Friday, August 28, 2015


The last entry looked at how we as humans can use strength and weakness to live with others. Becoming human is a struggle of finding your strength in weakness. For the following entry I would like to look at belonging and what it means to belong. Living in Canada this can be a difficult task because of the multicultural environment we find ourselves living in. Toronto is culturally the most diverse city in the world. What does it mean to belong?

Belonging, like anything else, can be a place of opening up as well as a place of closing in. It is a place where we discover what makes our humanity. Family, language, humanhood, culture, food, communication, love and respect for others sums up this notion of belonging. If we accept this then we must accept that at the heart of belonging, is the fact that, we have received our existence from others and need to grow and develop as individuals, physically, psychologically, and humanly.

Let's use the example of a child to see how a child can become a product of the society that we build around ourselves. Belonging is not an individual act but involves an entire group. The child goes to school, shares in the life of the community, and discovers a wider sense of belonging with others from the same city, region, country, religion, language and culture. Sometimes the child meets people who are different, strangers, people with disabilities, immigrants, people from different religious backgrounds etc. The child will quickly pick up, through the adults attitude whether such people are to be accepted and loved or ignored, or even ostracized because they do not belong. And so from a young age we learn, without realizing it, that those who are different, those who standout, are either acceptable or dangerous.

When a child acquires a language and learns how to relate to adults, to friends, to God, when he learns the customs and values that have been taught to him through his culture, how to deal with death, pain, sorrow, he cannot but think that what he has been taught is the only way of being and living. As children we learn that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything. We do not ask questions instead, we obey. As we grow to adulthood we begin to questions the values learned during our childhood. This is why many adults and youth go through a crisis of faith and of trust. Belonging begins from day one. We must constantly seek to grow our humanity by accepting everyone as a human being. "Differences" should never be a factor in accepting others. Let us cultivate a society that nurtures the ideals of love and acceptance no matter how one looks, talks, or eats. To be a human is to belong and to belong is to love all without any pretext or conditions. Love is at the heart of belonging and once we belong to a community we learn to love unconditionally.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Strength in Weakness

The last entry looked at the humanistic approach involved in Chaplaincy. I would like to expand this and speak on what it means to be weak and how this relates to becoming a human being. Becoming human is a title for many books written in the last century. Authors like Jean Vanier, John Behr and Olivier Clement have written on what it means to become a human. Becoming human, I can define from reading these books, is based on the idea of constantly seeking the good and beautiful in all that we do. In order to seek the good and beautiful we must however understand that, in order to find beauty and goodness, we must come from a place of weakness.

The paradox of weakness and strength can be difficult to understand. One can say, "How can I find beauty and goodness when I am lying in a hospital bed and I do not have control over the condition that has taken a hold of me?" People are infuriated by weakness that sometimes even the beautiful cry of a child can be a distraction. Weakness awakens hardness and anger in all of us. Equally dangerous, sometimes less obvious, weakness can lead people to a possessive love. However, in this mystery of weakness it can open our hearts to compassion; the place where we are concerned for the growth and well-being of the weak.

I see this on many levels in the hospital. The nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and many more constantly seek to help others who are in a position of weakness trying to restore them to a position of strength. To deny weakness as a part of life is to deny death, because weakness speaks to our ultimate destruction of not being in control which is death itself. To be sick or dying is a stage of weakness and as that weakness becomes more apparent we begin to deny it all together.

If we deny our weakness and the reality of death by constantly seeking to be powerful and strong, then we deny part of our being creating a space of illusion, a bubble that becomes harder to break. To be a human being is to accept who we are, this mixture of strength and weakness. To be human is to be bonded to each other with our weakness and strengths, because we need each other. Lastly, weakness that is recognized, accepted and offered back is at the heart of belonging, which brings us together as a community of love.

I leave you with the beautiful words of Jean Vanier. Jean Vanier published a book called Becoming Human, inspiring me to write this post. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wanting to understand and grow their knowledge of what it means to become a human being.

Weakness carries within it a secret power. The cry and the trust that flow from weakness can open up hearts. The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love in the one who is stronger. Do those who are stronger respond with love because in an unconscious way they identify with the one who is weak? Do they, in some way, know that one day they too will be weak and will cry out for help, recognition, and love?       

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, 40. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Humanistic Approach to Chaplaincy

One aspect that has really caught my attention during the last six months is a concept that has been popularized by Henri Nouwen. The wounded healer is the affirmation that all humans are wounded yet we find healing through the same wounds that make us vulnerable with each other. Henri Nouwen sums up the role of the priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, pendant etc. beautifully connecting the role to the wounded healer:

The Christian leader, minister or priest, is not one who reveals God to the people-who gives something to those who have nothing-but one who helps those who are searching to discover reality as the source of their existence. In this sense we can say that the Christian leader leads humans to confession, in the classic sense of the word: to the basic affirmation that humans are human and God is God, and that without God, humans cannot be called human. The Wounded Healer, Page 43.

The Humanistic approach to providing care was made popular following World War 2 by Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers was an influential American psychologist and was one of the main founders of the humanistic approach (client-centered care) in the medical field. This approach seeks to understand human personalities and human relationships in order to provide counseling, psychotherapy and education to all. Rogers was found to be the 6th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century and second, among clinicians, only to Sigmund Freud. The overall understanding of the humanistic approach can be summed up in the following manner: 

"Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity, there is no experience that this man or women has that I cannot share with them, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep there wound, they do not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever their story, they no longer need to be alone with it. This is what will allow there healing to begin". Carl Rogers. 

The broken human being is the paradigm into which healing can begin. If the chaplain or any medical care provider begins to understand their own brokenness and see that it can be used as a way to heal others then this is the starting point in which everyone can be restored in that image and likeness that God intended us to be fashioned in. One aspect of the humanistic approach deals with the development of personality. The last step to be achieved in the personality development is the "rich and full life". Carl Rogers summarizes this in the following way:  

"This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life". Carl Rogers, 1961.

Becoming a human being is a process that consists of struggles and pains. The humanistic approach speaks to this struggle and challenges us to open ourselves and become vulnerable so that we can seek healing from those who are integrated in our lives. If we cannot open up as human beings then we cannot begin to understand the struggles and the pains that our patients and loved ones go through. Becoming human involves the process of being, living and opening up ourselves to pain and sorrow. Once we open ourselves we can start to heal and become healers for everyone.