Monday, May 11, 2015

Chaplaincy series: "Chaplain, do you believe in God?"

We were in the surgical ICU, this patient and I.  He was there for an exacerbation of the lung disease that he didn't know that he had several days before.  I was there because his nurses called me because they did not know what to do to make him feel better. He was weeping.

I introduced myself. He continued to cry.  He didn't meet my eyes. I asked if I could sit down. He motioned to the chair next to the bed.

I sat in silence.

"Chaplain, do you believe in God?"

Nothing like a little chatty small talk to start off a visit.  My vow as a chaplain is to go with you wherever you need to go, so I am in this.

"Yes." (this doesn't feel entirely honest so I continue) "But no."

He responds, "What do you mean?"

"I believe in something way bigger than myself and in the things that I cannot explain.  But I see many things that make me question the existence of any sort of god."

He thinks for a moment. "Like people suffering?"

"Yes, like people suffering. I cannot reconcile what I see sometimes here in the hospital with what I have been taught about God in church, sunday school and the Bible."

"Me neither. What do you think happens after death?"

Without much thought I respond, "I have absolutely no idea."

He says, "That's good, because I think the same thing.  And I guess I don't think much about that either."

"Neither do I. I am more concerned with how we live now and how we care for each other."

He says with feeling, "You are doing a good job here. Most pastors aren't honest."

"About God?"

"About anything. They are so concerned with sounding like they know what they are talking about, that it is pretty much a bunch of shit, everything they say."

I laugh, "You have nailed it.  Thank you for your honesty."

We talk awhile more about his experience with faith and prayer and God.  At the end of the visit, I am moved to tears and I tell him that I have very much enjoyed the visit and that this conversation was a gift to me. He squeezes my hand and waves goodbye.  I continue crying, because of the honesty, the real-ness, and the sweetness of the sacred in that interaction.  My interaction with this particular patient summarized so much of what I have struggled to put into words as a chaplain.

I have wrestled with, fought, cursed, cried, and perseverated about who God might be and what God might be up to in light of all of the suffering and hell I see every single day. Nothing is simple.

I see the very limits of human faith and understanding abut all sorts of moments of uncertainty, both in my life and in others, and I have often felt like Jacob, yelling at the angel of God, "I won't let go until you bless me."(Genesis 32:26).

I have been blessed with uncertainty.  I have been blessed with struggle.  I have been blessed with a vulnerability and a brokenness and a willingness to say, "I have absolutely no idea."

I believe in a God of immanence and transcendence.  I believe that there is no where that God is not.  I do not believe that God causes illness or injury or sends trials to test one's faithfulness. But a God of immanence is everywhere and in all things and there is no where that God is unwilling to go in this world.  I believe in a God of transcendence, that there are things that lie outside the realm of our understanding.  I do not know what this means for the afterlife or heaven or if there is some place paved with streets of God, but I believe in a God of mystery.  I believe in a macro-God that works on a scale that is outside our realm of comprehension.  I don't always see what God could possibly be doing on the day to day level of all the suffering in this world, but I do believe that the arc of the universe bends towards justice and reconciliation and love. I have no proof of the existence or identity of God, just that some force of life and love seems to dwell within me and within others.  I still believe that humanity is basically good, and in our faces, we reflect God to one another.

I have struggled with whether or not I could be a pastor.  I have been accompanied by doubts and questions of faith my entire life. I never settled for easy answers and I never asked easy questions. Sometimes I feel as if I have nothing to offer except my own story of brokenness and questioning and experience of God. I will never be "executive teaching pastor" because I have no illusions that I am some sort of expert.  I may have a graduate theological degree, but that left me with more questions and a deeper sense of the mystery of God than it did with answers. I preach what I know, which is a God of reconciliation and a God of love.  A God who knows what it is to suffer and knows what it is to die, and by going into those places of darkness and death, vanquishes them. There is no place that God is not willing to go or has already been.  And today that is enough.

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