I read this story from the daily devotional magazine “Daily Bread.” I think it contains a very deep truth. Click below to go to the story. If you like the Daily Bread they have an excellent app for your smartphone which I use almost daily.
I am appointed by The United Methodist Church in an extension ministry as chaplain to Methodist Charlton Medical Center (MCMC). I grew us as a Roman Catholic and converted in my teens to Pentecostalism. In my twenties I became aware of United Methodism through my marriage. The emphasis on the various dimensions of grace which is a centerpiece in United Methodism as well as the denominations mission to bring about the Kingdom of God in the here and now have shaped my theology of pastoral care. One of the centerpieces of this theology is “radical love” – meaning a love that is unconditional, ever-present and inexhaustible. It is this love I try to emulate in my day-to-day interactions with patients and staff alike. This love calls me to be mindful and respectful of the religious beliefs of the other, or the lack thereof. This love does not judge, first and foremost it recognizes the divine in the other and his/her inherent dignity. This love does not seek to lecture but to listen. This love persists even when it is rejected. Finally, it is a love that celebrates life, but also doesn’t hesitate to support the other during the raw moments in life. I am aware that I am a recipient of God’s loving grace, a gift I have not deserved, not can I do anything to deserve it. The Methodist emphasis on social justice and the Kingdom of God in the here and now commands me to do my part in moving our world a little closer to Christ’s return.
During my faith journey from Catholicism followed by Pentecostalism and ending in Methodism has caused me to value the many spiritual practices present in the Christian faith and other religions. This awareness has caused me to put special attention to the way patients and staff connect spiritually with the divine. As God is unlimited, I believe there is an unlimited “toolbox” of spiritual practices allowing us to connect with Godself. This has caused me to incorporate smell (aromatherapy), sound (music), touch (blessing with oil), taste (communion), centering prayer and sacred art in my pastoral practice. Being attentive to the spiritual needs of the other has made a real impact on the quality of healthcare provided in my hospital setting.
I recently was pointed to the movie “Ram Dass – Going Home” by the Netflix algorithm. The short 30 minute movie features Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) sharing thoughts on his life after suffering from a stroke. Ram Dass died in 2019 and was a widely recognized spiritual teacher in the US popularizing eastern spirituality and yoga starting in the 1960’s. I would like to share with you a short excerpt from the movie which particularly stuck with me. Ram Dass says this about suffering and death:
“So when I sit with somebody,
the first thing I have to do
is open myself to all my reactions
to their predicament.
All of it, all of the pain of it.
Grieve for the other person’s loss.
And when they feel heard in the grief,
then we can start to meet
behind the grief.
And I’m faced with the paradox that I,
as a human, with a human emotional heart,
want to take away your suffering.
And at the same moment,
there’s another part of me
that understands that suffering is grace,
that suffering is the sandpaper,
from the spiritual point of view,
that is awakening people.”
I have seen the shock, despair and pain in the hospital and I believe, as Ram Dass said, that we can meet another “behind the grief” after working through the pain together. While I don’t believe that suffering is grace, since suffering is not caused by God, I do believe that God can use even something as terrible as suffering as a means of grace if we are open to it. A good chaplain friend of mine said once “I do not believe there is a reason in suffering, but I do believe one can find a purpose in suffering.” This is what Ram Dass refers to “the sandpaper, […] that is awakening people.” God’s grace is always “out there” available to us. If we invite God’s grace to enter into our suffering it can help us to connect more deeply with God and as a result connect to life and living itself. If you suffer or are journeying with someone in their suffering it is my prayer for you today that God’s love and grace will transform your painful experience into something bigger, something that results in you finding refuge in your most trying times.
May God bless you and keep you. May he shine his face upon you and give you his peace. Amen
 Movie: Ram Dass “Going Home” https://www.scripts.com/script.php?id=ram_dass%2C_going_home_16554&p=3