Thursday, July 14, 2022

Called to be Story Listeners


Today we have the opportunity to live chapter 10 in Luke’s Gospel. I am sending you out to be story listeners. At a later time I would like to meet with you to discuss the stories you listened to . From St. Paul’s letters we learn experience centered is where we live the Gospel. Luke 9 and 10 provides the Gospel for the experience of Being sent out.


In chapter 9 we learn it’s imperative to train the disciples to continue the ministry of Jesus. Jesus trains by sending them out to do healing. Therapeutic is the Greek word for healing. The word has been brought in to English as therapy.  


Strongs concordance

the root of "therapy" and "therapeutic," usually involves natural elements in the process of healing.] story listening is about a natural as you can get. I could document from various research findings the healing dimension of story listening,  another time and another place. 


What is clear to me, Luke the physician sees their mission as therapeutic beginning in the 9thchapter. The Greek word for healing appears 43 times in various forms in the New Testament. Updating to our time, Story listening is documented as a mode of healing.  As story listeners and disciples of Christ we will continue the reality of healing as the Kingdom of God continues to break into our experience. After sharing their story some may be in a new place with different feelings, meta noia in the Greek, new mind.


The Context for the Gospel readings the last three Sundays is from what some call a Farewell address as Jesus begins his Journey from Galilee to Jerusalem in be crucified and on the third day rise again. The first of his three announcements to the disciples appear at the end of chapter 9. Luke makes specific the conversation with Moses and Elijah in the story of the Transfiguration also in chapter 9, where they discuss his departure. His leaving makes their being sent out to continue his ministry imperative. His leaving also gives meaning to the affirmation of Mary as having the better part. 


The sending out of the 70 in chapter 10 begins with a briefing as in a military mission. My sermon today is a short briefing for your story listening mission. I have been training folks in various ways for story listening beginning in 1966. This is my first time for sending out story listeners from the pulpit. All of us will be learning in the process. But like the Lord’s call you don’t start being fully prepared


In the briefing Jesus sends us out as innocent and vulnerable. Lambs among wolves. We have no idea ahead of time what we will find. And we are to shed our familiar supports in order to be more open to what we will hear. But the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.


The two stories that come next in chapter 10 can be linked together as the masculine and feminine models of caring, compassion, and listening. Listening continuously in the present is the main verb to describe what Mary does in the Gospel just read. 


The Samaritan story has an introduction that is essential to both readings, last Sunday The dialogue between the lawyer and Jesus has a central message. Relational is where life is centered. That is crucial. 


“Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” That is what is being lost and damaged in our present culture. How this came to be I don’t fully understand. The New York Columnist who has studied this and who writes about this doesn’t have the answer either. What he has been pursuing is how we recover the relational. Story listening is part of the recovery.


Recovery will be through the relational. Christ affirms this. Who is my neighbor? Jesus tells a story of a person wounded and in a ditch. Those who represent the authorities pass by. It is this rejected stranger who is the compassionate one. He goes further by involving the inn keeper. WE are witnesses to healing as well as collaboration. The story ends with Go and Do in the present imperative, Go and Do likewise continuously.   This is a fixit story which we can say is more masculine although we all have both characteristics within us.  


There were more women in the Befriender training and story listening group. More men came later And the training was more of a challenge. The Mary model of listening, staying with the story without fixing, was a transformation for both men and women. A doctor who became a Befriender probably said it best. “When I was a doctor I knew what I would say when I walked into the room, As a befriender I would find out what I would say.”


Let’s talk a little bit about Mary and Martha in todays Gospel. What did Jesus and Mary talk about.? Luke the physician doesn’t tell us what he wrote in the physician’s chart. I have a guess after being a hospital chaplain. He shared his preparing to die. Mary Listened and That was the better part. Mary by listening without trying to fix anything gave Jesus a healing experience as in the Transfiguration. And Martha’s part is affirmed for fixing the food in the midst of her distractions. Jesus makes it clear as to what he needed…. Someone to just listen.


