Monday, June 29, 2015

Spiritual and Religious Care: The Role of the Chaplain

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chodron

This post has been long overdue. It sadness me when people approach me and tell me that I should give up my profession as a chaplain and pursue teaching instead. This shows me how uninformed people are about chaplaincy and what it is that a chaplain does within the medical system. I hope to use this post to dispel any of those misconceptions people might have and I hope if anyone has any questions to ask because no question is ever a bad one.

Chaplains usually belong to a team (department) called spiritual and religious care. We are an integral part of the healthcare team, providing spiritual care to patients, families, and staff of all faith backgrounds 24/7, throughout the hospital. The role of the chaplain is to relate to patients, family, staff or other partners-in-care, as a whole person (seeking to reach the individual from a holistic perspective), with a particular focus on the spiritual or religious needs. Spiritual care affirms the inherent dignity and value of all persons, and respects different spiritual perspectives and practices-which may, or may not be rooted in a religious tradition. A wildly misunderstood point is that we only care for those who have a particular faith which is simply not true. We provide to care to all even those who express that they are an atheist or agnostic or pagan.

Spiritual care professionals (or chaplains) are first and foremost healthcare providers. We are part of the healthcare team and are no different from doctors, nurses, social workers or any other allied health profession involved with the care of the patient. So the next natural question people ask is what do you do? What do you say or give a patient?

Some of the "things" chaplains do, and I will provide some points as to what we do or what we can offer for the care of the patient, family or staff. We help people to rediscover meaning and significance in times of illness, crisis, and loss. We provide mindful and heart-felt listening. We help by assisting in identify and access inner resources for coping. We help by providing end-of-life bereavement support. We help by providing the space and time for mediation support in situations of conflict. We help by facilitating connections between patients, families or staff and spiritual leaders from diverse religious communities. We help by leading and facilitating ceremonies, rites of passage, religious rituals, meditation and prayer catering to the specific religious or faith tradition the patient belongs to. The list can go on but what is important in all of this is the attention to the human being at a time when he or she might think all hope is lost. We provide that support for the patient and family during difficult times.

Now I will mention a few points on what I AM NOT! I am not an ordained priest. Chaplains do not have to be ordained in order to be a chaplain. This is a misconception that sometimes I see from the medical team when they make a joke about me not having a white collar or white hair. Anyone with the training and passion for caring for patients can be a chaplain. Many times I get people telling me that "I am too young and wasting my life in this line of work". That is simply not true at all. You can be ordained and be a chaplain but it is not a requirement. If anyone is contemplating chaplaincy you can be reassured you do not have to be ordained in any way shape or form. Being an ordained minister is one type of ministry and chaplaincy is another form of ministry.

Lastly, why does it matter? It matters for many reasons. Firstly, staff feels directly and indirectly supported by the presences of a chaplain on the unit which helps reduce compassion fatigue. Spiritual care enhances patient connection with community support. Studies have shown that spiritual well-being is linked to their overall quality of life. Spiritual care can support increased health and shorten recovery periods. Religion and spirituality of any kind are often cited as major sources of support and coping. Also, many patients in acute care want to receive spiritual care and support from the little as listening to patients to providing prayer support to making a referral for a patient who needs access to community resources (IE. clergy to take confessions or give communion). These sample reasons and much more is why chaplains are needed in the medical system for the care of the patient, family members, and staff members. I hope this has helped clear the air to all my friends who have asked me about chaplaincy and the type of "things" we do for patients. If you want more information or have any questions feel free to ask! I leave you with this video when I was a student at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Beauty Will Save the World-Part 2

Firstly, we must respect all human life (those who are rich and those who are poor) because just like the rich build our society the poor teach our society. Secondly, the quote points to a central theme within humanity; the struggle and tension between physical and spiritual beauty in the midst of suffering. In the midst of trial and suffering how can one see beauty clearly? Beauty is a path leading to the truth but the modern world is disfigured and trapped in darkness. How can we overcome this train of thought? Authentic beauty unlocks the desire of the heart, the craving to know, to love, to unite with others and to reach beyond our capabilities. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us closely, that it sores us, that it has the ability to open our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing and most importantly to grasp the profound meaning of our existence. This is portrayed in the life of the idiot. The saving power of beauty could not overcome his sickness, but nonetheless illumined his vision, “What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree-an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbound joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” In the midst of his suffering, he saw, in a paradoxical manner, the heart of reality.  

