The Meeting of the Waters - Pastoral Care at its best
About 8 miles from Manaus in Brazil two mighty rivers converge, they are the muddy brown and fast flowing ‘Solimoes River’ and the crystal clear but darkly tinted ‘Rio Negro’. Such is the difference in density, speed and constitution that these two rivers flow for over 6 Kilometers side by side before they finally blend together as the Amazon and continue towards the sea.
It has often troubled me that within the Christian setting, pastoral work is often undertaken as a stopping point. By this I mean that our expectations and intentions are for dramatic transformations in undramatic time scales. We find ourselves deeply pressured to ‘achieve’ a pastoral result in one meeting. Very often we are hurrying to the pressures of others within our congregations who are finding a persons lifestyle distasteful or behavior ‘unchristian’. A pastoral meeting can seem more like a police traffic stop, as a struggling individual is flagged down and some sort of immediate reversal is sought.
We tend to make much of the ‘journey’ model in our theology, but throw it out the window when it comes to issues of church order or pastoral care. Very often we say that church is accessed: “Belong, believe, change’ when what we actually demonstrate is, "Without immediate change, belonging is not possible!" Very rarely do pastors make healthy estimations for the process of transition and change in pastoral care, especially where mental health issues are also at play. Yet it seems that Jesus described himself as ‘The Way’ to indicate that journey was central to the Christian life.
What I love about the ‘meeting of the waters’ illustration above is that for 6 solid kilometers these two contrasting rivers merely travel side by side. If you see a photograph of this natural miracle you will be amazed at the distinctive split between the rivers despite their being no physical barrier holding them in place. The Meeting of the waters seems to me to be the perfect illustration of a healthy pastoral encounter:
Different speeds- The pastoral encounter requites the equalizing of pace in order for transaction to take place. No healthy pastoral work can take place if either pastor or client are traveling faster than the other. The Solimoes and Rio Negro co-exist until a parity of speed is reached.
Different temperatures- Very often clients have to warm up to the intrusions of pastoral ministry. They need to know that their pastor is trustworthy, gracious and filled with integrity. This work of warming up cannot be rushed but has to come about through repeated safe contact.
Different densities- One of the hardest aspects of good pastoral ministry is discerning the density of the material that is being brought into the encounter and the speed with which this material should be accessed. It is often not the wisdom of a pastor that makes them effective but the instinct they have towards pressing in or pulling away.
Different journeys- The Solimoes and the Rio Negro have taken different course and have different sources. Within the pastoral encounter recognition of difference is essential. The encounter is a privilege. It is a meeting of two life journeys which will inform and bless each other for their ongoing course. Respecting the story that has been, regardless of its content, its central to being offered the opportunity to speak into the present.
I pray that as you seek a ‘meeting of the waters’ with those you pastor, Christ might meet with you and give you courage to continue the journey of healing and restoration in His name,