We don’t often think about ‘flourishing’ in the same sentence as ‘death’ or ‘dying’. But perhaps flourishing does not always depend on the state of our physical health?
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann suggests it doesn’t: “True health is found in having the strength to live, the strength to suffer and the strength to die.” He goes on: “Health is not a condition of my body but the power of the soul to cope with the varying conditions of the body.”
Whilst the NHS is charged with the responsibility of dealing with disease and ill-health to try to improve health and flourishing, we as the Church have a different charge. I believe part of this charge is to build communities of faith where human flourishing is experienced and developed through environments that offer and value relationship, compassion and care. These are communities which embrace the totality of our need. We might, therefore, define health not so much the absence of disease, but to be in body, mind and spirit, emotions and relationships, as God intends us to be.
In a Church with an increasingly aging population, which is also, in many places, experiencing steady decline, how do we identify flourishing and health? I believe we can, but at times we might need some help in doing so. In the last six months, I have attended three funerals and visited many ministers who are struggling with ill health, physical or mental. I have spoken with people in ministry who are facing challenging personal and family situations, and I have met with others who have found themselves facing all sorts of consequences as a result of their own actions and mistakes.
In all of these situations, I have had the privilege of sitting alongside people in their pain, grief, questioning, frustration, anger, despair, and hope. As I have journeyed alongside these people I have been reminded of the truth of Moltmann’s words. I have seen flourishing in the most unlikely places. I have witnessed the flourishing that has come from individuals facing the voids and the suffering in their lives, and in that process finding the face of God.
Facing the challenges and voids in our lives can be painful, even overwhelming at times. However, when we are able to do this alongside another, in a relationship of trust and confidence, we can move from the surface of life to a place of depth that gives us space and courage to sit with uncertainty and painful truths and reach towards new possibilities and growth. Pastoral Supervision can offer such a process. In his book, Courageous Conversations: The Teaching and Learning of Pastoral Supervision, William DeLong speaks of Jesus and how his life and death reveals a God who is seeking to “let flourish”.
“Jesus is the one who establishes relationships in the ground of Being. Jesus, the one who made Being known to us, engaged in a way of relating which ‘let’s flourish’. The level on which Jesus interacted with people forced them to focus on his deepest identity and their own…”
As you continue to walk alongside those to whom you are called to serve and minister, I encourage you to ask yourself the questions: ‘Who is walking alongside me?’; ‘Who is asking me courageous questions?’ We recognise that, in our current context, the pressures on those in ministry are many, the harvest may be plentiful but the workers are few (and becoming fewer). Yet, despite the challenging times, there are signs of flourishing everywhere; sometimes we just need some help to see it – and to identify it in ourselves.
This article was originally published in “Flourish in the Desert”.