“Minding the Soul: Pastoral Counseling as Remembering” by James B. Ashbrook

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to remember the past well.  Remembering the past can be a joyful experience.  Remembering graduations, birthday parties, a first kiss, the birth of a child, a wedding day, that day that your boss said something nice to you, these memories can instantaneously put a smile on your face.  Remembering the past can also be a painful experience.  Remembering things like a separation or divorce, a break up, an illness, a lost loved one, a better time, can be very painful.

Ashbook published a book in 1996 that combined theology with the best that psychology and the neurosciences had to offer pastors on how the process of remembering works.  While some of the neuroscience may seem a bit out dated almost 20 years later, his work is still helpful.  It’s a great resource for pastors and parishioners alike.

This is a book about the spaces that pastors can help create where healing and remembering can take place.  “The task of the pastoral counselor is to mediate between the ‘principles and powers’ of systemic injustice and the relationship power of personal experience” (Askbrook, pg x). “Pastoral counseling enables people to remember who they are”. (pg xiii)

Ashbrook outlines what happens to the psyche and what happens in the brain when we are disconnected to others through our experiences of life.  He explains why so often people turn inward, why we have to break through our resistance to vulnerability and many, many different ways to see God working throughout this whole process and life itself.

Throughout the book, Ashbrook uses the symbol of a rock.  “If ‘rock’ is foundational, then ‘rockiness’ reflects unusable defensiveness and ‘rocklike’ suggest stable growth” (pg 13). How can we be more “rocklike” in our life?   He also includes stories throughout.

This culminates in an explanation of the need for sabbath, for rest.  However, it’s not a nap.  “… in its broadest sense [sabbath] is the integration and transforming activity of stories and soul, of meaningful memory and each person’s own unique identity in the service of community” (pg 180).

This is a very readable and approachable book.  There will be jargon from each field of study (theology, psychology, and neuroscience), but it will be well explained and it does not slow down the reading too much.  He writes through his experiences and he understand that pastors are people too.

This is a book written for pastors.  However, it’s a great read for anyone who is struggling with pain and disconnection and who is looking for how someone, anyone, (maybe God?), could be reaching out and offering a hand or a tissue.