Wednesday, January 23, 2013

O Clarissima Mater

I am taking an extended period of silent contemplation within each month's activity in pastoral care.  The theme of this day is "through the ear to the heart."  Together with a dozen or so men and women gathered at Santa Sabina in San Rafael, I am being directed by Devi Mathieu in using the music Hildegard de Bingen to open my heart to the Holy Spirit.  Yesterday we learned "O Clarissima Mater, Sancte Medicine

This sacred music is nesting in my heart today.  I pray it for those who are struggling with traumatic injuries and difficult diagnoses.  I pray it for those who are facing physical loss and limitations and those who are striving to make meaning at the end of life.  I pray it for doctors, nurses and caregivers, for my fellow chaplains and ordained men and women who offer special rites and sacred rituals.  I pray it for those who are engaged in medical research and students of holistic healing.  May the Spirit of Wisdom inspire and sustain you and bless your acts of mercy and compassion.

Learning Goals for Unit II

Patients share a wide range of feelings with me.  I want to become more aware of what I am feeling before, during and after visits with patients and able to distinguish my own feelings from theirs.  This will help me to set healthy emotional boundaries.

Patients who are elderly or close to death frequently tell me their life stories.  I want to explore how their stories call up my own internalized stories, and the feelings connected with them.  I want to become more conscious of those connections in the moment, ask patients about the emotions that come up for them and reflect upon the life experiences and feelings my their stories evoke in me. 

Patients are sometimes faced with situations that make them feel confused, guilty, depressed, lonely or hopeless. I want to be able to listen to them and be with them in their struggles to forgive themselves, reconcile and make better choices in light of their own spirituality.  I want to take more time listening to patients who are in challenging situations; let them unwrap the layers of complex problems they have been dealing with for a long time; and help them to discover spiritual resources and coping skills that can help them find inner peace.

Patients often expect the chaplain to pray with them, but my role is also to listen, assess and develop a pastoral plan that will help them find spiritual healing.  I want to assess my patients’ spiritual supports and resources and whatever spiritual distresses they are experiencing; and develop a pastoral plan that will be useful to their ongoing spiritual healing.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Personal Reflection on Unit I

Clinical Pastoral Education has heightened my awareness of the value my religious heritage places on the Sacraments and my feelings about the significance of them.  Multiple experiences of death, the attributes of Euro American culture and the values of the Dominican charism have had the most impact on my personal identity. I have received the most feedback from peers and supervisors on increasing my emotional mindfulness, exploring my assumptions, developing pastoral response and receiving affirmation as well as I receive criticism.  The individual and institutional sides of my self sometimes have different responses to feedback that take time to sort out.  I like to make connections between situations in the moment and plant seeds for further exploration.  

I am grateful that the covenant we made as a group has helped us to be gentle with one another.  We have reached a point of familiarity and trust that will allow us to explore our theological differences more intentionally when we are ready to explore deeper.  A contemplative, non-defended stance will help me as I explore the nuances of my own spiritual traditions and develop pastoral authority that is humble and open. The basic skills of curiosity, attention, respect and empathy have been very helpful to me in pastoral practice with patients. Skills I have learned for grief ministry and end of life planning have also been useful. My relationships seem to grow in concentric circles and in branches at the same time. I enjoy a friendly collegiality with the members of the pastoral care team, nurses, social workers and case managers.  

The Dominican motto is “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation.”  Action is followed by contemplation and contemplation is followed by action.  Cycles of activity are framed by periods of contemplation that give space for new connections and deeper meanings to emerge. I want to discover how patient’s stories evoke emotions and can help me develop empathic responses.

Progress on Goals for Unit I

The goal of learning to pray spontaneously with people of other faith traditions and no faith tradition was easier to accomplish than I expected.  I pray regularly and frequently and can find words easily to express what patients say they need or hope for.  This seems to be a strength for me, but prayer is not always the answer and moving too quickly into prayer can put closure on conversation that might otherwise go deeper.  My greatest strength is sincerity.  Peers and patients have affirmed this many times, and I accept it as true even though it feels embarrassing to write it.  My weakness is the tendency to sympathize and comfort people instead of just being with them. 
The goal of emotional mindfulness is one that I still need to work on.  I am able to identify feelings and have explored my feelings of grief and fear of death quite a bit.  I want to modify this goal by taking time in the moment to feel what I feel without analyzing it.  The goal of spontaneous interfaith prayer is complete, but I have modified it to consider how different religious view suffering, death and the afterlife.  I want to continue this exploration to learn about how different spiritualities approach forgiveness and reconciliation.
A major challenge for me is speaking from the perspective of my own religious tradition without feeling ambivalent or defensive.  I am saddened by the rejection of the teachings of the Church by some of Catholics and the abandonment of the Church by members who find it not progressive enough.  I am open to new ideas that will challenge me to grow, but I am loyal to the Church.  I have a new goal to explore this with the group.

Self Evaluation Unit I

I know that I am growing inside and out and I feel excited about work every day.  For me compassion is rooted in my love for Jesus and commitment to living the Gospel.  The Sacrament of anointing opens the door to the conversation about death that is sometimes difficult for patients and families to engage.   I have grown in my own acceptance of suffering as essential to deeper union with Jesus Christ and a pathway to human fulfillment.  The exercise of charting my grief map helped me to see that I have experienced many deaths in my own family and in my congregation.  I feel compassion in pastoral care of the dying, and in grief ministry, because of these early life experiences. Sharing sorrow is a compassionate way of being with those who suffer. My supervisor has helped me develop better emotional mindfulness in individual supervision.  I am able to give feedback to everyone in the group in a way that is constructive and helpful, and I am able to receive feedback without feeling defensive.  I accept criticism from literary agents and editors, and can receive criticism of my practice as a chaplain in the same way.  I understand chaplaincy as a creative art.

I want to explore my own awareness of how our personal stories are connected to patients’ stories, and hear how other chaplains make these connections.  A growing edge for our group is developing a sense of personal authority that is confident but also gentle and approachable.  I have a natural sense of curiosity that makes visiting patients a joy.  I love to hear patients' stories of how they came to be where they are and what life has been for them.  My own attentiveness is expressed mostly in a way of being present that is compassionate and mostly non-verbal.  I initiated relationships with the group, the staff, the pastoral care team and others in the hospital by listening to what others bring to the ministry and getting to know what is important to them.  I volunteered to cover for others and companion them and to help on a committee on improving care for the elderly. 

The cycle of contemplation and action is a daily awareness for me.  In chaplain work, much is shared that cannot be discussed out of respect for the patient.  The promise of confidentiality allows patients to express their emotional and spiritual needs openly.  I can only debrief a fraction of what we are holding in group and supervision, and the rest needs to be turned over to God and let go of.  I am committed to taking care of my own physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual, social and emotional needs with humility, forgiveness and self-consideration.