Many of you are already doing/being story listeners. You have been blessed for listening, how often have you heard, thanks for listening. I heard it this week. It helps to tell the story. 


I like to say I help folks know what they already know but didn’t know they knew. What is unconscious is being made conscious. We were once deaf in our understanding but now we can talk about a life-giving experience through story listening. 


Heart to heart conversations have been documented in the scientific studies by James Lynch. The counselor and counselee were recorded with attached heart monitors. After transcribing the conversation and marking where they were really communicating Their heart rhythms fell In sync with each other at the places marked.


I will close with a story form a workshop on Luke 10 that involved two Sunday afternoon sessions. The story comes from the second session.


A man had taken his friend to the doctor’s office. On the way home the friend said, “I don’t think I have long to live.” The man said in response, “Don’t talk that way.” And then he shared his conclusion after some reflection. “I think I walked by on the other side.” He moved the Samaritan story to his own story. I said “you have made a good beginning. You can go back to your friend and say,  ‘the other day when you said you didn’t have long to live, can you tell me what you meant?’ Then you can move to the Mary model to stay with the story. No fixing. Listening in the present.”


In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.












Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Psychological Autopsy and the Unvaccinated

Psychological Autopsy is the title of number 4 of a monogram series. Written by Avery Wieseman and Robert Kastenbaum and published in 1963, we are going back a few years. Both are remembered for their work in researching grief. I heard both years ago at grief seminars. 

I was nine years into my experience as a full-time chaplain and I had already begun to train lay people as story listeners in the hospital. We were to find that grief stories in some form provided the main category of stories heard by the Befrienders. We started a grief resource group in January 1975 to study grief in its many aspects. Then in 1976 we started a grief recovery group which went through many different phases before I retired in 1992. Genesis Hospital has since closed the grief recovery program. 


I came across this book in 1971 on a Clinical Pastoral Education sabbatical at the Alcohol Treatment Unit, the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. This was a very helpful learning experience providing deep insights into the issue of both addiction and idolatry in Scripture. Also how alcohol is used as a pain reliever in handling grief and losses of all kinds in the craving of being better, even perfect. 


The counselors at the Alcohol Treatment Unity talked about fractional suicide. Addictions take their toll on our life expectancy, lowering the years we live. And with Alcohol Addiction, the terminal face is either DT’s or Kidney failure. The terminal phase would be different for others. Smokers often have pulmonary obstructive lung disease and obese often have a diabetic condition with complications. The sources of the health problem are part of the psychological autopsy in answer to the question: when did they start to die.


Sometime after my reading of the Psychological Autopsy I had a situation in the hospital emergency room which was a classic example. A man working at the Rock Island Arsenal had a cardiac arrest. A young medical intern who was assigned to the Arsenal began procedures to resuscitate. He worked during the ambulance ride to the hospital and continued in the emergency room. The wife arrived and I spend some time hearing her side of the story. Her husband removed himself from relating to his family, even his wife, although they lived in the same house, eating and work was his only activity. 


I had a chance to visit with the young doctor after the wife left the hospital. I heard his lament about not being able to save this man’s life. I then shared with him the story I heard from the wife and the monogram on the psychological autopsy. The question was evident, when did this man begin to pull away from life and relationships. I do not have that story. What I have is the story of his dying process which began long before his cardiac arrest. Was his cardiac arrest part of a broken heart experience, loss of purpose and meaning, etc. We have questions without answers other than there is an in-depth way of studying our dying process: the psychological autopsy.


I know about this first hand. When the family farm was lost in 1938 under questionable legal circumstances followed by my father’s inability to get an automatic calf feeder on the market, he began to register a depression that became chronic and next, manifesting itself in a heart attack leading to an early death. There is a parallel in the broken heart syndrome. His unresolved grief did encourage me to facilitate a grief recovery group for 17 years to provide for others what he didn’t have himself. And this week the newspaper carried a large article on the broken heart syndrome listing various causative factors.


