Category Archives: Silence

Death Bereavement and Be-ing

Republished with permission from Spirituality and Griefcare.


Death does not respect age; any death is a loss whether it be an 18-month old infant, an 18-year old youth, or an 81 year old matron. They are all significant losses to someone and each instance has its own pattern of grief responses and challenges to overcome. Regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status or any other feature, each death is unique and special, like no other death ever or anywhere, because with each death we lose an entire world, an entire package of experiences that may have just been in the process of unwrapping.

We hardly ever speak of a beforelife but tend to be overly concerned with the afterlife. It may be comforting for some of us to reflect on who and where we were before we became who we are when we were born. It’s interesting to ponder that question because we can either trust that we were in fact somewhere, existing, before we were physically conceived. But where was that? The alternative is to believe that once a random sperm entered a waiting egg, a cascade of events was triggered that became the infant you and developed into the you you are today. Quite honestly, neither of the two hypotheses can really be resolved, because we have no real idea what constitutes “you.” Perhaps that’s why we prefer to occupy ourselves with an afterlife, since in that discussion we at least have a tangible quantity to work with: a physical person with all sorts of attributes has died, and we ask the many questions associated with a death, most often Why? and Where?

We are terribly uncomfortable with being so vulnerably human and can’t bear to think that we will someday, somewhere, somehow die. We will physically stop working and some rather disgusting changes will take place in our physical bodies. Like the proverbial ostrich, most of us wander aimlessly and with minimum purpose along the myriad possible paths through the time and space we call life. We greedily seek one diversion or entertainment after the other, never getting enough, and yet demanding and getting more and more distraction from the reality of ourselves and the world around us. We become a shell of what we potentially can be.

Shells of former selves.

When death finally arrives to claim a loved one or a friend, we are shocked, confused, angry, and demanding. How could this have happened? Why did it have to happen? If only…! Reality is really hard to take and when you are so arrogant that you think you can handle all the answers or can control what happens, reality gets even harder on you. You attempt to quench your anxiety with denial but it doesn’t seem to work for you – or anyone else. Death visits and seldom knocks. Death rarely makes an appointment to come around when it’s convenient. Death just drops by and takes what is his.

When a death occurs it almost always ushers in a psychospiritual process we commonly refer to as grief, and a psychosocial process we generally refer to as mourning. Both grief and mourning have their sociocultural patterns we call ritual on the “micro” level and ceremony on the “macro” or public arena. Within these we have social norms, including how grief is politicized, acknowledged, and cultural dictates, bundled together into what we call practice or on a more substantial scale, tradition. Religion / spirituality of one form or another, or one of the philosophies seeking religion, frequently provide a foundation upon which these behaviors can establish and legitimize themselves. The psychospiritual and the psychosocial environments provide the contexts in which the bereaved engage in their grief work, find meaning in their loss, incorporate the transformed deceased into their lives, continue their bonds with the deceased, and transcend the bereavement experience as transfigured persons. It’s a complex process that requires time and permission to proceed. Although the social / public process of mourning may have temporal waypoints and a particular culture may set an end time for the public display of bereavement, grief does not have such an amenity. In fact, grief may be experienced for many years after a loss even without being classified as “pathological,” or complicated, and grief is unique to each griever, it’s a personal experience and must be accommodated by each griever in his or her own way. Grief cannot be rushed nor can it be stereotyped.

Today, in the early 21st century, we are deluged with information and stimuli of indescribable variety and in asphyxiating volumes. Some of the deluge tends to shape our very physiology and repattern our nervous systems, especially our brains and the way we think. The information and stimuli enveloping us at every instant of every day is insidiously evil in that it is directed at transforming human beings endowed with free will into means to unhealthy ends. The media bombarding every single human being today is dehumanizing us and transforming our very existence from beings to doers. We are no longer mindful of the gift of the moment we are living in and we are unable to enjoy the moment in silent reflection We have no peace. Television, radio, emails invade every moment of our lives with commands to “Hurry!” “Don’t wait!” “Do it now!” “Last Chance.” Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging have all replaced real personal relationships with virtual personal relationships. The once sentient being we called human has become a mere reflection in a smartphone screen. We don’t even take the opportunity to speeddial a significant other and would rather spend the time texting rather than  talking. Even “chatting” which was once a form of informal oral communication and stimulus sharing has become realtime texting and responding but there’s nothing real about it.

All of these intrusions and incursions into our humanity and their tragic effects on who and what we are can be seen in our death practices. Digital death is a term that once described online practices centering on death-related communications; today, digital death is the counterpart of a person’s physical death. Our dehumanization is almost complete now because we have moved away from metaphysical, spiritual trust in an afterlife and are now even concerned about what happens to our Facebook page or our Twitter account after we physically die; we are now concerned with a digital afterlife! How pitiful can it get?

Materialist consumerism has decided that your death-related experience, your bereavement, your grief should be limited to three days and then you need to get back to work, get over your loss, and become productive again. It’s called bereavement leave. But it’s not leave to grieve; it’s merely time to get the necessary paperwork done to dispose of whoever it was who died. Three days, people! You’ve lived with an individual for decades, sharing almost every moment and you have three days to get over his death. You’ve raised a child to young man or womanhood, watched a helpless infant become a strapping happy young adult and you have 3 days to get over the car crash that killed him. What have we become?

On April 25, 2017, at 9:20 a.m. two young men, Logan Penzabene and Matthew Hamilton, each 18 years old, were traveling down a main road near their homes, a road they had probably traveled dozens if not hundreds of times on their way to school or once they qualified for their drivers licenses. But today was going to be different, very different. Today was going to be so different that at about 9:20, one would be dead and the other, Matthew Hamilton, in a coma, and hundreds of lives would be forever changed. One would be dead, Logan Penzabene, and the other in a coma. Two families would be plunged into the darkness of despairing grief; a whole community would be plunged into disbelief. An entire school district would be offered grief counseling. Why?

Well, on that fateful morning, the two young men were driving along and for some reason we may never know – perhaps they were texting, perhaps making a call, perhaps responding to some electronic notification – the driver crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic and hit a flatbed tractor trailer head-on, killing the young driver and causing critical head injuries to his passenger. Were they texting, making a call, responding to an electronic notification? Does it really matter? Yes, it does matter! One young man is DEAD, another is in a COMA, a whole community is thrown into disarray. Yes! It does matter!

