In my last post I began to explore my journey in becoming a hospital chaplain. I am reading Margaret Benfield’s book Soul of a Leader, as part of my participating in the Soul of Leadership program. The first three chapters of Margaret’s book look at a process of soulful leadership where first you follow your heart, then you find partners along the way, and then you dare to dream of what could be. While writing my last post, I found myself thinking of my own struggles as well as the people around me who are supporting me. I used the image of my fellow chaplain interns as pilgrims along the same journey.
Pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for me. I hiked the Camino de Santiago in 2009. It was after several major transitions in my life and I needed the pilgrimage to find myself and find God. Each day of my month long pilgrimage, I prayed the prayer “God teach me how to love, how to love myself and how to love others. God teach me how to love.”
So now, as I am reflecting on my challenges in my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) chaplaincy program, I find that much of my challenges have to do with getting in my own way, my head not being convinced that my heart knows best, self-critique, fear, and worry. I find that I am praying the same prayer. I am walking the same path of self-discovery. I am in the process of finding myself and finding God.
About a week ago, in lovely synchronistic fashion, in my CPE program, we were asked to read an article by Elizabeth Canham, “Strangers and Pilgrims,” published in the literary work Weavings. Elizabeth writes:
“We are strangers to ourselves and the most appropriate posture we can adopt is awe and a willingness to allow the Spirit to reveal more of what is hidden below the surface. This is pilgrimage, a journey of discovery and surprise, and the welcomed stranger within enables us to honor the mystery of others who travel with us. On pilgrimage we learn to travel light, discarding the heavy load of judgment and appreciating the gifts of those we meet along the way. Sharing resources, stories, and needs creates mutuality and turns strangers into friends. It also creates hope.”
So as I am learning to “walk,” learning to hope again and trust those walking with me, I discover that I am on a pilgrimage again. The other chaplain interns and I go out during the day and work with patients, like pilgrims go out onto the road and interact with what ever crosses their paths. Then at the end of the day, we come together for sharing, reflection, and mutual support.
When I finished the Camino de Santiago in 2009, there were two things that most of us pilgrims missed. I missed that every day, all that I had to follow was these small yellow arrows. While sometimes hard to find in the midst of towns and the twists and turns of the path, following the yellow arrows was my only task each day. I felt a sense of direction, a sense of purpose that freed me to reflect, to pray, to be with myself, and to be with God.
The other thing that I missed was all the people along the way, pilgrims and non-pilgrims, who wished me many times a day “Buen Camino,” Good Journey. A greeting that acknowledged the process, not the destination of the pilgrimage and identified me as a ever growing, changing, becoming person on my path.
While I see my fellow chaplain interns as pilgrims hiking along the same path as me, we chaplain interns are not the only pilgrims on journeys in the hospital. Our patients are pilgrims on their own journeys too. Often when I am in the room with a patient I find that I am listening to them tell me what yellow arrows they are following, yellow arrows marking their journey (maybe to recovery, maybe to wellness, maybe through grief, or something else). What is it that keeps them going? What is it that helps them stay in the direction they are being pulled? What distracts them from their journey?
Part of my role in the room is also to listen to the stories of the patient’s journey. What do they think about while they are traveling? Where have they met God along the road? Who has crossed their path unexpectedly? Why are they doing this? What does it all mean?
And as I wish them goodbye at the end of my visit I am wishing them a “Buen Camino,” a good journey. I acknowledge their own changing, growing, becoming self on their own journey, their own path.