Moving fast forward to the pandemic and 2000-2002 with various mutations of the covid virus we have misinformation, excuses for resisting being vaccinate, anti science, no mandates, etc. all potential behaviors that can lead to death from the virus and can be registered under the psychological autopsy. 


An unvaccinated person may carry a hidden weapon, the virus, which can be he the cause of their death or others. And those who distort the best information we have at a given time as we continue learn more, this is a process, they may unintentionally or even intentionally contribute to a persons death. Example: my brother in law had a person he worked with buy into misinformation. He refused to be vaccinated He came down with the virus and went to the hospital where he died. I doubt if misinformation will be found on the death certificate. I doubt if the name of an unvaccinated person who spread the virus will be found on the death certificate. If you ask the question, when did this person start to die as posed by my understanding of the psychological autopsy, you have many contributing factors not identified. The reality of this dynamic requires a serious look in how you define freedom.


There is a forensic psychological autopsy professional for suicide. My niece is giving some consideration to studying for that profession.



Marlin Whitmer


Sunday, February 6, 2022

Correction: No light at the end of the tunnel

 Way back when the expression "light at the end of the tunnel" was actually read in more than one place to describe what was happening we were hopeful the worst was over. Now how long has it been. I have lost track of time in this timeless journey with the pandemic.

I have lost interest in tracking the metaphors. What has taken over as the virus has gone through various mutations is polarized society almost along political lines with other variations. Misinformation has been rampant. Anti-science has even evident. Court fights of mandates, masks, vaccinations, etc. have been evident. 

For myself at 91 years of age the last few years have been a self confinement. I haven't been out to California to see my family for three years and they haven't been here. Because my grandchildren here didn't want to be vaccinated we didn't meet.  Now they have had the virus so that is their excuse for no vaccination. They have all kinds of excuses.  I haven't seen them for some time. Texting and email and phone conversations have replaced face to face. The family did try Zoom a couple of times. I don't feel like much a grandparent when I look back on the relationship I had with my grandparents. 

The pandemic has made the grieving process different. The accumulation of loss and the various losses have generated the biblical laments for naming the pain. This is where metaphors come in now. They name the pain.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Emergence of Story Listening

My introduction to story listening came in the summer of 1953 in a Clinical Pastoral Training session at Bellevue Hospital, New York City. Fred Kuether was our supervisor. He gave us the experience of story listening by listening to  our stories and seeking to see how we were staying with the stories we were writing down in the verbatim of remembered conversations, one a week for 11 weeks.  

The dialogical approach was reinforced at the Virginia Theological Seminary where Ruel Howe introduced us to Martin Buber's I Thou approach. He lectured in a dialogical manner as the content of the class was a shared experience between professor and students. He later wrote a book on the Miracle of Dialogue.

After ordination I began practicing story listening in difference parishes. I finished my needed quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education in 1964 at Bellevue in order to be certified as a Hospital Chaplain. A couple summers before that I service as night chaplain at Bellevue to test my calling. 

In 1965 I became a full time chaplain at St. Luke's Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. Story listening was my focus as I made visits with hospital patients and staff.

I came across a book by Chad Sarah, The Samaritans, during those first years. The book is about his beginning a suicide prevention group in London. As they began to see people in emotional distress, the people would gather in the undercroth of the church waiting to visit a counselor. Lay people began serving tea and engaging in conversation. Then the professionals discovered they only needed to see half of those coming. As a result the lay people became a part of the program. Half the book was the story of their beginning and the second half was about the different emotions of the people who came. They were the same emotional dynamics of many of the hospital patients.

