Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The parish visitor of a denominational church referred the Byrnes, a family of seven. At its head, Mrs. Byrne herself, with hair almost white (though she is less than forty), clear skin, rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes looking through spectacles, soft voice-a Barrie-like type of homemaking Scotch woman. Her three stalwart boys by a former marriage to a skilled Scotch artisan, who, having been killed in the Great War, left an honorable civic and war record. Her second husband was an American, two years her junior, who enlisted in Canada in the early part of the war, and who suffered nerve-racking experiences, beginning with shipwreck in an early phase of his service and ending with shell shock in the last phase. They met in Scotland and were married two years after her widowhood. Their two boys are aged six and four. The elder has the mentality of an infant.

The record from the start is a noteworthy example of skilful diagnosis and resourceful treatment. The characteristics are noted and plans made to meet the physical and mental, the recreational and vocational, needs of each member of the family. The strain existing between Mr. Byrne and his stepsons, his inclination to drink in times of stress, his evident feeling of inferiority, the poor influence exerted over him by his own relatives, who are of meaner stock than that from which Mrs. Byrne comes, the fact that they, though Mr. Byrne's membership has lapsed, are Roman Catholics-each of these factors is given due weight. Frequent conferences are held with the church visitor, and note taken of the minister's periodic visits in times of sickness.

The secretary states, however, that it was not until the theological student recently began his visits, that the family's deeper wants were revealed. I wish I could transmit the impression I got from the record and from the secretary's comments of the plumbing of those depths.

Mrs. Byrne had been persuaded to go to a hospital for examination, and had, after a short stay, returned home with the diagnosis of cancer and the expectation of no more than a year to live. In her brief absence, Mr. Byrne, terrified by what she would have to endure and overwhelmed by his sense of incompetence, had begun to drink hard. The sons were angry with him and terribly discouraged. The helpless child was more than ever a care. Defeated, as he himself seemed to be, Mr. Byrne turned to the student in behalf of his wife, asking if there were not someone who could talk to her about God. He explained that her mother had taught her to hide her troubles from the world. She had been reticent with the church visitor and the minister when they made their frequent calls. Her neighbors knew what she had had to endure, but she made no admission to them. With these clues the student went to see her again. He came to realize how homesick she was for her own people, how she yearned to get back to her native heath. He saw her planning to keep her husband away from a sister who tempted him to drink, and studying to make a move which would bring him into a different setting and enable him to use to advantage his knack as a handyman about a house. One day, the student says, she asked him, "Why does all this sickness come to us? I've prayed and prayed." "It was from a motherly neighbor," he adds, "that I heard later the words which I should have said myself, and I think they helped me, who had made stumbling efforts, quite as much as they helped Mrs. Byrne." Realizing his own inadequacy in the face of Mrs. Byrne's spiritual need, he drew into the circle a clergyman who had been trained to appreciate the case work method and who had a wider religious experience than his own. They together strengthened the faith of each member of the family, using prayer as a vital force. They made special effort to develop in the boys, at this crucial period in their lives, their innate disposition to be serviceable, drawing them out of their preoccupation with the problems of the home through an opportunity offered, in a neighborhood club, for them to befriend young sailors on shore leave.

"The things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" became a portion of the day's experience in the home over which death brooded, but not, we can believe, as a conqueror. Revivifying life flowed through the family's veins. The force of the affection of the members one for another, fed by the undying, the revived, sacrificial energy of the woman as wife and mother, kept the family in touch with reality, drew them into the current of infinite possibilities of growth. There

was no proselytizing on the part of secretary or student or clergyman. Inherited and assumed church affiliations were held in reverence. There was no interference with the pastoral visits of the minister of the church to which Mrs. Byrne and her sons belonged. But there was a trilogy working together: a family in spiritual need, a district secretary alert to find a new medium for relieving acute distress, a volunteer in position to point the way.