The appalling part of the story is not that the event was preventable – I cannot support the belief that anything is truly preventable and must dispose of that notion of preventability as just more arrogance believing that we can control events. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is one of those arrogant, self-important political figures who believes that if he announces to a so-called program, “No Empty Chair”,  Teen Safe Driving Campaign, which is heralded on the Campaign website as: “Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the “No Empty Chair” teen driving safety education and enforcement campaign to raise awareness of highway dangers during prom and graduation season.” Apparently, Cuomo believes that if he announces a campaign the problem is solved.  Cuomo’s campaign  was announced on April 15, 2017, the fatal accident occurred on April 25, 2017.

What we have to come to understand is that inflated programs and bombastic political rhetoric or police efforts during a so-called “campaign” do little or nothing to fundamentally change what government and corporations have worked so hard to create: producers to produce goods and services, consumers to consume goods and services, and sheeple to hear and obey (and to consume). The hypocrisy is conspicuous, it’s glaring, but if you’re constantly gazing into your smartphone screen, constantly receiving the indoctrination (in the past called “brainwashing”) and loving every digital minute of it, you won’t notice.

The churches and deathcare providers are elated. The churches because you may never have set foot in church for Sunday worship but they’ll wheel you in one last time and the church and pastor can get 30 minutes of exposure and a check. The deathcare industry doesn’t care one way or the other; the funeral director will get each and every one of us sooner or later, but sooner is better for the bottom line, and even better if it’s a sensational death that will attract multitudes of mourners! Visibility for both. Revenues for both. Rescue and paramedical personnel get to flaunt themselves and their equipment, which is good stuff for budget negotiations. Local political hacks, including everyone from the coroner / medical examiner, to law enforcement responders, to local elected stumpers ever eager for that special moment to appear and look devastated and share “Our prayers are with you today” canned expressions for the cameras. Even the public mourners and their makeshift shrines erected at the accident site. Everyone wants to be seen meditatively and reflectively, even prayerfully standing at the roadside memorial, “paying their respects,” showing solidarity for the momentary grief of a community. It’s really difficult to tell the real from the virtual.

The Penzabene Crash Site.

But the bottom-line, naked reality is that one young man is dead; another is critically injured. The bottom-line, naked reality is that one family is grieving the loss of a vibrant and vital part of that unit called family; a limb has been amputated and just like in the case of amputation of a physical limb, it is acutely painful, and there will be phantom pain even when the limb is no longer there.

Three days of bereavement leave is not going to work. Empty political actions like “No Empty Chair” or whatever they’re calling that stupidity is not going to work. Law enforcement “efforts” – as yet ineffectual and unrevealed – don’t seem to be doing very much. People are still killing each other, and people are getting dead regardless of whether the killing is intentional or unintentional. Sorry but dead is dead.

We can’t change what has happened and there’s no way we can justify any attempt to rationalize what has happened. That’s what makes Gov. Cuomo’s “No Empty Chair” campaign so political and so scurrilous. That’s what makes Bethlehem Police Commander Hornick’s statements like “it’s a tragic loss”  and “our feelings to out to the families” so pro forma and empty. Incidents like this one are not “tragic” and they’re probably not “preventable” by inaugurating campaigns with political undertones like “No Empty Chair.” Most people would probably disagree with what I just wrote. Not tragic!?! How heartless! Not, preventable? How fatalistic, how pessimistic! But those people would be wrong and misguided, victims of their own delusions, denial, and despair.

What I will say is that incidents like these, while not tragic and not preventable, are important teaching moments. Are important opportunities for everyone concerned to re-evaluate themselves and decide what they have become. It’s a time to become reflective and for self-examination. It’s a time to honestly admit that we are all contributing to our own psychospiritual demise, some of you willingly others inadvertently, but the vast majority are all part of the “preventable tragedies” of our post-modern, post-Christian, dehumanized world.

So what’s the final take-home message? Dead is dead. Loss is loss. Grief is unavoidable. The living will bury their dead and go on living. But is it that simple? Not really.

In my thinking, grief is a unique opportunity for personal and community growth. What you can’t change you have to take good advantage of. We do this by extending ourselves in compassion and love. We have to allow ourselves to stop for a moment so that we can catch up with ourselves. In other words, we have to take a moment and sit on a rock and become lost in time watching the brook flow around the obstacles. We need to shut out the white noise in our lives, and listen to the music of the brook and the birds. We need to raise our eyes from the illuminated screen and allow our souls to be illuminated by the sunlight playing off the ripples and the leaves. We need to stop feeling guilty about caring for ourselves and for others. We need to take time off from being busy to being just be-ing. This is essential to reclaiming our humanness, our spirituality.

I recall as a child the silent dying of a favorite apple tree. Of course, as a child I had the time for be-ing and for listening, for seeing; where there is no time for be-ing there’s no time for seeing or for listening. If we slow down we can hear what the Spirit is telling us about the dying of trees, the planet, of people, and what these deaths mean to us as beings capable of creating meaning and reflecting on love and how all of these things came into being, how a Spirit of love brought us into being.

The questions that we ask about death and dying are basically questions about the meaning of being, of be-ing. These are the questions that go into the stories once told around tribal campfires, and which now become part of the narratives that are told about our dead. These stories were the subject matter of the drawings on cave walls long ago, of the poetry of love and loss, and the emotions associated with the death of green in autumn. The Spirit is very generous in using any opportunity or event to make a point to us arrogant, uncertain, hesitant creatures.

We as educators, spiritual care providers, thanatologists, human beings, need to get back to basics and enter the world of the deep soul.

No condolences, no campaigns, no law enforcement efforts, no roadside memorials, no funeralization service will every have the desired, the needed effect unless we learn to appreciate silence. Our institutions from the family to church to government have taken a wrong turn. We live in an “increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualized world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness…” [McGilchrist, p. 6]

Our institutions cannot help but have a stake in blunting our maturity even if it means they must destroy the original versions and insights on which those very institutions were founded. We can easily identify that fragmentation in our education system, our government, our churches, and even in our families. [Aside: Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is a fascinating work of literature in many ways, but the story about the Grand Inquisitor is probably the best illustration of the perverse change in institution over time. Here’s a link to a brilliant portrayal by Sir John Gielgud. The Grand Inquisitor ]

I’ll close with a quote taken from Maggie Ross’ fascinating book, Silence: A User’s Guide, in which she cites a passage from Richard Holloway’s Leaving Alexandria, noting that Holloway’s use of “religion” should be thought of in broad terms, in the sense of any pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance

Hear the flow. See the light. Enter the silence.

“All institutions overclaim for themselves and end up believing more in their own existence than in the vision that propelled them into existence in the first place. This is particularly true of religions. Religions may begin as vehicles of longing for mysteries beyond description, but they end up claiming exclusive descriptive rights in them. They seque from the ardour and uncertainty of seeking to the confidence and complacence of possession. They shift from poetry to packaging.” [italics mine]

Download the final article from Spirituality & GriefcareNo Empty Chair

Read a related article at Tragedy or Failure?

