By Barb Arland-Fye
Our deacon candidates for the Davenport Diocese were in class studying pastoral care and the importance of putting the other person first when the tragedy in Arizona was unfolding.
It seems fitting that these deacon candidates, their spouses and other classmates (including me) were learning skills that would benefit every encounter between two or more human beings. If each of us were exposed to this education, perhaps deaths and injuries like those suffered in an Arizona shopping center parking lot might be avoided.
The Quad-City Times in a Jan. 11 editorial says that rhetoric killed no one in Tucson, and that the suspect is seriously mentally ill. I think the editorial misses the point. Our environment, culture and the animosity of an era have some influence. We have walking wounded everywhere in our midst: people who bear the emotional and physical scars of verbal and sexual abuse, ridicule, vindictiveness, neglect.
The Rev. Becky David, director of the Spiritual Care Department at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, shared with our class the wisdom she’s gained in her work. A chaplain’s essential tools include choice of words, tone of voice, body language, good listening skills and patience, empathy and self-awareness. If we employed these same tools in our interactions with others — including people we disagree with – could we begin to alleviate the hate festering in our country?
Easier said than done; as I was writing this column, my 16-year-old son and I were having a somewhat heated disagreement. I have work to do on my tone of voice, listening skills and patience — and not just with a teenager I’m related to.
In a pastoral care relationship, the person being ministered to has hold of the steering wheel, and the pastoral care giver respects that it is a privilege to be along for the ride. I wonder how taking such an approach might impact my relationship with others. The individual who is ministering to another is also supposed to approach that relationship with self-awareness. Who we are, and what our world view is, affects how we relate to others, Rev. David said. I don’t have to be a deacon candidate, chaplain or pastoral care giver to apply that knowledge to my interactions with others.
Much of our discussion in class focused on providing pastoral care to people who are hospitalized with a serious illness, who are dying, or who have lost a loved one. Many of us shared stories of our personal experiences with loss or life-changing challenges. For me, this sharing of personal stories broadens perspective, understanding and compassion. The future deacons in our class will benefit from personal examples of what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes.
As part of our preparatory homework, we were supposed to reflect on a passage of Scripture as it relates to our understanding of pastoral care and the texts we read. I wrote that an image comes to mind of three women quietly returning to the tomb of Jesus, carrying spices and perfumed oil to anoint his body in the hours after his death. These women had ministered to Jesus before his death and were witnesses to it. For me, they exemplify the qualities of pastoral care in that they give of themselves, preserve the traditions of their faith community, offer comfort to the dying and honor to the dead.
Jeffry Zurheide, author of “When Faith Is Tested,” notes the importance of presence, of simply being with someone who is suffering. “Sometimes the companionship we offer by merely joining (someone) in his pain is in itself very meaningful, if not healing,” he observed.
We live in a world where plenty of people are hurting. Whatever his mental state, the young man suspected of killing and critically wounding so many in a shopping center parking lot last weekend was nursing his share of hurts. God asks us to be companions on the journey. When we bear one another’s burdens, we lighten each one’s load.