A patient once said to one of our Hosparus chaplains, “I sure like the way you listen.” That affirmation is music to any chaplain’s ear! Deep, reflective listening is the cornerstone to good spiritual care.
National Pastoral Care Week is celebrated each October. It was established in 1985 with the primary objective being “to celebrate the education for and practice of professional Spiritual care.” So, it feels right to talk a bit about “the education for and practice of professional spiritual care.” Just what does that mean?
Certainly, spiritual care entails meeting the religious needs of our patients and their families: providing needed rituals and sacraments and prayer; connecting or reconnecting folks to communities of faith. But it is also about the larger spiritual needs–issues around life’s meaning and purpose, coping with life’s emotional hurts that can also wound the spirit, how one relates to others, to themselves, to the world, and to their understanding of the Divine. We as chaplains only get to those places with our patients by listening. Deeply. Patiently. Quietly.
Parker Palmer, a noted author and speaker about education, spirituality and social change, says,
“The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”
If you have ever had a visit with a chaplain and noticed them not speaking much, that does not come from a place of laziness, or not knowing the “right” thing to say. It is by design. It is from intention. We seek to create an inviting and trustworthy space for the soul of people to come forth.
Chaplains can only do this because we have done it ourselves, because we have had much practice in being the “non-anxious presence” in the room. One becomes a professional chaplain by receiving a master’s degree in Divinity, Theology, Religious Education or other related field of study. We also go through a training process called Clinical Pastoral Education. Each “unit” of training is a semester long focus on our own story, our theological beliefs, our understandings of the psychology of human behavior and how we integrate those areas. Each unit requires 400 hours of time spent with patients and in group and individual supervision. The intent is to make a chaplain theologically and psychologically knowledgeable, and to be comfortable with their own hurts so that they can quietly enter the hurts of others.
Hosparus Health requires their chaplains to have at least two units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Many of our chaplain have even more units, and several are certified by The Association of Professional Chaplains, The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, or the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. As we celebrate National Pastoral Care Week, know this: Each of your Hosparus chaplains feel honored to walk alongside our patients and their families, hearing their pain and hopes, and seeking to bring healing. Call on us when you need someone to listen to you–deeply and patiently and quietly.