Tuesday, February 13, 2018

On living by Kerry Egan (2016)

Kerry Egan, in her book On living, provides the following description for her work as a chaplain:

"Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us. Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis, where we have lost our sense of what is right and wrong, possible and impossible, real and not real. Never underestimate how frightening, angering, confusing, devastating it is to be in that place. Making meaning of what is meaningless is hard work. Soul-searching is painful. This process of making or finding meaning at the end of life is what the chaplain facilitates. The chaplain doesn't do the work. The patient does. The chaplain isn't wrestling with the events of a life that doesn't match up with everything you were taught was true, but she won't turn away in fear, either. She won't try to give you pat answers to get you to stop talking about pain, or shut you down with platitudes that make her feel better but do nothing to resolve the confusion and yearning you feel. A chaplain is not the one laboring to make meaning, but she's been with other people who have. She knows what tends to be helpful and what doesn't. She might ask questions you would never have considered, or that help you remember other times you survived something hard and other ways you made sense of what seemed senseless. She can reframe the story, and can offer a different interpretation to consider, accept, or reject. She can remind you of the larger story of your life, or the wisdom of your faith tradition. She can hold open a space of prayer or meditation or reflection when you don't have the energy or strength to keep the walls from collapsing. She will not leave you. And maybe most important: She knows the work can be done. She knows you can do it and not crumble into dust. . . . . 
But the fact remains that before a chaplain gets to that place with a patient - the place where the patient can share into a deep hole of meaninglessness, or even leap right into it and wrestle down in the lonely existential muck until a ladder of sorts begins to appear - and somehow, somehow, in ways I still can't fully explain, a ladder always does appear - before all that, the chaplain has to create a sacred space, and to do that, she has to offer her loving presence first."               - Kerry Egan, On living, pages 18-20
Some of my work with Campus Edge is like this - a creating of sacred space to re-find meaning. Yet, too often I feel like I am trying to check off a list of things that need to be done instead of being present with others, expectant that God is working in that moment. The challenge is that many of the moments in my work are not momentous, and it is harder to remember that in the ordinary moments God is not any less present and working.

Part of this appeared earlier on my personal blog.

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