Peace and blessings,
Rev.  Ch. Harold

Further reading:
Holloway, Richard. Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt.   Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013. Print.
L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art,  2016. Print.
Ross, Maggie. Silence: A User’s Guide, 2014. Print.

Forming a Church-based Bereavement Group

A couple of days ago a reader, Kathy T., wrote to me asking for recommendations on starting a church bereavement program. After having reflected on Kathy’s request and her plan, I responded with the following counsel. I hope it’s helpful to those of you contemplating a response to such a calling or who are already involved in such a program. Please share your thoughts and insights on what I wrote.

Bereavement_Ministry

“A place to listen, yet be heard.”—”A place to cry, yet also laugh.”—”A place to find peace, yet never be over your loss.”—”A place to create lifelong friendships.” 

A bereavement ministry seeks to provide a safe place where the bereaved can gain an understanding of the grief process, have the opportunity to talk through their experiences, and explore their thoughts and feelings with others who are also grieving the loss of a loved one. Doing so will assist the bereaved in working through their grief on their journey to healing so that they, once again, will be able to enjoy a happy and productive life with memories of their loved one.


Good evening, Kathy:

Once again, thank you for your inquiry. It’s my pleasure to provide some assistance to you for your plan to create a bereavement ministry in your church community.

A church community is a very appropriate place to create such a ministry, and in most traditions it is a no-brainer to have one, at least in past generations. Today, it seems, even church communities avoid supporting the dying and the bereaved, and those that do continue that tradition have a very myopic view of how it is to be done.

Research done over the past 20 or so years has shed quite a bit of light on the real needs of the dying and of the bereaved, and healthcare research has shown hands down that a holistic approach is required when dealing effectively and sensitively with the dying person and his or her survivors. In fact, back in the 90s, Charles Corr published an eye-opening article (see details below) on a task-based approach to coping with dying, which was a very novel notion and gained quite a good deal of acceptance in the field of thanatology.

What-Does-our-Church-BelieveBut back to your plan for a church-based bereavement program. One point that is extremely important for anyone starting a bereavement ministry in any faith or belief community is that the persons practicing that ministry must be absolutely familiar with their faith or belief tradition’s teachings on life, dying, death, and any afterlife. While a bereavement ministry is not the place for evangelizing or catechizing, it is a place where the focus is on hope and hope, in contrast to wishing, is reality oriented. Far too many faith community bereavement groups focus too much on past sins, an afterlife, and a promised resurrection. While the past sins part is OK, the last thing a dying person needs is an 11th-hour guilt trip or an anxiety attack! As for the other two, well, they’re still to be proven. Faith goes a long way but it has to be administered with compassion and good sense.

bereavement support hopeIf a bereavement ministry is to companion the person actively dying that person even while dying is still a living person and not dead yet. As a living person, he or she still has meaning, purpose, a legacy, hope. And yes, the dying person is also a bereaved person, since she or he has lost a great deal that was once valued by him or her, and may also be grieving! The bereavement minister can help the dying person find her or his hope, meaning, and assist in a good death and that should, in my opinion, be your focus.

Then there are the survivors, who are bereaved because they are anticipating losing or have already lost a loved one. While it would be naïve to try to persuade you that everyone who dies is a “loved” one we have to frequently admit that not everyone who dies is especially loved, or if loved, perhaps not very liked. This happens and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a lot of unfinished business and you’ll have to deal with it effectively.

While I’m not trying to dissuade or discourage you from responding to a calling, I do want to impress upon you that dying, death, grief, bereavement, mourning can be very, very complicated and you’ll have to do a lot of work learning about the subject matter. Dying, death, grief and bereavement may be as old as humankind itself and one of the most natural things that there is but it’s incredibly complex. Because of the complexity it can be intimidating, which is why it’s so easy to avoid thinking or talking about and so easy to deny.

The saying, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions” applies very precisely to many persons, with the best intentions, embark on a course of action for which they are ill-prepared, and consequently do a lot of damage. This is no place for doing damage and all the good intentions in the world cannot substitute for an ounce of good planning. As a bereavement minister you’ll have to learn all about yourself and your intentions before you step up to the plate, and attempt to provide support to others in crisis. You need to give some thought to what is motivating you to provide bereavement support and if that motivation is really more for you or for your helpees. It’s not uncommon for people to think they are responding to an altruistic calling, when in fact they are the unconscious focus of their efforts. That’s not to say that they don’t do a hell of a lot of good work despite that fact, but some can really cause problems. That’s why it’s so important to be honest with yourself and seek a couple hours of counseling, psychological or competent pastoral counseling, avoiding any sectarian or denominational emphasis, to ensure that you can be authentic and not self-serving.

So, for starters, I’d recommend you get your hands on a very helpful book published by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), Handbook of Thanatology: The Essential Body of Knowledge for the Study of Death, Dying, and Bereavement (link: Handbook), by David K. Meagher (Editor), David E. Balk (Editor). The book is a superb overview of death, dying and bereavement and should be on every bereavement minister’s desk. It covers just about all the essentials and has an extensive bibliography. Once you dive into the Handbook, you’ll initially have a sense of being overwhelmed with the scope of bereavement and its myriad manifestations and complications but as you acquire some experience, you’ll find it’s all quite natural.

In Clinical Pastoral Education we teach that the intentional ministry of presence is the essential activity of the bereavement minister. Just being present to hold a hand, give a hug, silent but there. That’s harder than you might think because most of us go through every phase of our lives making some sort of commotion, talking, not listening. But as a bereavement minister, silence, listening will be your greatest challenge.

Boundaries are something you need to explore and I can send you a good bibliography on boundaries in bereavement and crisis facilitation. One of the essential boundaries is that unless you have the credentials, you are not a therapist or a counselor, and as a bereavement minister you are not there to “fix” anything but rather to be an authentic and compassionate companion to the person doing the dying and the survivors.

Again, I’d refer you to ADEC’s professional Code of Ethics (link: Code of Ethics) for some idea of how to manage your conduct in various situations.

You are going to have to invest some time in taking some courses and one place I’d start is with the National Center for Death Education or NCDE (link: NCDE), which is located at Mt Ida College in Newton, MA. The NCDE offers a number of online courses, as well as a Certificate in Thanatology (death studies), which, if you do not have some sort of ministry or pastoral credential or qualifications in phychology, social work, counseling, etc., would almost be essential as a credential for your bereavement ministry. The NCDE also hosts an annual Summer Institute, which is a week-long event that brings in death specialists from practically all over the hemisphere, and features renowned experts in the field of dying, death, grief, and bereavement. You should contact Diane Moran, NCDE director, at dmoran@mountida.edu. You can mention my name when you contact her and let her know I recommended you. She’s a wonderful person and very, very helpful and knowledgeable. She’ll put you on the right path as far as initial credentials are concerned.