With the book as background a person came to my office with a request. Mavoreen said, "The Auxiliary rule is we are not to visit with patients when we take the notions cart around. I think patients want to visit, how can we change the rule." The change didn't happen over night. When I proposed to the Administrator training lay visitors I encounter resistance, "we're only concerned with what takes place within these four walls." Getting involved with folks not part of the medical community was overstepping.  At a later visit as I persisted he made a proposal. I would have to get permission from the Auxiliary, nursing service, and the medical staff. The Auxiliary said yes, nursing service said we will go with the doctors decision, and the medical staff of the doctors took over an hour to decide and then they made a decision not directly related to what we were about to do. The Sisters of Mercy visit patients and they aren't ordained. I know this since the secretary of the meeting told me some time later. After retiring he took the Befriender training.  He said later, "As a doctor I knew what I would say when I entered the room, as a Befriender I would find out."

To be continued.



Wednesday, October 13, 2021

I say he was "religious!"


This is the picture of a horse and colt done by a pentalist artist. The drawing is done with a very sharp pencil making dots on the paper. The artist was invited to many horse shows to draw a memorable horse. There is more to the story of this picture than a horse show.

The artist was being treated for cancer and his daughter shared an observation with her father. You have never drawn a picture of a mother horse and her colt. He did not respond right away but he did begin. And the first drawing had the horse on one side of the drawing the and colt on the other. Then he drew another as his cancer progressed where the horse and the colt were closer together. His last drawing before his death was this madonna and child. 

He claimed to the end that he wasn’t religious. I say his drawing says otherwise. Religion from the Latin language is made up of two words re and ligio. We get our word ligament from the root word. And re is again and again. Re-runs, etc. Religion is how we connect with deeper meanings again and again. Maddona and child is definitely about a deeper meaning. 

The family had the funeral service at St. Peters Episcopal Church in Bettendorf. Iowa. I gave the homely and I had the picture propped up in a way so many could see it. His Faith journey is in the picture and his daughter’s invitation allowed him to make a powerful connection with compassion and love. The picture is an archetype transcending the mundane in a timeless way. 

The homely was longer but the distance of years keep me from reinventing all that I said. The gist of what I said is here.

More could be said, but for now let your imagination feast on this pencil drawing.

As one philosopher says, Susan Langer, our symbols are imbedded in us and they come out in music, art, and language.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

An Advocate for Physical Therapy: updated

Experience can be our teacher although you wonder sometimes how some people seem to learn so little from experience. The experience I want to commend comes from a number of sessions with a physical therapist. 

I asked my doctor for a referral to the location where Niki is the physical therapist. Annie, my wife, had been helped by the exercise to overcome some pain. My doctor made the referral and I was soon on Niki's schedule.

I wanted her to address the issues I have as I age. Balance was a major issue. The first time I had a series of 8 sessions also included help with back pain from a couple herniated discs in my back. I first experienced the pain in 2009. We are talking about 11 years with this ordeal. I have tried various approaches. Surgery was not on my list. I hear too many people have surgery without all of the best results. I don't know if it would make a difference. At my age in the 80's it was not an option and now I am 90.  Surgery is even less of an option.

Now at 91 I have been back to see Niki. I needed physical therapy after cateract surgery on my eyes. There were a number of limitations during that four week period with rules, no driving, no gardening, no lifting over 5 pounds, etc. I lost physical strength. To regain my strength Niki gave me some exercises and she returned to work on balance. Physical strength and balance are related. Now I am finished the physical therapy, I had to wait to drive for that. I have returned to the fitness center and I am getting my strength back. Best of all I am back in the garden where production is heavy with a number of plants. Green beans and tomatoes are especially productive as well and egg plant and several variety of peppers. 

We have a new fertilizer in our five raised beds, worm castings. A town over, LeClaire, has a worm factory in a garage. I buy by the pound now for my other plantings. More about gardening and worm casting later. Gardening is also physical therapy.  To be continued

Continuing with this addition.

