Job's mangomoment

Ruminations from the trenches of a seminar on Job while at work in pastoral care, by Lieve Orye

“I had my mangomoment a long, long time ago. For Him it was a small gesture, for me it made all the difference. Totally unexpected, He simply showed himself in a whirlwind and reminded me of who He was and who I was. That He had been there, had cared for me since before the day I was born. Even more, He said I had spoken well, while my friends who ended up denying my innocence were told to have spoken badly. Since then things have changed dramatically, I sat up out of the dirt and ashes, found life again, life abundantly.”

William Blake - The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind'

William Blake - The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind'

Job’s friends: from presence to adding insult to injury

These days Job would not end up on a heap of dirt. These days he would end up at the doctor’s. Clearly Job’s friends did not medicalize Job’s suffering. At first, they sat with him, seven days, silently, because they saw that his suffering was very great. As Stanley Hauerwas sees it,

“that they did so is truly an act of magnanimity, for most of us are willing to be with sufferers, especially those in such pain that we can hardly recognize them, only if we can “do something” to relieve their suffering or at least distract their attention. Not so with Job’s comforters. They sat on the ground with Job doing nothing more than being willing to be present in the face of his suffering” (Hauerwas 1988: 78).

William Blake - Job rebuked by his friends

William Blake - Job rebuked by his friends

But then, Job cries out his misery. As Bruno Latour points out, in his discussion of the deep cry of the earth in Laudato Si, a cry “is not a message, a doctrine, a slogan, a piece of advice or a fact but rather something like a signal, a rumor, a stirring or an alarm. Something that makes you sit up, turn your head and listen.”[1] His friends, however, don’t hear the cry in his cry. His cry is heard as a question mark to an understanding of the world they hold dear and their response is to apply a causal moral model to his misfortune. Their theory of retribution results in pointing fingers, blaming Job for his own suffering, adding insult to injury. They offer Job a logical God, one who takes an account book approach to sin and suffering. But Job’s experience is dramatically at odds with the dogma his friends urge on him and whereas they were present to him in their shared silence, willing to be with him, they now stand over against him in their speaking, unable to see how Job’s unwillingness to see things their way is not a matter of logic but of hurt.

From technical medicine to ‘mangomoments’

Causal moral explanations for suffering have now mostly made way for technical explanations. As Job’s friends we now might be more keen to medicalize his suffering. Uncomfortable with remaining present without doing something, Job would be taken to the emergency room to get his skin condition treated and further to the psychiatric ward for treatment of his depression, where he might be commended for not blaming himself for his situation. And if his friends would not take him, he might find his own way to the E.R. and the psychiatric ward.

“Patients and caregivers alike have increasingly medicalized suffering— understood it, that is, as a problem that medicine can successfully treat. Many view suffering as one more technical problem that medicine can solve.”(Fleischer 1999: 487)

When we suffer, or when we see others suffering, our first reponse is not to sit down and share the suffering in silence. We want things to be done. We want the doctor to apply a causal biological model that figures out what went wrong and how to put things right again so that we can be back on our way and the suffering becomes only the memory of a small detour on our journey of leading a happy life. We prefer suffering that takes the shape of a broken leg. Causes are clear, the solution is straight forward. But not all suffering – not even every broken leg - can be boxed into this square. And sufferers have indicated again and again that the cry in their cry isn’t heard. What they say is sifted through for information to be fed to the technical solution machine. And whereas those whose suffering gets alleviated, take the insult as a price to pay for their ticket out, those for whom a technical solution isn’t forthcoming experience the insult, the deafness to their cry, so much more.

Nevertheless, there are signs of a counter movement. ‘Patient centredness’ has become a key concept in health care. At a meeting of the Professional Association for Catholic Pastors in Belgium I heard Kris Vanhaecht tell the story of how a movement, called Mangomoment, was launched inspired by a striking television fragment.