As I mentioned, the field is immense, and the learning is a challenge. Once you get the Handbook of Thanatology, you’ll understand what I mean. But please, don’t buy the book outright; it’s very expensive. Have your community library request it on interlibrary loan for you. Take it out for a couple of weeks and just peruse the chapters to get a feel for the field. It’s the kind of book that you can just pick a chapter and read it rather than one that you have to drag thru every chapter to have some continuity. Then, if it’s your cup of tea, purchase it as your desk reference.

In addition to Charles Corr’s article on A Task-based Approach to Coping with Dying (see below for details), I would recommend another of Corr’s articles articles, Dying and Its Interpreters (see below for details). I find the article is very informative and synopsizes much of the important work that has been done on dying over the past couple of decades. Pay close attention to the end of the article in the “Some Lessons to Draw from the Review”, which I find to be very helpful to students.

If you would find it useful, I can send you a short description of the Intentional Ministry of Presence, which describes being present to the dying and by extension to the survivors.

At this very early stage in your journey, it would be very difficult to provide anything more specific, since the field is incredibly wide and complex, and I’m not sure where you stand in terms of background, education, experience, etc. It all makes a difference.

You see, some faith or belief communities have very systematized doctrines on dying and death, while others treat it merely as a transition to something that follows temporal life. Christian and non-Christian traditions can have very complicated death practices, while others simplify the process to an embarrassing degree.


When life brings terrible storms our direction, we may react with anger, fear, depression, sadness, disappointment, and or disbelief. We may vacillate between these feelings until we come to terms with a solution or acceptance of our grief. The object of our grief maybe the loss of a love one, of a job, of a relationship or loss of security. Also, failure, crisis, divorce or any life changes may be substantial for grief. Remember this, healthy grief comes to a solution or acceptance, unhealthy grief is unresolved and may appear either as a psychological or physical illness.
“We walk in faith not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7


I guess the best way to proceed is to have an open-door policy, that is, once you have a look at some of the material and look at some of the literature, you’ll be better able to articulate what you want to do. I can’t stress enough that you must also be very well read in your own faith or belief tradition to competently apply it to offering hope and meaning to your brothers and sisters in your church community. One caveat: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are fine as guidelines but to take them literally may cause problems; they must be read and interpreted in the light of the times and in the context in which they are applied. At the risk of seeming areligious or insensitive, the deathbed, the vigil, the funeral, the memorial is no place to start Bible-thumping or pushing Jesus on the bereaved; what they are looking for is meaning and hope in their faith both for themselves and for the dead loved one. Once they are dead, everything else we do is for the living.

So there you have some ‘random’ thoughts to digest. Please feel free to contact me any time if you have any questions or need any information.

Prayer is good only if it is invited; we can always pray silently even when not requested to do so. So let’s now close with a little prayer of faith, hope and love:

Let me know be firm in my faith as my end draws ever nearer.  When my time comes, let me depart this life peacefully, and join my family and friends, waiting for me on the other side, now more of them gone than remaining here below.  The sands of my time are running out…I am yours, Lord, now and forever, in faith, in hope, in love!  Please, please, hold me ever in Your heart.  Let their souls rise blazingly bright once more, and please receive them Jesus into shining and eternal glory with You! All this I pray to You My good Redeemer, in hope and confidence and burning ardent love. Amen.

Peace and blessings!
Chaplain Harold

Resources:

  • Corr, C.A. (1991). “A task-based approach to coping with dying”. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 24,81-94.
  • Corr, C.A., Doka, K.J., & Kastenbaum, R. (1999). “Dying and its interpreters: A review of selected literature and some comments on the state of the filed”. Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying, 39, 239-259.

On the difference or Equivalence of Pastor/Chaplain

Is There a Distinction that Needs to be Drawn Between a Practitioner’s Playing the Role of Pastor or that of Chaplain?

I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion

I recently engaged several colleagues on the question of chaplaincy or pastoring. I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion, while advocating an interfaith approach as advanced by the adherents of the CPE agenda. I thought I’d share my contribution to the discussion.

listen-with-heartIt is my contention that we should not advance the notion of a “versus” or “as opposed to” when discussing chaplaincy or pastoring. While it is true that some traditions, the Hebrew and Islamic, for example, eschew the notion of “pastor” or “shepherd” for cultural or traditional, even ethical reasons, in the broader sense all chaplains are in fact “pastors,” while all pastors (in the conventional sense) are not necessarily “chaplains” (or critically speaking, even pastors!). In fact, I object in principal to the biased terminology we so frequently use in our vocations, “pastoral care” department, because it tends to be exclusive. I personally prefer spriritual care provider (although in my professional materials I do use pastoral care). Moreover, most people, even those in the vocation, tend to associate pastoral with pastors and thus with some sort of clergy or ordained service provider (usually with no questions asked and we all know about the profanation of ordination); that in itself is a misfortune for all concerned. But the much-touted CPE doesn’t do much to clarify the issues for interns or residents, and we still see chaplains “certified” by the self-proclaimed arbitors of chaplaincy who are just as ignorant after several years of “education” as they were before.

A case in point is taken from the scenario presented by the initiator of the discussion who describes walking into a Jewish patient’s room with a Christian clerical collar, which I characterized as benign “ignorance” but in reality was outright insensitive and would indicate that the “chaplain” in question did not do any initial preparation before launching out on rounds or visitations.clerical collar pc I might fraternally suggest that in future, whether you are a chaplain or a pastoral care associate, to check the chart briefly or dialogue with the nurse assigned to that patient before you visit. The offending chaplain actually says that he was aware that the patient was dying and had no family, so it seems rather odd that the chaplain did not appreciate the patient’s faith tradition and, if it wasn’t in the chart, that he didn’t consult with the immediate caregiver (nurse or LPN).

I also questioned the fact that the visiting chaplain was aware that the man was “Jewish”. Being Jewish immediately identifies one as being associated with a certain cultural, socio-religious tradition, after all, one does not call one’s self “Jewish” except to identify one’s self as a Jew.  So this also raises the question of whether the chaplain in question was indifferent to the possibility that this dying man might have welcomed a visit by a rabbi, or that the chaplain did not make or offer to make a referral. Such sensitivity may have been a great comfort to the man, who might have found great refuge in his tradition and prayers. So I identify a boundary issue in this behavior, too; an issue of knowing one’s limits.

This situation also sends up red flags in that it clearly indicates that the institution did not do a spiritual assessment of this patient, much less a spiritual evaluation or history, which also reveals a glaring ignorance of the now widely inaugurated JCAHO and HIPA scoring categories relating to patient spiritual care.

