The Surprising, Unsought Gift of Sylvia

Can’t believe we’ve never posted a quote from Anne Long’s classic (and now sadly out […]

David Zahl / 1.11.17

Can’t believe we’ve never posted a quote from Anne Long’s classic (and now sadly out of print) treatise on Listening, much of which was inspired/informed by the work of her longtime mentor and teacher, the hallowed Dr. Frank Lake. The book is a must, not just for those involved in ministry, but for anyone hoping to traverse an increasingly divided world. Here’s an excerpt from Section 2:

41m7cmrifql-_sx314_bo1204203200_Looking back, we may well recall individuals who have meant something to us at particular, sometimes crucial, points on our life journey. For me, it was Sylvia Lake, wife of the well-known Dr. Frank, yet with an experience and contribution very much her own. I first met her when training as a Clinical Theology tutor. There was an honesty, humanity, wisdom and wholeness about her which were, for many of us, a ‘fleshing out’ of integrity. She was ‘fully human, fully alive’, in touch with both joy and pain. And, as I discovered  in the times when she listened to me, there was a quality of loving in her that was resilient, straight and unsentimental. Gordon Allport, the Harvard psychologist, said that love as described in 1 John 4 is ‘incomparably the greatest psychotherapeutic agent — something that professional psychiatry cannot of itself create, focus nor release’.

This was so with Sylvia. Certainly it was more than a collection of human qualities that attracted me, rather a uniting of them into what felt both personal and beyond personality. She was at home in her humanity yet at the same time pointing beyond herself. At various points when I have been depressed I have turned to Sylvia and been helped, not only by her good listening skills but by something deeper–the presence of grace and God in her. I can think of others who, in similar ways, have been given to me at various, often critical, points in my life. They may or may not have been trained in counseling skills, which has helped me to see that, [in the words of Alastair Campbell] “In the last analysis there is no cleverness or accomplishment in pastoral care. It is no more (and no less) than sharing with another in the experience of grace, a surprising, unsought gift.” (pg 44-45)