to know something of these different windows in.
So this older child, the seven or eight year-old, more contained, more in charge of itself, actually needs that self held in the form of our empathy. I remember once when my son came home, he was about seven, looking very downcast, obviously upset about something, wasn't so sure he wanted to tell me about it, and finally he told me that he had had an embarrassing experience, that he was out on the playground on a day after it had been raining, there were a lot of puddles. He'd fallen down and his pants got wet in the middle of his body so it looked like he'd peed in his pants and kids were teasing him. And my first response to him was, "Oh, that must have been so embarrassing." And he looked right at me and said, "Dad, don't talk to me like a psychologist." In psychology we call that an "empathic break.” And, you know, I stopped for a moment. I found that actually uncomfortable. Here I was trying to extend myself to him and he was totally rebuffing me. It's a good example because I had the best intention to hold him in some way in his experience, but the him in my mind that I was holding was really not what felt most like the self and I had to kind of remind myself he was a bigger kid now, he was in his own little way needing to be more in charge of himself. And so the grace of this, you know, is that people will give you another chance and so I said to him, "Oh, you had to just stand there while they said these things to you and not let them see how much it was bothering you?" Now, I hope you can hear the difference -- I was tuning in to him having to handle the feelings rather than just directly to the feelings themselves. "And you had to just stand there and you had to handle all that stuff," and that just led to a whoosh of response. "Yes, and then this and then this," and there was none of this, "Don't talk to me like a psychologist," because I had actually joined him and made some space that helped him kind of keep naming his experience.
In adolescence, this little executive breaks open to itself. The self becomes more in conversation with itself. Here's a quick contrast. We asked kids how they would describe themselves. Just think of this eight year-old description, "How would I describe? I got brownish, ah, ah, brownish-blondish brown hair, brown hair. I've got blue eyes and I'm medium in height. My favorite computer game is Atari. I have a little sister. I'm mad at her. I'm smart. I'm very smart actually and I color neat. And I like BLT sandwiches and I like everybody who likes me. And especially my friend Robby." Okay. Here, we have a 16 year-old answering the same question, "How would you describe yourself?" "Well, I'm becoming like much more confident. I used to be just like super insecure and stuff, I mean really self-conscious. And now I like myself much better and I think other people like are more comfortable with me and like me better, too, you know what I mean?" You've got to get the head flip in there when they say that. You can just hear in that. You know, it's not just bigger words or whatever, you can see the self reflecting on itself and that new capacity, ah, allows the self to begin to internalize and align with and know itself whole through its connections with, its loyalties to the persons and communities and values that are available and worthy of cherishing. And that suffering self may need -- does need -- the same good holding, but, again, the self is forming itself in a new way, may need to know especially in its suffering that it is still included, that it is not cast out, that is it not thought about by others in some diminished way, that I've not violated some article of faith, I can continue to be a part of and included in something precious.
So it might be true that we can enhance our power to hold by learning more who's on the other side, holding not just the person of our imagination, but the person who is really there. A prospective parent as prospective parents or spouses, we are often people filled with love for the child of our imagination, for the partner of our imagination. If only that would then be the child who comes along, we would be the perfect parent. The profoundly humbling nature of long-term loving relationships is that often just the way we might know to love and prefer to love is not what will do it for the other person, for the child or the spouse. And the great embarrassment of the miracle of human development is that we can get a fix on our child and then, you know, durned if they don't go and grow on us. And what felt like good holding to them no longer does. "Dad, don't talk to me like a psychologist." Four years earlier he wouldn't have said that to what I'd said to him. Mark Twain said, "My dad knew everything when I was ten. He knew nothing when I was 15. When I was 21, I couldn't believe how much the old man had learned in just six years."
So it can help to understand who's on the receiving side. What the eye sees more clearly, the heart can hold more nearly. And the nuances of this, it would be good if we could not start a course together for the next 12 weeks. The nuances of this are not well taught in a single reflection like this one, but I would commend to you a new kind of curriculum that might be something of a mix between your own kind of CPE -- clinical pastoral education training extended much more broadly to all leaders and teachers within the church, because I think that's a very powerful way to learn about, discover the whole work of attending and empathy, combined with, in this new curriculum I'm making up for you here, a kind of orientation to the field that tends to be called "constructive developmental psychology" because it attends to our ways of constructing meaning and the ways that those constructions, ah, grow and change over a life span. That would be, I would think, a very powerful, very novel kind of curriculum for enhancing this kind of capacity for good holding. The main point I'm trying to make is that if you want your faith to have children, you must think, "How can we provide for them the special experience of being well attended to that is so extraordinarily nourishing, and is in too short a supply?" The idea of the church as a holding environment, understanding the sacred in the act of attending.
I often ask parents to keep a log even for a few days of the nature of their responses to their children. Most people are astounded by how much of their conversation is essentially managerial, instructive. "Do this now." Restrictive, "Don't do that." Interrogative, "Have you done this?" Cautionary, "Be careful not to." Even when we find our responses the more definitely helpful, they're predominantly the familiar forms of helping, offered solutions, the gift of our analytic minds, advice, the gift of our wisdom, reassurance, the gift of our own faith or optimism, consolation, the gift of our sympathy, genuine accompaniment, just being there with our children and attending maybe a few seconds a week. It's too rare to be in the company of another person about whom I feel not just that the person is friendly, on my side, attends my good, but understands what my experience feels like to me, walks with me for a few moments in my journey and its depths. And what if this kind of company is a holy light? Its warmth divine? Sometimes flickering, sometimes burning brightly? In every synagogue of every denomination in Judaism throughout the world you will find the Ner Tamid, an everlasting light, a flame that never goes out.
But it seems to me that any meditation on suffering offered before you must return before it ends to that central image of Jesus on the cross, not just because it is so powerful and enduring an image of suffering. Again, I hope it's not offensive to hear a reading of your own religious materials from the person of a neighboring faith, but what seems so everlasting to me about the image of the cross, what continuously creates the possibility of its aliveness in each present moment is not the suffering so much that it depicts, but the attention to suffering that it commands or compels, that the central drama is not just the one on the cross that went on then, which we can remember, but the drama between the cross and the person who beholds it today, something that goes on right now and which summons our attention and calls us to respond. Your sacred narrative is that Christ is saved, lifted up, resurrected by what? Well, by God, you would say, but there are many ways for that one powerful narrative to be read, to be interpreted. God might come in many forms, some as real, as palpable and no less resurrective than being lifted up by Rifka's tears for another mother, the lifting up of the town fathers and the Army helicopter, the lifting up of a church at work to be a holding environment, holding and beholding, a lifting environment. And I want to thank each of you for your willingness to hold me in the surrounding space, the good company of your attention, this morning. Thank you. Thank you.
BISHOP CHANG: This
morning we were invited to begin to think of our identity, our vocation, and
mission, and then we were invited to build a container in which we could have
conversations and, again, authentic engagement.
And hopefully your track communities will be that authentic place where
you can begin to create attending environments and to share more about the conversations
that began in this room. Stop by the
Last summer at the Episcopal Youth Event in