I should be false to my experience if I left the impression that the mature and apt practitioners in our case work ranks have minimized the importance of spiritual factors, or have lacked ability, or have failed to make direct, religious contacts with clients. I refer you for instances to the chapter on "Dynamics" in The Art of Helping People out of Trouble. But there is justification, I am confident, for the recent comment of another theological student: "Social workers have been inclined to regard religion as an interesting frill on the edge of life, which can be isolated and left alone without serious loss; to regard the clergyman in his major capacity as negligible, and of concern only in his minor capacity as a social worker."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

In view of our having been living in a period when there has been reticence in discussing the ways of God with men, lack of reliance on religious training and discipline, a tendency to turn exclusively to science for leads, the time, in my judgment, has come (I repeat for the purpose of emphasis) when the student in religion should be asked to show social case workers how to draw on religion as a source, in some way comparable with what practitioners in other professions have disclosed. The corollary is that the church, as an institution rooted in social life, needs for its own sake to become acquainted with case work method and findings, and to make an unprejudiced evaluation of what these have to contribute to the pastor.

These statements I would underpin with another of basic importance to social case work. The making of spiritual contacts, the achieving of spiritual adjustments, cannot be delegated as a task for some other group to perform. No worker true to the profession would admit such; none would fail to realize that to take such a position-that of transference of responsibility for helping to effect spiritual growth—would presage the decline and fall of case work as a distinctive profession. Every case worker worthy of her salt is striving to gain mastery of objective factors in order that the spiritual energy of the inner man may be released, that personality may have sustenance on which to feed. No case worker loyal to the possibilities of the profession has failed to ask of herself the question, after a client's physical sufferings have been relieved and the sufferer stands, as Josiah Royce' put it, "once more on the threshold of life, What can one do to give him life itself?"

Many case workers, whose efforts to develop the personality of others have been sustained and thoughtfully considered, have learned to understand that because "personality is the capacity for fellowship," the scope of personality

The Philosophy of Loyalty, p. 153.

William Temple, Bishop of Manchester, Christ the Truth, p. 64.

includes relationship not alone with one's fellows, but with God himself. That the good to attain for one's client, for one's self, is an inclusive fellowship, whose dimensions are boundless, durable, timeless.

We know that we ourselves must ascertain what makes for spiritual value; that we ourselves must find the answer to the question, What is life? that we must come into fellowship with God. In so endeavoring we of necessity must turn to religion; we can and should draw on the church as an organic body with a rooted experience of human nature; we should come to rely on the data it may furnish, as we have effectively relied on the data provided by other professional bodies. May we not, from religion and from science, acquire the quality of steadfast waiting upon results which characterize the fine exponents of each? May we not become the truer artists as with patience and hope we do wait on that we see not?

THE BACKGROUND OF A FAMILY'S RELIGIOUS
LIFE AS SOCIAL DATA

Lucille K. Corbett, Case Supervisor, Family Service Society,
Columbus, Ohio

Mrs. Glenn's paper brings to my mind the close analogy existing between our use of the term "background" and that of the field from which the word is borrowed.

The background of a portrait seems a relatively unimportant thing. Aside from a certain pleasurable consciousness of light and color, we are never more than vaguely aware of it. But we need only try to visualize the portrait with the background blotted out to appreciate the integral part the latter plays in the picture's harmonious wholeness. Sunlight through an open window, crimson hangings, the fold of a cloak, hands, hair, eyes (for these are backgrounds, too, in a certain sense) serve as a medium to express the idea in the mind of the artist. He has no desire merely to reproduce faithfully the accidents of dress or feature. What he is concerned with is to capture the essential quality, the characteristic factors of personality-the soul, if you will-of his subject, and to interpret on canvas, by means of line and color, this moment of beauty and understanding. His use of background is a means to this end. The picture could not live without it.

The case worker, I have been thinking, is an artist in her own way. She too must look beneath the surface of things, the accidents of birth and race and education, and see into the man himself. She must come to know his desires, impulses, ambitions, disappointments, temptations, prejudices, and anxieties. But it is only through a skilful process of unraveling the external wrappings of his life that the hidden man is finally revealed.

"I am a part of all that I have met!" sang the old Ulysses in perfect truth.

And if for him experience was an arch through which gleamed the untraveled world whose margin faded forever as he moved, for the case worker the experience, the life history, of her client must be the arch through which she must travel backward in search of knowledge and understanding of him. The journey, she recognizes at the outset, can never be actually completed. But while with each step bewildering new vistas open up before her, each step likewise brings her a little farther along the way.

