Pastoral Care Week / Spiritual Care Week 2020 takes place from October 25 through the 31st. This year’s theme is: Collaborative Healthcare: Chaplains Complete the Picture. As I sit with this theme and hold it in my heart, several things emerge for the sharing. They are things we have learned from our journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are not necessarily all things we can see or hold or measure. They are—all of them—spiritual, and they contribute to spiritual health and spiritual care as it supported by spiritual care providers.
First, I think we felt a deep and long-lasting sense of ongoing suffering. It changed throughout the course of the virus—and is still changing—but there was and is a seismic nature to this suffering. It has been below the surface and caused constant shifts in the ground we had felt was stable in the past. This sort of activity rocks our lives and unearths a sense of impermanence and lack of existential control. Grappling with suffering and change is spiritual.
Second, this caused us to mourn the loss of so many things we felt were “givens” in life. Things we had naturally assumed were a part of how each day would come and go for us. We believed we would have these forms of freedom at our constant disposal to help define who we are, or at least that is what we felt prior to the pandemic. But, many of those freedoms have been altered: traveling at will, gathering as we please, keeping ourselves fit and healthy, being able to divert angst with a change of scenery or diversions, job security, and social consistency. We mourn these losses daily as we bump into all of the things that are not the same because of this pandemic. Grappling with grief and loss is spiritual.
Third, we all became forced to realize that some of our own forms of self-care were not very deep and/or genuine. They proved to be just more attempts to divert our attention to something else that could make us forget. Perhaps we did things that did not really help with or support feelings safety and well-being, but was a great temporary distraction. This was made clear to us by the scope and magnitude of our constant, enforced isolation. Grappling with issues of safety and wellbeing as forms of self-care is spiritual.
So where do we go with all of this? How should we then live among these echoes I heard in my heart? What are some valuable components of spiritual care and the work of spiritual care providers?
Spirituality in our everyday lives
It helps for us to start by sitting down and asking ourselves what is spiritual in our lives? How would we define spirituality? What makes up a spiritual life?
Some have known spirituality to be about: hope, truth, love, forgiveness, birth, death, loss, calling, value, meaning, trust, beauty, radical amazement, awe, wonder, grandeur, nature, the universe and cosmos, faith, the sublime, God or the Divine, transcendence, peace, integrity, community, prayer, song, creativity, discernment, silence, word, stillness, equality, simplicity, journeying, and companions.
What have we known spirituality to be about? It may be these things listed above, or it may be a completely different set of definitions. A spiritual care provider can help us to discover these pieces of our belief and find ways to connect to them and actualize them in our lives; amid suffering, and amid the routine.
It helps for us to find one practice to use as our way of approaching and encountering our true selves. A way to listen to ourselves and hear what our very center is trying to tell us. Regardless of whether it is facilitated through walking, painting, meditating, journaling, silence, prayer, song, yoga, dance, or any other outward routine act, it is a coming to ourselves to gain wisdom.
But, whatever the routine, it must be pulled up into consciousness by asking what our inner self is trying to tell us in that practice. Is it telling you it is sad? Is it frightened? Is it joyful? What is it expressing? Then, we sit with that feeling and/or thought and watch it develop.
Spiritual exploration through guidance
We need to know that we are aware of what we feel and that we take ourselves and those feelings seriously. It is critical. A spiritual care provider can help us to discover the natural and individual ways that would enable us to hear ourselves speak what is in our center, based on who we are as a unique person. They can help us uncover our own innate wisdom.
It also helps for us to be with other people who are pursuing similar definitions of what it means to be spiritual. Or, with other people performing similar practices to help get in touch with their core self. In small groups (or even large) to find other ways that people are exploring these same aims in life. These gatherings to share what is going on are necessary. We need to hear from others about how they felt when they did this or that, or what happened next. It gives us a social community to belong to, and confidence that we can find our way through the journey.
But, we also need to find one or two people with whom we can develop an open spiritual friendship. A person or few people who are there to listen to your journey and accompany you by bearing witness to what you say. Not someone who will tell you what you did wrong or what they did in a similar situation, but someone who will listen in silence and acknowledge. They may ask an open-ended question or two that is meant to help you explore your journey more deeply. The open-ended questions are not answered out loud but held onto by the person sharing their journey. Sort of like a Zen koan. (Something like, “If what you shared were a color, what would that color be?” Or, “Have you ever felt a similar thing at another point in your journey?”). Then the next person shares.
A spiritual care provider can be the facilitator of either of these kinds of gatherings for you. Either a group of people who are practicing similar spiritual routines, or a spiritual friends’ group where deep listening and open-ended questions are offered. It is not uncommon for spiritual care providers to offer the latter in one-on-one sessions.
These are a handful of things that emerged from the angst of the pandemic. Things we are nourished on; things we need. They are things that spiritual caregivers can help uncover in us to complete the picture of our lives—not just in health care, but in general. Things that were upset because of the abrupt changes in daily life and the ongoing isolation that kept us from being with others. They are not all of the ways in which our lives are enhanced by spiritual care, but they are a few.