The fight for beauty is a battle of the soul and is linked to the crisis of faith. Dostoevsky indicated this tension in his epic, The Brothers Karamazov, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man”. What looks beautiful might not be beautiful, and what seems terrible, such as a dead body, may show true beauty. Dostoevsky manifests this tension by placing the idiot in the midst of his suffering and insanity to speak the line, “Beauty will save the world”. Beauty is understood only in paradox. How can we see beauty in that which is good? We won’t appreciate beauty if we see it in good actions. However, when we encounter suffering or maybe death, it is at those moments that we begin to appreciate and clearly see beauty. As an individual dies we remember all the good moments and events he or she enjoyed when they were alive. Beauty that begins to develop from the deepest and darkest point of the heart is the starting point of authentic beauty. 

For good or bad, beauty has power. This power is not found in materialism and secularism but rather it is a power that illumines the path toward truth and goodness. If beauty does not point toward the truth and the good, it becomes divorced from our beings. It becomes a darkness, which makes human beings turn on each other. The Idiot demonstrates this when he said, “Such beauty is real power…with such beauty as that one might overthrow the world”. This beauty can be found in every simple act done with our fellow human. From eating a meal to talking to the stranger on the bus, beauty has the power to save humanity from utter destruction. When beauty sheds its light in the right direction, it saves the world, not overthrow it. It is in suffering that we find joy. The realism of suffering is scandalous (Christ on the cross), but suffering represents itself as an opportunity (Christ rose from the dead). We must learn to work with each other to overcome the darkness imposed by the deceptive beauty the world throws our way (materialism etc). In contemplating the suffering of Christ, in particular, we see a beauty which starts with Christ taking on our fallen nature and overcame the darkness. Christ suffering leads to the resurrection, a resurrection not done as a selfish act but rather as a redemptive one. This explains why the icon of the resurrection is always showing Christ rising from the dead holding in his hands Adam and Eve. It is a challenging beauty, but a powerful one-with power to transform our own suffering and lack of beauty. It is a beauty that scares us and makes us vulnerable and ultimately is the same beauty that will save the world.

Dostoevsky was a Christian philosopher, and a person who contemplated the mystery of man. Even as a religious individual he allowed himself to grow as a free-thinker and a powerful artist. Being a religious man, a free-thinker and an artist were not differentiated in him and did not exclude one another, but penetrated all his thoughts and works. In his beliefs, he never separated truth from good and beauty. In his artistic creativity he never placed beauty apart from good and the truth. I agree with how Dostoevsky intertwined these three topics because these three lived only in unity with each other. If we separate the good, truth and beauty, they all become an indistinct feeling, a powerless surge; truth becomes empty words; beauty and good become nothing more than a mere idol. These three, understood in unity, form one absolute idea. The human body, having been revealed and become God, fitting into itself all aspects of Christ-becomes the greatest good, the highest truth, and perfect beauty. If Christ is understood as the perfect human, the one who personifies all that is good, beautiful and true, then we are called to live and to be held in the same standard as Christ. Truth is good, perceived by the human mind; beauty is the same good and the same truth expressed in living form. The full expression, the end, the ultimate goal, and being united to God-already exist's in everything. This is why Dostoevsky said that beauty will save the world. The world and life comes in full circle to its creator. If beauty saves the world then all that is beautiful and good is expressed in truth through humanity.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beauty Will Save the World-Part 1

"Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to them. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty" Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

