Tuesday, April 28, 2015
My theology of spiritual care as integrated with pastoral practice.
My theology of spiritual care is rooted in my understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16, 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, 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 a privilege when I am 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. Locating a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a Catholic priest, a Hindu religious leader, or a local pastor are actions I take to bring comfort. 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” 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 in order to provide comfort measures for the patient. Counsel: My understanding of giving counsel is to explore with the patient the four main issues of life: meaning, forgiveness, relatedness, and hope. (The American Book of Dying, 2005) This approach has opened conversations that proved to be healing. . For instance, I served a father who was estranged from his two adult children. We discussed the forgiveness issue on one visit. He was deeply moved that there was estrangement and took responsibility for his part in the problems they shared. When I came back for the next visit I found him at his kitchen table writing letters to his children. He told me that he wanted two things: forgiveness from his children and pictures of his grand-children. He sent the letters later that day. My next contact with him was at the Emergency Room at the local hospital. When I approached his bed, he looked at me and related that he knew he was dying, but it was OK as he received forgiveness and had the pictures of his grandchildren. Companionship: Accepting each patient as they are forms the basis of companionship. My interaction with a follower of Wicca who felt at ease discussing her religious journey with me is an example of the fact that she sensed I did not come into her home in order to convince her that her belief system was wrong. 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 on a spiritual quest to find a religious system that did not teach that doctrine. She ultimately embraced Wicca because she felt safe in its teachings. I am convinced that a Chaplain’s theology will dictate how that Chaplain provides ministry. What is your theology of ministry? Have you written it down? It would be a good exercise.