Two months after waking up from coma in intensive care, Viviane described how hard it was lying in bed all the time, what the sound of the bedside alarms did to her, what the gray ceiling looked like, how she heard the voices of deceased family members and saw them standing next to her bed, and why she thought about euthanasia,… Her reflections were captured on a documentary by a journalist, Annemie Struyf, who stayed for two weeks as an observer at an intensive care unit, and who was clearly emotional as she was touched by Viviane’s story. Following a tense silence, the journalist asked: “Is there something I can do now for you, that would make you happy?”. Viviane’s answer was surprising … “a mango, I would really like to taste a mango again, that is what I really like”. At the last day of her observation, the journalist brought Viviane a mango. Viviane was touched and became emotional, expressing that she “will never ever forget this moment”.

This story encouraged Vanhaecht to study ‘mangomoments’ in search of care that ‘is just that little something more’. As someone researching and teaching quality of care and patient safety at the KU Leuven and as someone recognizing the importance of person centred care that sees the patient as ‘a human being with a history, with desires and fears,’ he coined this new term.

“A caregiver who, with a little gesture or an unexpected act of attentiveness, creates a moment of great value for a patient… that is a Mangomoment”[2]

Three minutes, seven days and a life-time

Mangomoments consist of those little things we do for a patient that make a memorable difference crucially because he or she feels strongly recognized as the person he or she is beyond the illness or the misery they are dealing with. Allowing someone to wear her glasses into the operation theater even though regulations are to take it off before, organising a visit of grandchildren or creating an experience of watching a movie together with a loved one, coke and popcorn included, for someone in an isolation room. These moments don’t seem to take the time Job’s friends took, sitting with him in silence for seven days. Rather these ‘mangomoments’ seem to be these unique moments in which something is done just at the right time, just in the right timbre, just right. Like an artist making one movement leaving a trace that changes the whole atmosphere of the painting.


Are these ‘mangomoment doings’ technical doings? I would think not. Though taking only a moment, I would answer the question of how long a mangomoment takes, in the same way a local artist answered the question how long it took to make a drawing of a life model.[3] “Seven minutes and fifty years,” she answered. The movements that made the drawing took seven minutes but her movements, their accurateness - just right - and their richness and subtlety, were the culmination of fifty years of attentive practice, allowing her to capture and express the soul of beings, happenings and places. A mangomoment, I would say, needs three specifications: it might for instance take three minutes, seven days and twenty five years. The little things done might only take three minutes, but the subtlety, the just-right-ness of what is done might be the culmination of both some days or weeks of attentive tending to this particular person and of years of attentive practice in care.

Life illustration by Irmine Remue of chamber orchestra Casco Phil, playing Schubert’s ‘Die Unvollednete”

Life illustration by Irmine Remue of chamber orchestra Casco Phil, playing Schubert’s ‘Die Unvollednete”

God, as well, would answer the question of how long his mangomoment with Job took in three specifications. The whirlwind only took a few minutes, but He had been there, had cared for Job since before the day he was born and has been practicing attention from before the beginning of time. And it is from within this attunement to the world and to Job in his suffering that He reproaches the friends ‘to darken counsel by words without knowledge’ (William Blake). Maybe, paying attention to ‘mangomoments’ in a healthcare dominated by technical thinking and streamlining to get technical doings to perfection, is getting these streams of attentiveness ‘on the floor’ back to the surface of our critically and caringly thinking through health care. It might allow us to get the soul back into it. It might even allow us to recognize again that sitting with someone in the midst of misery even when nothing can be done and mangomoments no longer seem to materialize, can still be a work of hope, shaped by minutes and days and years of attentively practicing the presence of God.

[1] Latour, B. (2016) 'The Immense Cry Channeled by Pope Francis', Environmental Humanities, 8(2), 251-255.

[2] Vanhaecht’s neologism became a movement in Flanders, involving plenty of health care and welfare organisations, research and a website where mango-moment stories can be shared . Recently a book was published using these stories to inspire and motivate people to contribute to a warmer health care, with more resilience and positivity. Previously a short article ‘In Search of Mangomoments’ was published in The Lancet. ‘Mangomoment’ has become a registered trademark of the Catholic University of Leuven, with its own fund to finance scientific research.

[3] - Remue, Irmine (2019), Un état d'âme. Edition in-house.

