All are welcome at my table – A reflection on CPE!
I have just finished a 10 week CPE course. This when translated is a clinical pastoral education course, or translated again, a chaplaincy course. It entails a lot of reflecting both of myself and others. In this course I visited patients at Royal Perth Hospital and spent time with them during what often is a crisis in their health and life.
When I reflect back on this time I feel privileged that I have been able to sit with patients through some of their darkest times. People who have had a heart attack, who have got heart failure or some other very serious heart condition, those who have had a spinal injury, who are to have a limb amputated, those who have been in motor vehicle accidents, due to no fault of their own or their own stupid fault (their words not mine!), and those who have been attacked and left to die. I have also sat with patients as they realise they are too old and sick to go back to their own home, those who are aboriginal and still have the sorrow and pain of past government policies and long to go home, Muslim, Hindu, and Atheist patients all scared about the unknown, and some patients who have tried to commit suicide, either by driving a car into a wall, or drinking so much over such a long period that the only end product is an early death.
All patients, all people. Some have been a surprise, with a resilience that is remarkable, coping even with the most dire prognosis or the most difficult situation with strength and courage and even humour. In this case I have been given a gift far larger than anything I have been able to offer. It was a gift for me to receive with thanks. Others just need to cry and have a hand to hold, because the situation is so “shitty”.
Chaplaincy is often seen as a religious thing, involving speaking of God as though God is separate from the real world. Yet my God, my faith is tied up with living in this world, somehow making sense of this world. How we are to relate to each other and how we can love ourselves. All people are invited to my table. To God’s table. And at this table we may help one another mend our broken selves, to open a space where we can become more whole, more complete. I have been challenged and taken to the edge by much of the suffering and pain people go through, and the endless waiting. There is so much waiting in a hospital, for results, for pain relief, for food, for visitors, for the doctors…And there has been much shared not about the present, but about past hurts, past losses, past sorrows that affect people deeply. How can we go forward when we are often stuck in the past, unloved and unforgiven? When people are vulnerable and alone, their heart is hurting and many things are shared. These are often the things that need repairing.
But I have also been surprised and uplifted by how little it takes to make a difference, to lift a heart, in a moment, because the moment is all we have. Listening I believe is the essence of it, listening and sitting in silence while the patient finds their own voice and feelings.
I have also reflected greatly on the role of prayer, of blessing and of ritual in the space I have found myself. While I have prayed with people, and offered a blessing, it has not been often, but it has been a revelation how much that comforts and supports them. Perhaps it is the awareness of God’s presence in these times which is more real than at other times, or the sense of a deep connection with another, but it seems to open something in both of our hearts. There is a sense that healing is occurring in whatever way. Holding someone’s hand who cannot speak, or move, saying a prayer into the silence, produces something quite unexplainable and spiritual.
So at the end of the course how do I summarise the incredible experience I have had, for in the end it is about the patients I have sat with, and felt such compassion for. How do I see pastoral care now? I realise that love and compassion for the other, the other person, regardless of job title, education level, race, gender, age religious affiliation and anything else that separates us from one another is a prerequisite. Although I do believe in a loving all present spirit that calls us to one another, I don’t think a belief in God is necessary to do good pastoral care. It is an empathy for, and connection with people, and a willingness to hear their voice, their story and assist in helping them understand themselves and their situation better which is needed. In this a willingness to listen without prejudice, without interspersing our own needs and desires is also required. Gods work is done by those in which the loving creative spirit is moving, and we don’t have a moratorium on that.
However, having said that, my faith is central to my understanding and so I present a couple of reflections I wrote after visiting some patients. They perhaps sum it up for me…
“The spiritual care I provided was to re-enforce the belief that God is a God for and with everyone. We are all God’s children, all with the creative divine spark within. We do not have to earn this presence, it comes with being part of the created order, part of God’s creation. No one has to earn my trust or presence, or somehow prove their worth to me. Instead I paid attention to them, and valued them, listened to them, for who they are, not what they did or didn’t do.”
Or maybe this….
“I can see that some visits take us deeply into a person’s life and experiences, sharing their deepest secrets, fears and pain. It is a privilege to be invited there, and if we can somehow make them feel loved by us and by the God who drives us, maybe we have given spiritual/pastoral care.”
There are many patients who I will never forget. Who have entered a space in my heart and will stay there. Patients for whom life has dealt a pretty terrible set of cards, but how the spirit, their spirit intertwined with Gods spirit, somehow lets the light in. I was just part of that light, together with the nurses, the doctors, the OTs, physios, catering staff, cleaners, anyone who treats people as people, as people in pain and who just need a kind touch and a loving word.
I have a feeling I am entering a new phase of my life, at 55, it is never too late to start something new!!!