There’s a distinct irony to the journey as I explore what comes next in becoming a health care chaplain. Chaplains are required to be inter-faith, willing and able to meet the needs of every patient regardless of religious creed or spiritual context. I happen to be one of those people who wish our entire world was a bit more inter-faith.
Raised in the South, my roots are distinctly Protestant Christian. And I began my journey of spiritual seeker early on. Fascinated with my Catholic neighbors, I’d listen for hours to stories of how my guardian angels protected me, why Friday night dinner was always fish, and when it was OK to drink wine, even for kids!
I had an awakening in my late 20′s that coincided with the popularity of Adult Children Of Alcoholics literature and Melodie Beattie’s books. Realizing addiction and co-dependency were as prevalent in my biological lineage as broad shoulders and flat feet, I entered the faith of 12 Step. At first startled by stories of agnostics and the unchurched, those raised without a particular spiritual context, I soon found refreshing insight when folks shared unique experiences of encountering a Higher Power, a “God of my understanding” which, to this day, a dear friend still refers to as Gomu, as in “I can’t, Gomu can, I think I’ll let her!”. I’ve offered that acronym to many an angry patient who, for such understandable reasons, wants nothing to do with the name and idea of God they’re now doing battle with.
I entered another faith road, the Red Road, when this student was apparently ready and the teacher that appeared was a Mohican Native. Many lodges and ceremonies later, I am still deeply drawn to the spirituality of my Native ancestors, connected to a Lakota family, aware of the simple truths indigenous peoples still honor that we’ve almost destroyed ourselves and our planet forgetting.
Early on in my CPE residence year stress, demand and the discomfort of having my “self” disassembled for examination lead me to mindfulness based stress reduction. Very popular in the Bay Area and becoming a vibrant area of medical research and study, this mindfulness is, in the most essential sense, simply Buddha’s teachings. So here I am, entering another faith, or at least honoring another spiritual practice that often shows up on my patient census.
I have no problem carrying all these paths towards the Divine together in my spiritual toolkit. In fact I long for a world where we can dialogue among faiths together, celebrating what is common, respecting and honoring what is different, knowing we are all spiritual beings grappling with this physical existence, this life class. Aren’t we all here to learn to love, God and each other? This is what I believe. This is what I’m passionate about. How right that this inter-faith chaplain should be someone who finds joy and purpose in entering faith, exploring beyond divisive absolutes in that marvelous field Rumi speaks of.
I’m being asked to go deeply into one faith for further study, for degree work towards board certification. And what I want to do is find a way, pioneering if I must, to honor the blessings and gifts of all faiths’ that sustain me, that lead me to the Divine, that help me offer that to others. Perhaps these many faiths’ are one faith. Perhaps all I can do is continue to seek and be willing to enter.