The scenario I describe above should be instructive to us all and I thank the so-called chaplain for the inadvertent teaching/learning moment he has provided.

Finally, in the dying process I don’t feel there’s a heck of a lot of “pastoring” left to be done, unless it’s for the survivors. In my experience, in end-of-life situations I am more of a presence and spiritual guide/companion. While that may arguably be part of pastoring in a general sense, I feel that the actual mission of pastoring contrasts in praxis with the mission of spiritual accompaniment at end-of-life or in an existential crisis.

plant in handIt’s rather like the difference between evangelization and catechesis, if you have that in your tradition. One takes care of the basics and gets the seed started (evangelization), the other (catechesis) ends in the care and nurturing to harvest time.

Listening to hearAnother colleague mentioned in a rather cliché fashion with which we are all familiar when listening to the CPE crowd, that CPE trains one to listen. I disagree with such responses such as “CPE “teaches” one to listen.” I’m not quite sure how that works but in my divinity training and three years of supervised pastoral formation, and my participation in and disappointment with a rather popular CPE program in a large trauma center in Albany, New York, which fell far short of even my minimum aspirations, I don’t think that people can be “taught to listen” they may listen, but they don’t listen deeply. I know that from experience the deep listening skill comes from deep within one’s self, once one is comfortable with one’s self, and can leave one’s self for the time it takes to absorb and process the patient’s narrative. It’s that kind of listening that might be part of qualifying an aspirant to be spiritual care provider but it certainly isn’t the be all and end all.

The serene face of the large Buddha his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

The serene face of the Buddha, his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

Deep listening is the act of sinking into a serene quiet place, and awakening a receptive awareness of the other. By entering quiet and becoming aware of the other, we move out of and beyond our ego-driven chaos to become open to the divine messages within us and shared with us by the other. Imagine the irony here is that we so often complain of the pain of not having been heard, but we are so guilty ourselves of being deaf to, not hearing the innate wisdom from within ourselves and shared with us by others. When we learn to accept emptiness, when quiet, we instinctively trust in the guidance of sacred voices far more profoundly than what our bullying brains and the busy buzz of life would have us hear. And we listen, respond with silence.

In fact, having examined quite a number of CPE curricula and having developed continuing quality improvement curricula for the healthcare chaplaincy department, I find that the current CPE programs and their associated certification elements serve only to promote a burocratic and very branded form of “pastoral” care, and that branded product falls short of most suffering persons’ real needs. helpingIt’s the proprietary nature and standardization (viz. uniformization, homogenization) of the learning that deals the death blow to an appreciation (1) of the universal truths and values shared by all human beings, (2) the beauty in the diversity of traditions and how to appreciate and be enriched by a certain mutuality, (3) the possible pitfalls of an interfaith approach to faith traditions that may adhere very loyally to their dogmas. There are other reasons I could enumerate but regrettably (or fortunately for the readers) space is limited.

I think that an overwhelming majority, too, of CPE students come with excess baggage and too little self-death–I’ve observed interns, residents, even certified chaplains who have a great potential to do considerable damage…and do. The situation is not unlike seminary, you can do much to scrutinize, to form, to standardize but Whoa! when you turn them loose on the world, watch out! (A Roman Catholic diocesan priest, who also serves in the chancery tribunal, remarked ironically to me one day, “They’ll ordain anybody these days.” Which is probably true given the shortage of priests today.)

The so-called supervisors of the CPE programs almost invariable have their own biases and agendas, and these tend to impair good formation.
In some, not all instances, too, CPE programs have become “pay-to-work” programs in which minimally screened individuals, wet behind the ears and green, are turned loose on the floors to deal with sophisticated staff and human beings in existential crisis. I don’t feel that’s right. And I have also observed that interns are exposed to the same curriculum content for three or four years, and unless they have the academic predisposition to independently advance their armamentarium of experience through narrative and study, many don’t build their foundations. Some interns do not have theology or pastoral studies to help them through the necessary processing, and almost all have a depraved Western bias to their spirituality that tends to act as a speed bump when offering care to Non-western recipients. These programs tend to be “chaplain mills.” CPE does not fit the bill on its own to form professional, well-rounded spiritual care providers, but does excel in churning out multitudes of volunteers for greedy institutions. That may be one of the reasons it has survived this long.

On another level, some practitioners involved in the discussion advocated that the “Gospel” or, by extension, holy scriptures, has no firm place in chaplaincy. I do differ in that the fundamental ethics of the “Gospel” (not as understood principally by the evangelicals or fundamentalist among us) is a major part of chaplaincy. servant leadershipI cite particularly the beatitudes and the teaching of discipleship and servant leadership (chaplaincy is certainly not limited to the sick and dying but to the suffering generally). While I abhor the notion, and even more so the practice of proselytizing to captive audiences, and would hasten to emphasize that evangelization and catechization is not a fundamental role of the chaplain, ethics, discipleship, and servant leadership all play a special role in the myriad activities of the professional chaplain. (Note also that I do distinguish between the “professional chaplain”, the pastoral/spiritual care associate, and the visitor providing spiritual support.) To advocate that the truths and values espoused by the “Gospel”, the holy scriptures of any faith or spiritual tradition might have no place in chaplaincy is to advocate a position, I believe, of a chaplaincy practice devoid of ethics (and religion) (I do realize that this is a particularly “Christian” approach and my Judaic, Islamic and Buddhist colleagues may not necessarily agree with the religion-ethics statement, but I make the statement here somewhat loosely for convenience sake).

I’m not judging colleagues in chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education too severely at all. In fact, I’m simply sharing my own observations and opinions based on personal experience. I am not a bit surprised when some readers tend to take these observations personally, as if they were meant to make an ad hominem stab at the straw[wo]men of CPE; I usually anticipate that persons in our line of work have a bit more self-awareness not to take every facially severe remark as a lancet thrust to the heart, however.

Rather than play an offended person’s role, perhaps we all would benefit by admitting that we may have learnt something about one’s self as through another’s eyes.

We Respond, We don't React.

We Respond, We don’t React.

