The biggest part of CPE is the process itself. It’s not a matter of learning something new and then showing that you’ve learned it, as in a typical classroom. You are the classroom and you are the textbook.
In fact, CPE and chaplaincy depend very little on knowledge. Rather it depends on wisdom, developed over time and only through experience. Many enter in to CPE thinking that either it will be like a college class or a small-group devotional. In my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The CPE group develops in a dymanic way, with each member of the group giving and taking with the ultimate goal of building pastoral identity and wisdom. That wisdom is not gained easily though, not just through navel-gazing or drum-beating.
John Patton in Pastoral Care: The Essential Guide writes “Pastoral wisdom involves our knowing, being and doing.” Sound profound? Yeah, did to me to. However it’s true, but here’s how I understand it.
Knowing involves not simply knowing a fact. In pastoral care, this knowledge is not just knowledge of scripture or doctrine. It is the knowledge of your self – strengths, weaknesses, history, pain, story, shames, successes and so on. CPE involves a great deal of this self-identification, which is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. I think lots of folks have experiences in CPE because they try hard to maintain false selves while the group or supervisor try even harder to tear that false self down.
Being involves accepting those things we are aware of through self-knowlege. Too often self-awareness leads to self-rejection, I think. The hard parts of my life are just a part of me as the good parts, yet I find I tried for so long to judge those hard parts as things to be set aside or avoided. I reject negative parts of myself as not really me, but that only sets up a false knowledge of who I really am. However when I accept my past and my self and my past without judgement I can use them both to work with others in the midst of their own story and pain, and also help them to see their own true self without judgement. This is not saying that sin isn’t sin or that “I’m all good”. It involves seeing myself as I truly am, not how I view myself or how I want others to view me – it is how God sees me. And in Christ, God sees me without judgement. I think that’s what grace is.
Doing is the acting upon that knowledge of who I really am, putting my self fully into interaction with others. This is the essence of pastoral care, but it can only happen after the knowing and the being.