There is this difference between the task of the painter and that of the case worker. The latter's work is never finished; by the very nature of things this must always be so. She does not deal with life at a particular moment, as the artist does. Her concern is to understand and interpret it in a state of perpetual motion and activity. For her backgrounds, both her own and the client's, are continually changing. Her canvas is so broad as to be almost boundless. The very scope of it, while it presents unlimited possibilities, is not a little baffling. There is so much to know about the life of even one human being before she can hope to understand him, and the pressure of many things is so great that it is discouragingly impossible, oftentimes, to cover the space assigned to her. There is little opportunity as yet in case work for the close, fine, meticulous work of the painter of miniatures. The best that most of us can do is to make hasty sketches, block in our backgrounds roughly, keep moving on with the unfolding panorama of life, and hope for a time to come when we can go back and finish the picture.

Mrs. Glenn has very properly pointed out to us a portion of background that has had at best altogether too scant attention from us. It is strange that case work should so tardily recognize the importance of understanding the backgrounds of a family's religious life, for nothing clings so tenaciously or is more deeply rooted. It is true of all experience, but particularly true of religious experience, because it goes so deep that it is never lost altogether. It may be overlaid for the time by other happenings, as a Rembrandt may be covered over by an inferior painting, and come to light only when a skilled artist sees the signs of the genuine picture beneath; it may have sunk beneath the surface of the individual's everyday existence, may be unrecognizably changed in form, perhaps, but it still lives on, an inextricable part of him, a force that must forever be reckoned with.

An approach to an understanding of the difficulty between John and Ellen Davis was simplified at the outset because the worker recognized the necessity of obtaining a picture of the differing religious backgrounds of the two young people. Ellen was impulsive, warm-hearted, quick-tempered, Irish, and a Catholic. She was a city-bred child, who had grown up in the wholesome give and take of a large family and had been sent to a convent school until she was seventeen. Until she met John her life had been directed by three major interests: home, school, and church. Her church afforded Ellen a joyous self-expression that amounted almost to a passion with her. John was taken into the

home of a maiden aunt after the death of his parents when he was six years old. His aunt lived in a small country town, in a spotlessly clean and precise little house, and did her duty by John, as she did everything, thoroughly and without flinching. One of her duties, as she saw it, was the boy's religious training, so John, not unwillingly, accompanied her to service every time the bell in the little wooden church rang out a summons. Religion to John's aunt was a serious business, and for the boy too it came to be a solemn affair, somewhat tinctured by the atmosphere of good clothes, stiff collars, and unwonted shoes and stockings. His churchgoing habits and the stern exercise of his religious duties lingered with him through his school days and after he came to the city. Then he met Ellen. The courtship was a brief one-too brief to be acceptable to the skeptical parish priest. But John studied Ellen's dog-eared catechism with persistence and tried very hard to understand her rhapsodies and in the end they were married.

It was two years later that Ellen, sobbing hysterically, came into the office of the society with a three-months-old baby in her arms. John had suddenly and quite unaccountably disappeared two weeks before, leaving a note to say that he would continue to care for the child, but would never return. The girl was dazed and bewildered, totally at a loss to account for the circumstance. They had always been very happy; they had never quarreled, she assured the worker over and over, never once in the two years that they had lived together. By dint of careful questioning the case worker learned that the young husband's affectionate attitude had been strangely altered of late. He had not been unkind, but silent, aloof, as though he were preoccupied. Ellen had thought it was business cares, and had tried accordingly to be unusually considerate. Yes, she could remember when he first began to act that way, because it was the time the baby was baptized. For some foolish reason or other John had kept wanting to put it off, and when she insisted they had come dangerously near to a quarrel. He had given in, of course, and she had forgotten all about it until just now. Understanding dawned in her eyes as she looked at the worker. Was it possible-but how could he refuse when he had promised before they were married that if there were children they should be raised in her church? Here Ellen stiffened defensively. Well, if that was what troubled him he could just stay away. She didn't want him to come back; and he needn't send any money; she'd take care of the baby herself.

The worker found John, as she had expected, in the home of his aunt in a nearby village. Her letters inviting him to confer with her about the situation were courteously acknowledged. He regretted that it was impossible for him to comply with her request. He sent money regularly to Ellen, which she promptly returned. It was not difficult for the worker to come to know Ellen well, for the girl was eager to be understood. Her family showered alike misdirected sympathy upon her and condemnation on John, both of which made her acutely miserable. Nevertheless she was planning to give up her home and move in

« AnteriorContinuar »