Our role is to humbly respond, not to knee-jerk react. After all, to paraphrase the prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘We are all wrapped in the same cloth…when we directly hurt another we indirectly hurt ourselves.” (I do hope I did that statement justice!). So, when one party to the conversation called such a response arrogant, and a failure to simply accept some responsibility in relationship to colleagues’ responses, I merely responded, “My point indeed. The mouth loves the feel of words.” Instead we minimize, rationalize and justify our behavior, making certain to protect one’s self. This particular correspondent insists that “our patients have thick enough skins to handle a collar.”panda overload My response was tantamount to the fact that I don’t think that we have any right to expect patients to have “thick skins.” Some practitioners in pastoral care seem to admit patients’ strengths but underestimate their sensitivity and vulnerability. Many of the patients I see have lost their thick skins and in fact are pretty bruised in terms of dignity, autonomy, fortitude, patience, etc. I see no reason to add another straw to the pile. And Yes! It’s not about us, it’s about patient-centered, family-focused, inter- and multi-disciplinary care.

bedside prayerWhen we adopt such an approach we appreciate that, whereas many of our colleagues practice their spiritual care ministry in acute care settings or in crisis settings, many colleagues may find themselves–particularly in the scenario of the long-term care setting–in the position of playing both the role of chaplain and pastor to some residents in those longer-term care facilities. Regrettably, many of these residents lived their lives unchurched or churched with infrequent interaction with their faith community; more regrettably, some faith communities have disappeared or simply no longer continue a ministry of visitation of the sick and homebound who were once part of their faith community. It’s in such situations that the chaplain may very well become the pastor, and have to function in both roles. I don’t feel that this should be a major stumbling block nor even a concern to the well-formed spiritual care provider, who is responding to a true call to spiritual care ministry.

We're all wrapped in the same cloth...

We’re all wrapped in the same cloth…

Now God Comes in 29 Different Flavors!

We Are Being Dumbed Down and Turned into A Nation of Zombies.

The Zombies are Eating Our Tax Dollars!

They’re Turning Us Into Zombies
And We’re Eating Each Other!

Technology, the Promoters of the Technology, the Lobbies and Unions Shoving Technology Down Our Throats, the Public Officials Who are Slaves to the Unions and Lobbies, and our Already Zombified Teachers and Administrators are Hell-bent to Zombify our Entire Culture!

Just Shoot Us! Why Doncha!?!

You’re Boring Us To Death!
Just Shoot Us! Why Doncha!?!

I was going to continue the reports on the RC Teen Activity Center and on the Unending Persecution of the RCS CSD BoE President by the Hypocrite Albany DA P.[udenda] David Soares until I Experienced the Most Recent RCS school board public meeting on January 7, 2012. I simply had to comment on it!

PowerPoint Masturbation. I reviewed the RCS Central School District board of education meeting of January 7th, and I was initially amazed that it was so…quiet. Fact is: It was barely attended by the public. Then came the reason: Another one of those idiotic digital slide show presentations where the presenter self-pleasures him or herself by vomiting onto a wall or screen a mass of numbers, charts and graphs that no one but the presenter understands. Only a death squad of mercenaries could kill the audience quicker! Is that the plan? Kill attendance by presenting idiotic garbage? Is that the purpose of the public sessions of the board of education meetings? Well, it does show one thing: If these presenters, who are teachers and administrators in the schools, are that self-absorbed and mentally zombified that they don’t give a damn how intensely boring they are and how disrespectful they are of their audience, what on earth are they doing in the classrooms? Is this an indicator of how they communicate information in the classroom, too? Then, of course, I started to think…

zombies ahead run

Education is all about communication. If teachers and administrators are not capable of communicating appropriately with their audience, what in hell are we spending all this money on paying teachers extreme salaries? If, from what we see and hear in these PowerPoint slide presentations by teachers and administrators is: What in hell are we spending all of the “professional development” money on for teachers? (Please don’t tell me, “It’s in their contract.”) The PowerPoint presentations are much too long, too many slides, too poorly designed, too poorly presented, not presented in a language the audience can fully understand, and present too much information for anyone of normal intelligence to digest! The time, effort, money would be better spent on a simple one-page executive summary, and an essential facts sheet followed with a Q/A session.

Dr Alan McCartney did an excellent job by jumping in and summarizing a very confused and muttered presentation point by clearly distilling the facts: “When she says [the increase in] online testing, the state has essentially told us that Within two years they expect that all state tests will be takend online at the same time by every student in the state.” Bingo. Stop the convoluted explanations and miscommunications, cross-referencing and pointing to other people. You’re supposed to be informing everyone!

But the fact remains: So much money being spent on technology, updates, new computers, etc. doesn’t do very much to improve socialization, reading, writing, development of self. Those are the problems that are being created by over-technologization of our schools and digitizing our learning environments. Out-of-control and excessive dependence on technology is a key factor in zombification.

Big Brother's Zombies

Big Brother’s Zombies

Zombification of America. Imagine all of those futuristic low-budget films where masses of human beings are mindlessly gazing at Fearless Leader, who appears demonically proselytizing on a huge flat-screen. Imagine all of those low-budget walking-dead films depicting zombified undead human beings walking around aimlessly, mindlessly trying to find a brain to eat (apparently they’re brain -starved, the product of our education system). Imagine all of the newsreel, archival, and documentary images of the Nazi era, of Stalin’s Russia, of Revolutionary China and the propaganda machine that deprived whole populations of freedom of thought, speech, movement, and controlled every atom of information served to the public. Have you ever thought about how all of that was accomplished? Have you ever thought about the underlying message these films of protest, of warning are sending?

Are these your kids>

Are these your kids

Isolation of Children. In all of the totalitarian regimes, the family unit was a prime target. First you isolate parents from children, and then you get all the children in one place and brainwash them. Sound familiar? Here, let me help you to understand. In the Nazi, Stalinist, China during the cultural revolution, the family was always made sacrosanct because the propagandists knew at the time that it was central and a core value to the population. But what they then proceded to do is to gradually dissolve the traditional family to form a new-age type of family. Breeders would produce perfect offspring, who would be herded into education camps, and who then would become a generation of perfect zombies, and the cycle would continue. Are you getting it now? Maybe not? Let’s move on, then.

This isolation of children, young people from parents and the traditional family unit then went on to isolate families and children from the ethics and morality sources, the spiritual and faith communities, the churches and congregations. Once the sensitivity to the value of spirituality, faith and religion was erased in the family and in the youth, new gods, idols, could be set up to fill the void created by killing God. Once ethics and morality was taken out of the hands of the faith and spiritual communities, the now ethically and moraly sterile parents and youth could be filled with a popular, government, corporate morality and ethics.

zombie girlNow those newly indoctrinated, brainwashed young adults become teachers. Without the traditional family to instill a sense of culture and identity, and without the faith communities to inspire ethics and morality, the education system, the schools and liberal colleges and universities now disseminate faddish, dumbed-down learning at economically hobbling prices. The basic thought here is: control the spirit and the mind through zombified education, the spirit through corporate ethics and morality, and vertical and horizontal movement by shackling the population with the propaganda that the ultimate goal is a college education even if you end up with a lifetime of debt and no job.

