A Personal Pastoral Theology
I begin with a story about a spiritual journey similar to my own.
One day in the South Pacific, a navy ship captain saw smoke coming from the hut on an uncharted island. Upon arriving at the shore, they were met by a shipwreck survivor. He said, “I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been alone on this island for more than five years!” The captain replied, “If you’re all alone on the island why do I see three huts?” The survivor said, “Oh, well I live in one and go to church in another.” “What about the third hut?” asked the captain. “That’s where I used to go to church,” replied the survivor.
I believe that theology is lived and that it must be grounded in religious experience. I believe also that theology grows as I grow; it changes as I change, and it evolves as I evolve. Everyone has a sacred story to tell and that is why I am a hospital chaplain, to be there in the sacred and holy moments in which people need a companion to enter into the journey with. Completely in the flow of the moment, I am giving my full attention, listening to discover the person’s sorrow, suffering, joy, strength, unique experiences, and connectedness to the divine. I am privileged to be a companion to our patients and families as they draw upon their beliefs, values and support systems to deal with sickness, homelessness, sorrow, poverty, dying, chronic illness, and all of life’s changes.
It is a “God thing” that points me in the direction of my spiritual journey. I get to watch God work the hallways all the time. I have the gift to comfort people in their darkest hour. It is sacred space on holy ground and to be invited on somebody’s holy ground is a privilege and an honor. On this holy ground all are loved, cared for, respected and valued by me. Like Saint Paul, I believe “that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God…” (Romans 8:39)
My spiritual journey is a process and a light that continues to inform me of the meaning and purpose of my being. Like the survivor in the story I am in transition and always open to new truths that will help me love God, others, and myself more. This paper is about somewhere between the second and third hut.
As a hospital chaplain, I am often asked how I deal with the issues I face serving those with acute illness. Usually this question arises out of a natural struggle to make sense out of suffering, pain and loss. With the recent disaster in Haiti, some have asked about God’s role in the affairs of nations on a large scale and his role in our lives on a personal scale. Since I first began in ministry some thirty-five years ago, I have had the opportunity to study Scripture and read many various opinions on such matters. Some authors shift the responsibility to me and my choices and some shift the blame on God. Each one struggles to find understanding with some of the same issues that have plagued the lives of those on planet Earth as far back as the beginning of human history.
After years of seeing lives greatly impacted by so many powerful moments, I have rendered my own personal theology as a hospital chaplain to a couple of simple words: love and compassion. When I am faced with dilemmas that challenge me – whether that is the loss of my father in suicide and my best friend in an automobile accident, a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that threatens my existence, or my daily struggles like the inconsideration and selfishness of others – I can fall back on these two simple words as a model to follow: love and compassion.
First, I choose to love. I make a decision that in spite of what is coming my way, I have the power and the ability to respond in a loving manner, rather than lashing out in my base nature. Over the years I have heard that love is a verb, it is an action, not just a feeling. I choose to love. I can or can’t. I can do loving...
Bibliography: New York, New York. 1994
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