The Great Russian writer Fydor Dostoevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world”. I never thought much of this. Going to seminary challenged my way of thinking and the more I was challenged the more I was forced to think outside the box. I began to read more of Dostoevsky’s works and came to the conclusion that this challenge is not to be feared but embraced. At first I thought this idea was romantic, something expressed by such sentiments as “there’s beauty in everything, if we would only stop and appreciate the beauty around us.” This idea suggests there is a divorce between the world and ourselves. Today, I realized what Dostoevsky meant; beauty is the paradigm of our life. Beauty is not an influence that is found outside of human life; it is the principle which characterizes all that we do. Everything we do must be done with beauty. From the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep we must see the beauty in everything. This does not mean we are trying to make our waking up and going to sleep “beautiful”, rather, it has to do with the way in which we execute the task; the way we live every minute as we do what we do. It has to do with being attentive to the activity at hand, acting without being concerned with how we look as we act. Acts of beauty are innocent, not concerned with appearances or the perception of peoples' thoughts; it is not concerned with being treated fairly, with showing off or making impressions. I would even go as far as to say that it is not even concerned with acting out of certainty that this action “is God’s will”. Beauty is simply making the beautiful gesture. All that we do and say is beautiful. Why? 

If we look to the starting point of scripture we see this is the paradigm that is given. God created everything and he saw that it was good. All that was created was good and God let it be. Beauty is at the centre of all God’s creation. Beauty is where God is present. As I was cleaning the putrid washroom at work, I suddenly realized that I must do this seemingly repulsive work as a beautiful gesture. This is the only free action available to me. If I act out of resentment (because others are not cleaning the washroom like I am), or anger (because no one takes care of the washroom), then I am a slave to myself and my work will be exhausting. The opposite of this can also become a form of slavery also. If I work out of a sense of pride (I’ve got to make the washroom look good) or cleaning the washroom because it is my duty ("God expects me to do it" and somehow this will make me a good person), I am still a slave to myself. The only way to go about this task with joy, as a free human being, is to work in the presence of God realizing God is present in all. This is how beauty will save the world. When we realize we are free and doing actions by living for others. All my actions and thoughts become a beautiful gesture and if humanity comes to this understanding it is then the world will be saved through beauty. The paradigm is found in living for each other. If we can see that we are created in the image and likeness of God, it is then that we will realize that beauty will save the world.            

Dostoevsky spoke these words in his classic, The Idiot, because the struggle between humanity’s understanding of good and evil was ever-changing during his time (19th century). Dostoevsky used the main character from the book to speak this line. Out of the mouth of the idiot, comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality that those around him did not see. His clarity and way of thinking heightened even in the midst of his sickness. Can the words of an idiot set the tone for our response in the modern world? In a world that is characterized by its madness, maybe only the idiot is sane. It seems that we must trust him, now that the words of an idiot have become the stepping stone to everyone’s salvation. In a world that has largely rejected the ability to reason to know the truth and the moral order toward the good, this is the time to show humanity how beauty can save all. Beauty and its simplicity can show both the intellectuals and the uneducated that we are all created equal and created in order to live for one another. This quote is significant for many reasons. 

To be continued...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Healing the Wounds of Chalcedon

I collaborated with the main editor of Theologues regarding the council of Chalcedon. He allowed me to write a small entry on the history of the council and the implications for all Christians today. The following is the link to the original post (click here). I would like to thank Zach very much for giving me the opportunity to write on a delicate topic that needs to be treat with care and love. My philosophy is based on love; a love that unites in the body of Christ. Chalcedon was an event that for many, and I mean many, reasons divided the body of Christ. However, with time, wounds have begun to heal and I believe we are in a position today to finally let out a deep breathe, and with with confidence say, we can start moving forward and living out that unity once again! Leave your comments and questions and I hope this small piece will deepen your search for the truth! 

Top: Patriarch Ephrem II of Antioch and Patriarch John X of Antioch 
Bottom: Patriarch Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria

Pope Francis and Patriarch Tawadros II