The control logic is ingenious. Don’t you think? No, you don’t think. That’s the fundamental problem!

Undead - The Zombie Teacher

Mr Undead
The Zombie Teacher

Here’s an example: The other day I was having a breakfast meeting with a contributor. The waitress, always ready to add her two cents, starts bitching about what her daughter is [not] learning in middle school. Seems she’s falling behind and the mother hasn’t a clue how to help her. “She just doesn’t get the math they’re teaching! It’s all dashes and dots and numbers. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand what it is!” ISOLATION OF THE PARENT FROM THE CHILD’S EDUCATION! The government sets up systems that eliminate parental participation in their childrens’ education (except to pay dearly for it). If the parent doesn’t get it and can’t help the child, the parent loses esteem in the child’s eyes (“Gee, mom, you’re a dumbass!”), the child feels helpless and vulnerable, has low self-esteem (“I’m stupid.”), the modern morality, ethics, and economics force the single mother to work long hours to support the child (“Gee, mom, you’re never around when I need you!”), the father’s probably a victim of the legal system and in jail for peeing in public or desperation drinking (think alcoholism in soviet Russia), and the child has a no-parent family unit (Our law enforcement dunces and idiot judges at work reinforcing the zombification process!).

eat more brainsEnter the A.S.A.P. programs and the Teen Activity Centers of the world! Parents are already technically isolated from their children and the ethical and moral foundations have been eroded to such an extent that any sense of guilt is radically lessened, so now parents, in the squeeze by the financial environment and the corporate brainwashing that they MUST HAVE, MUST RUSH OUT and GET, MUST GIVE, now make the excuse that to make ends meet, they both, mother and father, must have jobs.

(No one seems to catch on that they’re being satanically manipulated by the corporations, the educators, the service providers. Nope! They’re zombies now, they don’t have to think. No brain left, you see! That’s why the movie zombies have to eat brains…they have to replace their own brain they sacrificed to the government, unions and corporations!). But now we have “After School Activities Programs” and Community Teen Centers, Youth Centers, etc. that gather the young people together, away from home, family, parents, and become the surrogate home, family, parents to the children. All they are are Nazi, Stalinist, revolutionary Chinese youth camps, and they have the same effect: Separate the children from the home, family, parents; gather them into one place; make them feel good and liked there; replace the home, family, parents with a new home, family, and new “parents.” Get it yet? Sure, you rationalize the whole thing and think you “need to work to make ends meet,” that “you need to give the kids the latest brain-dissolving handheld toys,” that you need “to rush out and buy that product,” that everyone in the family “needs their own vehicle” (so that they can rush out and leave the home, family, parents and get to the youth or teen center, indoctrination camp.). No guilt anymore! Everyone has his or her addiction. Everyone’s a zombie.

Nobody needs to care. Everyone needs an assault weapon (to finish off all the other zombies). Do your hear the evil Lord [In]Sidious sniggering in the confusion of your life, now?

FEAR IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL MOTIVATORS, CONTROLS, WEAPONS!

Zombie Teachers

Zombie Teachers

Zombification of Education. Well, I started out talking about PowerPoint masturbation and presenter self-pleasuring. I raised the question if what we are seeing, the total alienation of the audience by the presenter, total unawareness of the audience, is that what’s happening in the classrooms? I then provided you, dear readers, with a tour of what I see is going on right under unseeing eyes: the zombification of the people. Yes, we are so blind that we sheeple along to the drumbeat of the propagandists, our richly lobby-bribed elected officials, the corporations, and a federal government too big to care and money-making-bailout-sponges the propagandists tell us are too big to fail. But what we are really missing, so tragically missing is the true tragedy right here, in our own communities, right in your own home: the zombification of the family! We used to hear that “education starts in the home, formation in the churches, training in the schools.” Where has all that wisdom gone? We are becoming a nation of digitized, electronic junkies. We are becoming a society of ethically cleansed, amoral, brainless, starving zombies. Why? Because it’s so easy. That’s why.

We like easy. But when you actually think about it it’s catastrophic! Take, for example, electronic communications. Before the birth of the transistor radio way back in the 1960’s, people sat home and listened to the radio together; with the transistor radio, the migration genes were facilitated, and you could listen on your own, while on the move! Then came the computer and e-mail and online searches. No more sitting down and writing a nice card or going to the library, seeing friends, socializing, browsing the stacks. Now you could sit in a dark cubicle or in a corner of your bedroom and get it all! But even then you still had to go out, face the world, shop, negotiate, pay bills.

No more, my little zombies! Just isolate yourself in your dark little corner and Bingo! It’s all done…digitally. Eating out in a restaurant or a diner used to be a social ritual. Forget about that, too! Just look around you: couples sitting at the same table, each one looking blankly down at their lap. It used to be that when you saw something like that you yelled: “Hands on the table!” No more, my little zombies! All the self-pleasuring now is done…digitally!

So the universities came up with another rain-making, revenue generating, cost-saving strategy: online degrees. No more physical interpersonal social learning experiences. Just sit in your dusty, smelly, infested corner and “earn a degree.” It’s that simple, simpletons!

Worse still, our educators and the boards of education are caving to an idiotic decree, now law, that mandates that our schools go digital! Now if this isn’t a conspiracy by the information technology lobbies, the computer and software lobbies, I must have come down with the last shower!

Freud, Piaget, Ainsworth, Watson, Bandura, Kohlberg and others all have theories of human development, of stages of human moral and character evelopment and all of them take into consideration the importance of human physical interaction.

One Instructor, One Lesson for All

One Instructor, One Lesson for All

Almost every magazine and journal has recently published articles on the importance of human contact in healthy human development and the consequences of “isolation.” The studies and research on which these articles are based is done by scholars and academics, scientists. Why is it all lost on our educators? The Answer: Unions and Lobbies! MONEY. And our federal and state education pundits are all in the union and lobby pockets! That’s why the New York State Education Department has told schools to start planning for the flatscreen teacher–all of education will be cleansed of the personal role model in the classroom, the adored teacher (what’s left of any real role models in the classroom). One standardized model will present one standardized presentation over fiberoptic delivery or satellite hookup. All zombies will get one standardized program of instruction. All little zombies will be uniform in their thinking. All parent zombies will be eliminated from the picture (until tax time comes). The entire world will be ZOMBIFIED!

Which Way Is God?!?

Which Way Is God?!?