I turned 92 on June 1, 2022. I have a new schedule for exercise. We go to the Fitness Center twice a week, usually Monday and Thursday. My wife is using an exercise guide called Ten X. For my age I am using an amended version. I have six resistance machines that I use with 3 sets of 12 each with the last sets going for failure. Aging has caused me to lose muscle mass. I am attempting to keep what I have left.

We are putting protein supplements in our smoothies. I have forty plants of Italian Kale. We use Kale in the smoothies. And I am freezing gallon plastic bags for future smoothies. 

I purchased on sale an exercise bike from Costco. A great price. I can register my steps on my iPhone. With the recent addition of a smart watch this will be easier for capturing all my steps. Sometimes I forget to put the iPhone in my pocket.

Bladder cancer has entered the picture. At present I am apparently clear. On April 4 they removed an aggressive cancer tumor. It was the third one removed, none have penetrated the wall of the bladder. Good news. I will have a bladder scope in July to see what is next. I am cutting down on coffee as directed by the doctor. The result is better sleep at night with fewer times for getting up. Eight hours of sleep is my goal. That is achieved most nights. My dog is being cooperative. He likes to wake me up at 6 AM for petting. Previously I have gotten up. Where he gets his dog clock for knowing the important times of his day I haven't figured out. The new arrangement with Foxy. He lays down again after the first early morning petting and has another snooze so I can have a concluding snooze. More petting and we come down stairs for his trip outside before food and my first cup of coffee.

Gardening continues to be a big part of our exercise. The exercise provides a lot of turning with raised beds where we can sit on the side to work. Many of the plants have been started from seeds under a three tier grow light. I have six summer squash, three varieties, started from seed that should produce in a couple weeks. With four 8 x 20 foot raised beds we will have plenty to share. We have already shared a number of heads of baby Romaine lettuce. Fresh is best. 

I get behind on the balance exercises from time to time so I have to get back in practice. I do catch myself from time to time when sports skills seem to be intact, wrestling and hand ball. My reflexes for catching items before they fall on the floor are still in operation.

Along with the above I will add the Anglican practice of the Daily Office. The discipline is becoming more important for peace of mind, connecting with the Transcendent and larger community, past and present. For 25 years the Chaplains and the Befrienders started our day in the hospital Chapel with a shortened form of the Daily Office at 9 AM. In Chapter 15 of St Paul's letter to the Romans he sees Scripture as a companion: "A Called one alongside." I agree. Physical Therapy and Spiritual Therapy are a unity, One.

Continuing with this addition: 6/23/2022

I want to thank those who reply to this blog. This blog seems to catch the eye of physical therapist.

Last week I tripped on my left foot (neuropathy) and my right leg kept me up right but took on all my weight. I needed help walking to the car. With a cane I was able to get around later. There was improvement, then the pain came back below my hip, back to the crutches. With a referral from my primary physician this coming Monday I will begin physical therapy again. 

So much for the introduction. There is more to be experienced.  Phenomological would be the philosophy involved. 

Marlin Whitmer

Retired Hospital Chaplain. 

A Wisdom Source

During my junior year in high school I came across an essay on wisdom. That did it. My interest and journey has continued to this day, now age 91.

The Celtic saying adds to the journey. "To journey with God, not knowing where you are going, but you will find out when you get there." The journey is intentional. 


 Song of Pilgrimage 

Before I ventured forth,even while I was very young,

I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.

In the forcourts of the temple I asked for her, and I will see her to the end.

From first blossom to early fruit,
she has been the delight of my heart.
My foot has kept firmly to the path, diligently from my youth have I pursued her.

I inclined my ear a little and received her I found myself much wisdom

and became adept in her.
To the one who give me wisdom I will give glory, for I have resolved to live according to her way.

From the beginning I gained courage from her, Therefore I will not be forsaken.
In my inmost being I have been stirred to seek her, therefore have I gained a good possession.

As my reward the Almighty has given me the gift of language.

and with it I will offer praise to God.

Translated from the Latin (Ecclesiasticus 51:13-25)