Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets by Craig Rennebohm with David Paul
What do people need when their brain chemistry is out of balance, when their thoughts and feelings are in disarray?
Chaplain Craig Rennebohm asked this query as he began the outreach ministry of Pilgrim United Church of Christ* that took him into the streets of Seattle. There he walked side by side with people suffering from mental illness. He found the answer.
I introduced myself as a fellow human being, a neighbor, and offered to be present. I looked for small ways to create islands of safety, little spaces of sanctuary.
He concluded that the Spirit invites a partnership in the healing process, a partnership that, on the human side, involves medicine, counseling, and companionship.
Craig Rennebohm discerned the Spirit of companioning from biblical stories, insights from Jeremiah’s presentation of God as a gentle potter to the perceptivity of Christ when approaching Legion.
He learned the art of supportive companioning from the pastor who offered him the gift of a unique, listening presence. Craig’s own companioned odyssey through a serious brain disorder had begun years earlier:
Something had been desperately amiss within my brain, and yet God still held me in relationship. Always, Dick had care for my soul my deepest identity, my wholeness as a person, the source, roots, and ultimate horizon of who I am as a human being. I was not defined by my illness; I was more: I was a person struggling with an illnessâ€¦.
Founder of the Mental Health Chaplaincy, Rev. Rennebohm tells the Seattle story, his story and our story with such tenderness that no matter what ails us, we forgive ourselves for our own vulnerabilities. We are drawn toward a new sense of God-acceptance, self-acceptance and the inclusion of all.
Rennebohm’s journal is as God-intimate and moving as it is informative and practical. He offers a harvest of study and insight in understanding serious brain illness, the pilgrimage of healing, and the importance of companionship throughout the journey of suffering. His tender words refresh our definition of faith as we discern the gentleness of God who creates room for us to be present with one another.
Throughout its three parts, “The Movement of the Spirit,” “The Life of the Soul,” and “A Community of Tenderness,” Souls in the Hands of a Tender God reveals how our most basic beliefs and the language of faith speak to the challenge of serious mental illness and help us to shape healing and meaningful lives together.
Rennebohm travels now, nationwide and across the world, assisting both cities and faith communities in the creation of their own Plymouth Houses of Healing, communal support centers that care for and include the most fragile, vulnerable, and estranged among us.
As a person with disabilities I have seldom felt quite so accepted, quite so challenged to persist as an advocate companion, or quite so heartened that faith communities can own our capacity to create the changes that will meet the needs of persons with serious brain illnesses.
*See “Seattle Church Honored by UCC Disabilities Ministries” in United Church News, October-November, 2005 in Archives (Print Edition). www.ucc.org .
Beacon Press, May, 2008, $23.95, ISBN-13: 978-0807000427
Dee Brauninger, reviewer, and Craig Rennebohm sit on the United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries Board of Directors.