Some of the children were gathered, whispering among themselves. “Peter’s mom . . . ” I heard one of them exclaim before his voice died down again to a low murmur. I had stopped by the classroom to update the Thanksgiving Feast food list on the door–having volunteered (am I crazy?!) at Parent- Teacher Conference to coordinate that meal and festivities—and was standing there in my coat, gloves, and black buckled shoes, which were drawing attention. Apparently the latter two items were of interest to the young students: the wearing of gloves and buckled shoes is a marked sign—according to a children’s story they’d recently been read in class—of a Witch!
I wonder how a witch prays?
Prayer has been on my mind recently. Gene Slade, chaplain at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, mentioned last month at an interfaith ministerial board meeting that his next clinical pastoral training class would be starting up in January. Clinical pastoral care, he explained to me later, is spiritual care—the learned art of listening and providing emotional and spiritual support to those suffering crises, grief, or pain.
I was intrigued. Couldn’t our congregation use someone trained in grief therapy? Wasn’t active listening something I’ve been wanting to develop in myself? Could it be that CPE training would provide me the opportunity and the credential to work with–reach–adolescents and young adults whose depression and existential angst I can understand? Feeling a good vibe, I resolved to talk to Erik and then sign up!
However, my active brain soon realized,
people expect chaplains to pray!
Often in very specific ways. How did I feel about that? Could I feel comfortable praying the prayer that a person wanted to hear? Would a patient be comfortable with the way I prefer to pray? Are thoughts, mindful breathing, declarations, typed up questions, mental energy, witnessing grace, openness to wisdom, connecting with touch—are these things I do, technically, prayer?
Wow, that list makes me sound like a mystic. The truth is, of late, I’m a pragmatist who 1) realizes I have a hyperactive penchant for what feels like intuition and therefore 2) must cautiously distance myself from believing I must determine whether chaplaincy is my predestined calling in life, and instead 3) consider the practical affects which such an education, clinical experience, and career might have on me, my family, and my continuing bouts with depression.
And of course there is that question about prayer. “Do I believe in prayer?” I want to believe there are many ways to pray. Talking, connecting with people—in my mind, that is a form of prayer. Singing from the heart. That, too. Poetic expression, hugs, a smile. Absolutely. Even angry, passionate questions—all prayers. Do I believe I can bend God’s will to mine through sustained supplication? Not so much. Do I believe God to be a narcissist who needs our worship and praise? Nope.
I believe that whatever or whoever god is, he/she/we is right there with us. All the time. The supreme reality. I’ve come to believe that prayer, in its myriad forms, is for us—to open us up to
the reality of love.
Such a different paradigm from the self-condemning, I-am-not-worthy-to-approach-You prayers of my past which filled me with self-loathing, pain, and perfectionist dread. Maybe being a chaplain could help me explore prayer further—prayer that enthuses, encourages, and elevates. Prayer that is as living water. I’d like to continue to explore the many ways to pray.