Hauerwas, S. (1988), Suffering Presence: Theological Reflections on Medicine, the Mentally Handicapped and the Church. Edinburgh: Clark.

Fleischer, T. (1999), ‘Suffering Reclaimed: Medicine According to Job,’ Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 42(4), 475-488.

Migrants: From individual indifference to communal and divine compassion

by Adanna James

Five ways to kill a Migrant: 1) Indifference

Drowning skins, eyes stark open with the stare of death, hands grasping, mouths open crying, hungry, traumatised, dying, dead. Human beings wrapped in white sheets, or unwrapped, in coffins.


I adapt the title from Edwin Brock’s poem, Five Ways to Kill A Man, as I attempt to bring some theological reflection to bear upon recent coverage of the migrant crisis in European and Asian territories. Whether as victims of human trafficking or desperately fleeing terrors from a homeland, a myriad of images has been flashing across our screens these past few months. Over three thousand deaths have been recorded across the Mediterranean last year. The toll continues. Yet I don’t think I’m being presumptuous in stating that for all the atrocities we’ve seen and heard about this issue, we remain largely unaffected.

And that’s what I choose to write about; our indifference. I turn to Catholic pastors Henri Nouwen, Donald Mc Neill and Douglas Morrison’s 2010 re-printed Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life for some more insight into this phenomenon of indifference in the wake of tragic, human suffering. Originally published in 1982 from the pastors’ own discontent ‘with the individualism and spiritual dryness of [their] academic lives,’ they highlight how a bombardment of such images in the media as described in the opening lines of this blog actually works against the showing of compassion, since they cause persons to come face to face with their own powerlessness in the face of dreadful, human suffering. Such “confrontation with human pain often creates anger instead of care, irritation instead of sympathy and even fury instead of compassion.” In addition to our powerlessness the absolute depravity of the human being presented on our screens removes all sense of identification with that individual as a human being. “Some of the lowest human drives are brought into the open by  a confrontation with miserable-looking people…this was the case in the Nazi, Vietnamese, and Chilean concentration camps, where torture and cruelty seemed easier the worse the prisoners looked.” Thirdly, the neutrality of it all, where these images take up forty to fifty seconds of a newscast in which Sepp Blatter is re-elected President of FIFA, AC Milan wins the Champions League, transportation strikes take place in Belgium and a new technological gadget is birthed result in a forced response on our part to tune out the ‘bad news’, in order to go to bed and have a good night’s rest without losing one’s sanity. Is it any wonder then that we remain unmoved by these images?

Compassion is communal and divine

But our sense of powerlessness and our lack of compassion points to a fundamental flaw according to the pastors. We tend to see compassion as an individual character trait, when really compassion is something essentially communal. Its communal nature removes the sense of powerlessness an individual feels when faced with the woes of the world. A community has to mediate between our helplessness and the actual reality of suffering that we are faced with. Naturally, being Christian, they put forward the Christian community as that mediating force, and this is worthy of more reflection before simply bypassing it as personal religious sensibility.

For starters, the authors not only view compassion as communal, for them it is also divine. Divine compassion is “the compassion of the one who keeps going to the most forgotten corners of the world, and who cannot rest as long as there are still human beings with tears in their eyes.” Understanding God as God in Christ, the suffering servant, also lies at the heart of understanding compassion as divine. Reflecting on the Greek splangchnizomai used in the Scriptures to speak of Christ’s being moved with compassion, the pastors show how splangchna, the entrails of the body, signifies something ‘deep and mysterious’ about divine compassion. It’s not superficial.

The Christian community makes this divine compassion present in the here and now when it constitutes solidarity, servanthood and obedience, three core components of the divine compassion identified by the pastors as expressed in Christ through the Scriptures. Solidarity refers to the way we live life together. This living together is expressed through letting go of individual anxieties and making a space for everyone to be. Compassion automatically takes place where this kind of living occurs. Secondly, servanthood colours the kind of response given to suffering others. It is patterned on Christ’s self-emptying. Different needs can be serviced by the different gifts each has. Thirdly, obedience gives the community its Christian specificity. Through prayer and meditation persons are forced to let go of the idea of compassion as a personal hobby, which is not sustainable.

