The Institute originally published this post on May 6, 2015, on our previous website. Here, we are honored to welcome guest blogger Rev. Dr. David Holyan, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, St Louis, MO.
As I came to realize that the foundation of my call had collapsed beneath me, I'm thankful for the grace-filled work of a wonderful spiritual director and a compassionate therapist, both of whom created space for me to wander around in my brokenness, and for a spouse who loved me in my darkest moments.
While doing graduate work in theology, I stumbled upon the word bricolage. The dictionary defines it as “construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand.” The basic idea is you create beauty or meaning out of whatever you can find lying around. As the 'sureness' of my prior convictions lay in waste within me, my spiritual director, my therapist, and the Holy Spirit provided space for me to meander around in the ruins of my soul and pick up some fragments that made sense to me. Three of those fragments continue to nurture my sense of vocational well-being: Psalm 23, serving on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's National Response Team, and John 10:10-11.
I had always read and understood Psalm 23 as beginning with verse 1 – The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want – and that the stillness and restoration of the soul adequately was prepared prior to entering the valley of the shadow of death. But in the dark shadows of my soul, as I searched for some sense of vocational identity, I realized that for me, Psalm 23 had to start at verse 4, be read to the end, and then finish with verses 1-3. I realized the promise of the psalm was unfolding very slowly for me. Months in the valley unsure of any presence of the Holy and then, small glimpses of God being with me. The table of blessing was set in the midst of my enemies, doubt and fear and anger were not removed prior to experiences of blessing – they were displaced. I have come to realize, appreciate, and love how Psalm 23 needs to be read in the round, again and again, so that no matter what is happening in my life, I can step into the cycle of dark valleys, comfort, blessing in the midst of struggles, an affirmation of goodness and mercy and belonging, and, finally rest and restoration of my sense of call.*
Serving on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's National Response Team
In the fall of 2009 I was invited, in the midst of my brokenness, to join with volunteers within my denomination and primarily respond to human-caused disasters. The day after the shooting in Kirkwood, two members of PDA's National Response Team were in town to help us out. Now I'm one of those getting on a plane and flying into the chaos of unexpected disasters. My first major assignment was the shooting in Tucson, AZ.
Being deployed in the moments after a human-caused disaster allows me to practice the ministry of attentive presence when the pathway forward for a suffering community is not yet clear. You are never sure what you will be attending to. Will it be the shooting or some prior unresolved trauma community members are now recalling? Learning to stay open, in the midst of so much pain and energy, and discerning what to attend to and what to let go is an art. Serving in Tucson began a process of redeeming the pain I held within. While it was not easy to step from my own experience of gun violence into another community's experience, I believe I was able to provide assistance in ways that encouraged and supported others in their moments of deep need.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd.” These words from Jesus are etched in the dirt of my soul. One of the gifts I received in healing after the Kirkwood shooting is an appreciation for the moment and a diminished concern for tomorrow and the future. With Jesus' affirmation of 'abundant life' without guarantee for how long that life will be, the reverberations of Ps. 23, I continue to ponder: what does it mean to live abundantly and appreciate the goodness of the shepherd in a world that can end (for me) in an instant? For me the answer is to be attentive to 'the now' and thankful for all.
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