My Chaplaincy Mentor Is Jesus
June 09, 2013
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I have come to an understanding of my personal theology of spiritual care through my fourteen years of experience as a Swedenborgian minister in parish ministry, and through my three years of work as a board-certified chaplain working in hospice and nursing-home settings. My practice of pastoral care as a chaplain in a healthcare setting is also influenced by my Swedenborgian theology, in which Jesus plays a central role.
Through our denomination’s doctrinal teachings about Scripture, I have found a key to understanding that Jesus was the greatest of all chaplaincy mentors. My pastoral practice in parish ministry and chaplaincy is modeled on the incarnation of God as lived through the life of Jesus. Jesus and his caring, listening, responding, and inspiring ministries are central to my understanding of how God exists in the world within our human relationships. I believe that in my relationships with parishioners, I can provide an opportunity for an incarnation event when I support them in actively engaging their relationship with God. I believe that human beings are created to have the choice to live as he taught and modeled. I believe that God calls all persons into relationship, and my spiritual care of hospice and nursing home residents embodies that belief by being truly multifaith. My believe that a universal human need exists for spiritual care and support for relationship with God throughout any patient’s hospital experience, the journey of hospice for the patient and family, and in the daily life of the nursing-home resident. Indeed, this need is present throughout anyone’s life.
The primacy of love as modeled by Jesus’ caring is a foundational theological belief for me, because I believe that we are all one in God. I see God in all persons, and I welcome and invite these persons to share themselves with me, in whatever way they desire. I also believe that all persons need to feel loved—which reminds me, moment by moment, to check in with myself and make certain that I am available to see and hear the resident fully, so as to be truly caring, before entering the room. If I am not authentically clear and ready to be present and truly attentive, it is better for both of us that I allow myself time to rest, reflect, or process whatever is interfering with my ability to willingly present myself, in that moment, as attentive to their words and caring of their feelings. To love one another as oneself, we have to love ourselves too!
Jesus’ model of listening to each person he ministered to is a high ideal to aspire to. Attempting to follow his example has made me attentive to the many layers of meaning communicated by residents’ stories and concerns. I have found transformation through the training I received at the Rhode Island Hospital Chaplaincy Center’s Clinical Pastoral Education Program, and particularly through reading and discussing the book Generation to Generation by Edwin H. Friedman. In particular, I have discovered the profoundly deep impact our families make on our lives, past, present, and future. I have begun to add many questions and reflections with residents in my chaplaincy work, and I ask patients more about their families to assess the presence and support of family and to encourage communication when it seems appropriate. Jesus asked the question, “Do you want to be healed?” which reminds me that the patient’s willingness to change or become aware is what opens the doors to greater understanding— not what I say. Drawing from Jesus’ question, I more frequently repeat back the patient’s own words or ask for clarification to help draw out of them what they need to hear.
I feel that the deepening of the relationship with God is the purpose of the relationship between the resident and the chaplain. And it is through greater self-awareness that we come to new realizations of God’s presence in us and working through us, both resident and chaplain!
I seek to model Jesus’ non-anxious response to whatever faced him in my interactions with residents, staff, and peers. In the healthcare setting, balancing the human need for love and connection is the patient’s need for autonomy in relationship with the chaplain. I make it a point to allow patients to answer questions, or not, and to accept my visit, or not, as suits them at the time of the encounter. I have found that I am most comfortable with accepting that sometimes it is “not me, not now” that will be of most help to the patient. At a number of visits, I felt that I was the only person entering the patient’s room about whose presence they felt they had a choice: saying “No, thank you!” empowered them during a time of deep vulnerability. I believe that trust between the patient and the chaplain can be instantaneous in some instances but takes time in others. To allow trust to grow, I try to express my friendly interest in the well-being of the person I’m visiting, and I allow time and the gradual unfolding of conversation to show my willingness to accompany the resident wherever he or she wishes to go with the visit.
Lastly, Jesus inspires me through his way of asking people to look within themselves to release whatever blocks accepting his love. This example guides me sometimes to challenge patients by asking them to clarify how they will accomplish the steps they feel they need to take on, whatever they see as their path to peace with God. This theology of the importance of spiritual inquiry particularly empowers my pastoral practice with residents who have difficult family histories. Another Swedenborgian teaching, that all things in the material world have a corresponding spiritual element, guides my listening and watching so that I can hear and see beyond the externals of situations and stories to the intentions, feelings, fears, joys, and dynamics these situations and stories reveal.
Jesus was the ultimate chaplain. He offered a loving presence and accepted all people; he listened patiently and taught faithfully, and he questions and challenges us to become aware of the obstacles to our deepening faith. He healed many souls during his incarnation, and through his grace, I pray that I may continue to walk toward the light of his love and wisdom through my ministry and chaplaincy.
Holy Spirit, come down and enter into our being;
To those who are anxious or perplexed, give peace;
To those who are weary, give rest;
Comfort those who mourn;
And according to your wisdom and will for us,
Heal the sick, or give strength to endure,
So that whatever happens,
Your love will live in our hearts,
Be written in our faces,
And shine reflected in our lives.
- Frank Topping
Bless the head, the hands, the feet,
The ears, eyes, lips, and heart
Of this your servant, Lord,
That enfolded and upheld by your spirit
He may put his trust in you,
Knowing that your will for all your children
Is only ever good;
We ask this of you, O Holy Spirit,
Who reigns with the Father and the Son,
Now and forever.
- Frank Topping
Of your goodness, O God,
Give yourself to me,
For you are sufficient for all my needs.
Though I am not worthy to receive you,
I cannot ask for anything less.
Without you I shall always be in want.
In you alone do I have all I need,
Now and forever.
- Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)
Rev. Susannah Currie