Nowadays Even God Comes in 29 Different Flavors. Religion and faith, too, has been zombified by the media and by the courts. People are spiritually lost, impoverished. They know there’s something more than the new idols of cars, money, handhelds, digital friends. The human spirit feels drawn to something else! And the free market economy, atheist capitalism is right there to meet the need! My question is Why? if so many people are searching that someone doesn’t get the message that they’re not finding what they need. Just driving around the area we see more different churches than Heinz has soups! What is it that all these churches are attempting to answer but don’t seem to be doing? An interesting fact is that Episcopalians are defecting to Roman Catholicism; Roman Catholics, fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and others are flocking to the Eastern Orthodox Church! The reasons? Here are just a couple:

  • the reductionism, barreness, and minimalism in most faddish, modern faith communities
  • a search for a sense of mystery and majesty in worship
  • a search for a joyful and confident, credible celebration of the liturgy
  • a commitment to the role of tradition as a supplement/complement to the Bible as a source for theology
  • an experience of a well-defined sense of identity in faith tradition rooted in a historical consciousness of the early koinonia / chabad
  • a heritage of spiritual perseverance tested by modern challenges, even persecutions.

The Powers had to Make God Politically Incorrect in our Schools and Public Institutions.

Why? Because a belief in God and freedom to speak about God could possibly remind us that we have the freedom, the chutzpah (Hebrew: audacity) to Argue with God would this would create a dangerous situation in which the citizen could challenge the Powers. Hell, if Abraham and Job could argue with God, why shouldn’t we challenge the Powers?

One possible explanation is that the general zombification we are witnessing is expressing itself in confusion and derailment relating to spirituality and the search for Ultimate Truth, a search for our own identity. The causes of the general zombification include those discussed above. The solutions don’t need to be discovered, they’re already under our noses, we need only to see and acknowledge them.

Believe!Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

Believe!
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

The Editor

P.s. If you’ve gotten this far, you deserve a little gift! I’ve found an interesting article, very short, that goes through seven technologies that George Orwell describes in his novel, 1984, and that have become reality in 2013! The man was a seer, a prophet! Read the short article with my best wishes. Click 7 sinister technologies from Orwell 1984.

The Wooden Bowl: A Parable

I Guarantee You will Remember the Parable of the Wooden Bowl Tomorrow, a Week from Now, a Mmonth from Now, a Year from Now.


The Wooden Bowl

old wooden bowl

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson.

The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor.
When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. ‘We must do something about father,’ said the son. ‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.’

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner.

There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.
Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

wooden bowl + spoon

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.old man

The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, ‘What are you making?’ Just as sweetly, the boy responded, ‘Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up. ‘ The four-year-old smiled and went back to work…

The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

[I am humbly grateful to my friend and colleague, Jean Francois, who shared this beautiful parable with me.]


turles and wisdom
We all need to reflect. I’ve learned that, no matter what happens, how bad it seems today, life does go on, and there is always the hope that it will be better tomorrow.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles just four things: a rainy day, the elderly, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I’ve learned that having a good ‘living’ is not the same thing as having a good ‘life..’

I’ve learned that every mistake gives you a second chance to learn.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back sometimes.

I’ve learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you But, if you focus on the needs of others, your work and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you. When you practice generosity, compassion, humility you’ve already given up the toxins that poison happiness.

 I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart and mind, I usually make the right decision.

I’ve learned that every day, you should reach out and touch someone.

People love that human touch — holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back, or simply the touch of another’s appreciation and kind glance.

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn; I’ve learned that for all I’ve learned I still know so very little.

I’ve learned that you should reflect on this parable of the wooden bowl, and practice compassion, non-judgmental presence, and unconditional love.

I’ve learned that Wisdom does not come from all the books I’ve read or the degrees I’ve received; it comes from sharing with a frail old person from a wooden bowl.

Pass this on to everyone you care about … I just did.

 animated candle_small

Considering Suffering

“There is a time for everything…under the heavens a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecc 3:1a,7b)

The Suffering in the World and the Heaviness of Grief Drag the Soul Down and Weight it With Despair…But It Is Better to Light A Single Candle than to Curse the Darkness Around Us.

animated candle small

All religious and spiritual traditions teach that man lives in horizontal time or chronos; the Divine time is vertical, kairos. In Divine time there is no past or future, it is all here and now. Unlike humankind, the Divine does not look to the past nor to the future, they are simply unnecessary because the Divine is perfect and that perfection embraces unchangingness and allknowingness. Perfection does not have to learn from the past nor hope for the future.

Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!

Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!

But we exist in a different dimension, if you will. We can either despair of the past or hope for the future; resent the past and despise the future; or as Ecclesiastes teaches, we can accept that the Divine plan provides for “a time for everything…a time to be born and a time to die..a time for scattering stones and a time to gather them…a time to embrace…a time to search…a time to mend…a time to be silent and a time to speak…a time to love…and a time for peace.”

The Divine plan is Perfection and Immutable. It keeps us on schedule and on plan always, whether we like it or not, and whether we understand it or not. The world is full of pain and suffering, most of it so far away from us that we almost take it for granted and go on with our own lives without considering that human beings and other creatures are suffering immensely but we don’t see their tears or hear their cries…so they’re easy to pass by and cast our eyes away. Until it strikes close to home. But the Divine plan includes us always and when Perfection sees its creatures becoming callous to the lessons of suffering, Perfection brings it closer to home so that we, too, can face the challenge and become humbled by it. When we see suffering we can appreciate the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: There is a time to be born and the fact of being born brings with it the fact of death.

gathering togetherWe are made of fragile materials and we break, sometimes very badly, and we die. It’s when we are humbled by challenge, moments in the Divine Plan that we are incapable of comprehending, that it becomes time to gather stones to rebuild, a time to embrace our universal humanity as the kin-dom of the Divine, a time to search for meaning in the challenge. But above all and essential to the purpose of the Divine Plan is that a time of challenge is a time for love, a time for God, because as John teaches “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8). Gathering together in love, we are in a time of mending, of healing; in that time of healing we find a time to be silent, present, and a time to speak. As stones gathered searching for meaning in the challenge, and embraced by the power of perfect love, we heal in silence and sometimes speak silently in prayer…we seek peace.

The events in the world that cause suffering and despair, confusion and anger, anxiety and hate are in our time, not Divine time, we can move into Divine time by staying in the moment, no past no future, for but a breath’s time and find peace in the moment we occupy now.

blue tear

Let’s stop for a moment being stones scattered and be stones gathered, remembering in this moment the suffering around us. Let’s stop for a moment to heal, to love, to be silent. Let’s stop for a moment to be peaceful and to grant peace to all of Creation. It’s in the Divine Plan. Let’s stop for a moment and remember we are created in the image of a God who is Love.

Remembering in this Divine moment of love, healing, and peace, the suffering in the world of all Creation, and remembering the acute pain we now suffer with the events closer to us. In your own, personal way remember the suffering in New Town, Connecticut.

animated-candleburning3