Ministerial Reflection

The challenge of ministerial reflection is  “knowing what you see rather than seeing what you know.”  (Abraham Heschel on “Phenomenology.”)

The image to the left is a classic example of how our brain processes ambiguous information. Some people immediately see a goblet while others see two faces. Both perceptions are valid, but our brains make a decision about which image we see first. It takes intentionality to see the other. So it is with ministerial reflection. Our brains interpret what we see and experience, and our first impression is one way of understanding. In ministry, seeing the fuller picture requires intentional reflection in order to understand additional dimensions and nuances.

Eyes to See: An Exercise in Ministerial Reflection

Here is an exercise that underscores the point that Heschel made. When your student arrives to begin their internship invite them to take a walk with you in the immediate neighborhood.  Ask her or him to describe what they see as you walk along.  After the walk find a comfortable place for conversation and revisit the walk and share with your student what you saw. For example, where the student saw a colonial-style home and neatly trimmed lawn, you see the home of a performance-oriented family trying to hold themselves together after a child overdosed on painkillers. On the other hand, your student may note something significant that familiarity with the neighborhood caused you to overlook.

Multiple Lens for Reflection

Another way to think about the process of reflection is to imagine looking through various windows of a house. Look through the kitchen window and you see a variety of appliances, maybe a table set for dinner, or some cabinets. Look through the family room window and the view is very different. Perhaps you will see a TV, a computer station, or a sofa and chairs. Different rooms–but all in the same home. Each gives a unique perspective on the concept of “home.”

Seeing Gray

United Methodist minister Adam Hamilton illustrates the importance of being able to see nuances in complex situations in the short video below. Click on the image to begin.

A key role for the supervisor-mentor is to help students explore different ways of looking at a situation. Like the examples above, the route we take to look into the issue can make a significant difference in what we see.  Sometimes the breakthrough in reflection can come from a source we don’t even know we have! In his book, The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polyani, suggests that all knowledge has personal and tacit aspects. By tacit knowledge he points to tradition, inherited practices, implied values, and prejudgments. He offers important words for both supervisor-mentors and interns: “We can know more than we can tell.”

Next: A Case Illustration