After many years pastoring churches in the United Church of Christ, I made the decision three years ago to move into hospital chaplaincy. I wondered at first if I would miss the endless variety of work one is presented with in parish ministry. What I quickly learned is that chaplaincy is as varied as the human race. And someone who loves people readily finds endless variety.
There is a broad spectrum of spirituality, from an organized religion like Christianity or Buddhism, to a spirituality based on love of nature, love of family, the arts, fate, luck, humanism or something else. Everyone has a spirit—a source of identity, strength and joy, by whatever name they call it. My work in chaplaincy is to help each individual name and claim that source of spiritual strength, then help them explore the possibilities for putting it to use in their healing.
We are creatures of mind, body and spirit. We’re still learning about how these elements connect and how they can affect one another, but we know that they do. One of the things I love about working in the HFM Cancer Center is the opportunity to explore this powerful reality with people one-to-one. This might take the form of a simple conversation, or through a one-hour course I teach to individuals and couples on positive imagery and relaxation. We cannot think our way to health, but we can use our minds and hearts to get out of the way of our bodies’ desire to heal itself.
I feel that I have been preparing my whole life to do this work— to walk with people who are facing a serious illness and be a companion and sometimes a coach to them. My work in the HFM Cancer Center does not include telling people what to believe or shaping their faith to match my own. But to do this work I must be clear in my own self about what I believe. My faith in Jesus Christ has been honed in many years of study and practice. It is the source of my own strength—the strength and clarity of purpose I need to do this challenging work. I believe that God walked this earth among us in the life of Jesus Christ; that when we hear Jesus speak we hear God’s own voice; that when we look at Jesus’ actions, we catch a glimpse of God’s own loving heart. And when I look and listen to Christ, I see a God who loves all his children; whose compassion and capacity for forgiveness is greater than our ability to imagine. I see a God who knows first-hand what pain and suffering, and loss feel like, but never shies away from walking with us through our hardest challenges. That is the vision that anchors me and drives me in my ministry in the HFM Cancer Center.