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How can clergy care for themselves?
What does self-care look like in this topsy-turvy world?
Can this be done without ignoring the real suffering of others, without hiding away in places of privilege?
I reflected on this question during the morning Hurricane Ida swept into Louisiana leaving devastation in its wake.
Thousands of people, including friends, were without power and were without it for several days.
Some lost everything to the flood waters.
The morning paper displayed a photo of a casket draped with the American flag as President Biden saluted with a grimace of grief as he held his wife’s hand as the nearby families of the deceased marines received the bodies of their children.
Nearly 90,000 people airlifted from their homeland became dependent upon the kindness of strangers all over the world.
That same paper had a full length story of the continuing surge of the virus.
For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic over 100,000 hospitalizations a day have been reported.
One can almost hear the wailing of anguish.
Pastors and clergy are standing in the gap, many feeling caught in a pincher grip as they seek to lead with wisdom and grace, knowing their own exhaustion and worry.
It’s an impossible task, yet they are summoned to be present.
Speaking of impossibility, a few minutes before I opened the paper that day, my friend living in Haiti, who lost several relatives in the earthquake of August 10, sent me a Facebook message asking “how are you, my brother?”
Hearing that question, I wondered what to say.
I had a vague, yet palpable sense of guilt envelope me.
How can I possibly answer him without appearing utterly insulated and clueless.
Worse, would anything I say be void of empathy or compassion for the plight of the those in Haiti, Louisiana, Afghanistan and elsewhere, including those in the pincher grip of leadership with divided communities?
That’s when it occurred to me the only option is to be honest – and grateful.
This is how clergy can practice self care.
Neither honesty nor gratitude sever me from compassion.
It is only necessary to be present in what one poet described as this “tilty world.”
This is the path to resilience, strength and courage.
I am not in a place of devastation so there is no cause for guilt.
It is an occasion for gratitude and a summons to compassion and the solidarity of prayer.
I spoke honestly to my friend in Haiti: “I am well. To say anything else would be a false attempt to convey empathy-out-of-guilt.”
My place in the world is here, and nowhere else.
It can always be here. The poet Mary Oliver says, to be fully present, paying attention, is prayer.
A peaceful morning is truly a gift.
My place in the world at this moment is where hummingbirds hum, apples fall ripe, squirrels leap limb to limb, the doe protects the faun grazing near the buck, and the last of the tomatoes hang full.
So much elsewhere is unsettling, troubling waters, fierce winds, rising fears, violence near, voices wailing.
This too is true.
Somewhere – here, now – is calm ordinary beauty and a dearly beloved dog still sleeps.
Nowhere but here is where I am; grace undeserved.
Roy Howard is the Dean of the Academy of Artful Leadership. He is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a certified facilitator with Healthy Congregations (Peter Steinke), and a certified trainer with the Holy Cow consulting group. He served for 32 years as a pastor in Kentucky, Virginia and most recently 18 years in Maryland. Roy’s deepest joy comes from working with individuals and groups as they seek generative ways to come alive, address conflict and discover the call of God in their lives. If you are interested in coaching or congregational consultation, contact him at <email@example.com> (301-318-2133) OR
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