Even as they explicitly advocate the Christian community as the mediator between individual concern and human suffering, their concept of Christian community demands a broadening of understanding. Not restricted to religious life, or persons sharing a home, it is meant to include networks of support and encouragement that make up a person’s life. They cited Thomas Merton’s acuity of what was taking place in the world despite not being informed through the media. Through letters he received and responded to wherein persons wrote deeply about their lives, including Christians, non-Christians and atheists, a community of compassion was enabled. Merton deeply entered others’ lives and was encouraged by others.

As such the authors suggest identifying where community of this type is already taking place in and around us. Aren’t we involved in networks of support and encouragement (be it from family or friends)? Haven’t we come into contact with personal suffering in a tangible way? If so, then we can already begin using the ideals of the Christian community to mediate compassion. As a student in Belgium the migrant crisis has come home to me personally through encounters with classmates from Syria, Nigeria and Palestine all of whom have had firsthand experience with terror attacks in one form or another and have fled home in the hope of something better. We spoke. I listened, asked questions, and apologised for my lack of ignorance. The BBC news was no longer for me about nameless faces. I cried as I watched these stories. I prayed, I spoke to others about their situations and begged their prayers. Ordinarily this may come across as some form of trite self-glorification, but really, it signalled for me a move from emotional numbness over the horrors of the realities underlying today’s migration crisis to feeling something, deep in my entrails, a small step in the direction toward compassion.

Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, Douglas Morrison, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Photograph source: see here


Reading Together: Retrieving a Theological Sense of Being Human

As the last key note speaker of the conference Re-Imagining Human, David Jasper (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), founding editor of the journal Literature and Theology, concluded:

‘For me the study of literature and theology is the most serious thing I have ever been engaged in. It has been a task of retrieving a theological sense of being human, but before one can even begin to do that one must begin by retrieving a sense of being human at all, without which we are nothing. Before we can recover any sense of God (whatever that might mean or in whatever language), we must elect to engage in a constant mutual release in forgiveness of one another in order to remain free. My old friend Bob Detweiler, may he rest in peace, … a man who knew suffering, once described this release as best found in what he called religious reading, which
“might be one that finds a group of persons engaged in gestures of friendship with each other across the erotic space of the text that draws them out of their privacy and its stress on meaning and power.”
And it is in this space that we might begin to find the consolations of religion speaking again. Detweiler suggested we recover two German terms once used by Meister Eckhart but taken up also by Heidegger: Gelassenheit and Geselligkeit. Gelassenheit: “a condition of acceptance that is neither nihilistic nor fatalistic but the ability – and it may be a gift – to move gracefully through life’s fortunes and accidents, or to wait out its calamities.” Geselligkeit: sociability, or togetherness.
            Reading together texts which resist all attempts to simplify and manipulate we may learn again to live through a religious tradition into a form of theological humanism which has recently been outlined by David Klemm and William Schweiker in which it is neither God’s will nor human flourishing that alone offer any sufficient measure for human life. Yet brought together they offer guidance in the human responsibility for integrity of life.  I am not sure that we have succeeded very far in persuading anyone in either church or academy of the profound importance of what we have tried to do. But, in our various ways, we must keep trying. I return sometimes to the end of the book of Job and try to place myself in Job’s position:
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 5b – 6)
The point of God’s great outburst is not that there is no meaning, or even that meaning is a human category, but that it is beyond our reach, only to be accepted. The end of Job, as Muriel Spark well understood in her novel The Only Problem, is neither a frame nor a finished form but a story that holds its secrets and hides its causal links, a story not to be accepted simply nor refused, but which prompts endless questions to God and to ourselves. If it pains it also restores, and it enables us to move on, to craft our own story from memory, in Kierkegaard’s phrase in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, it keeps “the wound of the negative open.”'

[Extensive quote with the permission of the author.]

Jasper’s lecture Retrieving a Theological Sense of Being Human was delivered at Re-Imagining Human, the 17th Conference for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture, hosted by  Anthropos Research Group, Faculties of Theology and Arts, KU Leuven, 18-20 September 2014.