Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pastoral Reflection: Being Who I Am Without Repelling Others

Articulating a theology of spiritual care requires significant reflection on one’s own belief system and a sense of fearlessness to put word to paper and declare, “This is who I am.” A caveat to that declaration is to be sure that who you are and how you carry out who you are is not offensive, pedantic, or filled with counter-transference issues. What follows is my personal theology of spiritual care. My theology of spiritual care is rooted in my understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:6, Jesus states: ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever …’ (New International Version) The Greek word translated Counselor is παρακλητον “and it literally means God at hand, One by our side, One that we can call upon in every emergency, One that we call upon, or call to us, One ever within call. In this connection the Holy Spirit is represented to us as the present and all sufficient God.” (The Holy Spirit, pg. 78, A.B. Simpson) The Holy Spirit’s work is seen as “practical efficiency and sufficiency for every occasion and emergency that arises.” (Simpson, p. 78) Simpson’s conclusion that the Parakleet involves Himself in the emergencies of life informs my work as a hospice Chaplain in that I am a vessel to bring God at hand and that I am called to the side of a patient. The functions of the Holy Spirit as they apply to my work as a Chaplain involve comfort, counsel, and companionship.  Comfort: As I understand comfort in the hospice setting, it is the absence of feeling alone in the battle against life-limiting illness and suggests there is someone alongside the patient and family as they face the illness. It is my privilege to be that person that comes to the side of the patient and family. I assist the patient and family by providing spiritual care and by providing comforting rituals or finding religious leaders who will do likewise. Involving a Rabbi, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a Catholic priest, a Hindu religious leader, or a local pastor are actions I take to assist the patient to receive comfort in their religious belief system. Providing effective and timely interventions (active listening, prayer, Scripture reading, to name a few) assists the patient and/or family members to find comfort in their crisis. Often, just showing up and “sitting in the dust” (imagery from the book of Job) with the patient provides comfort. I hasten to say I recognize the danger that “religious language and practices provide [Chaplains] with a readily available means of escaping the demands of serious dialogue, and retreating into the religious authority role.” (Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling, p. 38) Instead, I carefully employ interventions which avoid churchy and empty religious buzz words and seek to engage the patient in meaningful dialogue.  Counsel: My understanding of giving counsel is to explore with the patient the deeper issues of life, such as, meaning, forgiveness, relatedness, and hope. (The American Book of Dying, 2005) Many hospice patients I served and serve ask difficult questions in their quest for inner peace: Who am I? Does my life still have meaning? Who is it that I need to forgive or who needs to forgive me? How am I relating to myself, my family, my God? What is my hope? Do I feel hopeful, hopeless? For instance, I served a father who was estranged from his two adult children. He brought up the fact that he and his children were alienated due to his neglectful and selfish lifestyle when they were young. While he understood how they felt and why, he was deeply moved to reach out to them before his illness claimed his life to seek their forgiveness. He pondered how he could express to them his desire for forgiveness and decided the best way to contact them was to send a letter. When I came back for the next visit I found him at his kitchen table writing letters to his children. He asked if I would proof read the letters. What he wrote literally brought me to tears. This patient owned all that he had done, how wrong he was, how badly he felt about it, and sought their forgiveness. [While he did not place this request in the letters, he told me that he wanted two things: forgiveness from his children and to see his grandchildren.] He sent the letters later that day. My next contact with him was at the Emergency Room at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. When I approached his bed, he looked at me and said that he knew he was dying, but it was OK. His children had responded positively by forgiving him and bringing his grandchildren to see him. He said it was a moment that he had longed for. To be a part of such an experience of reconciliation was very moving and fulfilling.  Companionship: Accepting each patient as they are forms the basis of companionship. My interaction with a follower of Wicca is an example of this. At first, she felt very hesitant to allow me to visit with her. However, during the visit she must have sensed my purpose in visiting with her was to provide support and encouragement rather than judgment and condemnation. In one conversation she contrasted my approach with that of the members of her church when she was a youngster. These persons condemned her father because he didn’t attend church and informed her that he went to hell when he died. The spiritual pain and damage of those words led the patient to embark on a spiritual quest to find a religious system that did not preach the doctrine of hell. She discovered Wicca and embraced it because she felt safe in its teachings. Thankfully, she felt safe with me as I provided spiritual care. It is never the position of the hospice Chaplain to condemn or judge any patient. My faith system informs my chaplaincy as I try to model the compassion and kindness of Jesus before my patients and families. I am convinced that when a hospice Chaplain develops his or her theology of spiritual care that it become the compass for their chaplaincy. It, indeed, becomes who we are in our interactions. I would like to hear from you as you state your theology of spiritual care.

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