As a spiritual care provider for a hospice agency, I get the honor of joining people in the spiritual traditions and rituals that provide meaning during life’s transitions. In my job, this includes the ultimate transition: dying.
This week alone, I have been stretched and challenged beyond my pretty flexible spiritual borders, and I’ve entered into new worlds of faith traditions I do not understand. My job is to explore. And wonder. And be curious. And then to honor. This is why creativity and thinking on the fly comes in so handy for a chaplain.
Yesterday, I entered the room of a patient I had not met before. It was clear by how ill he was that it was not appropriate for me to read the poetry I had originally selected to read to him for comfort. I knelt beside him, and he reached his hand out to me. He smiled. I held his hand and we just looked at each other in silence for many moments.
I broke the silence first. I said, “I brought a book of beautiful prayers from many faiths. Maybe I could pray one of those for us.” He said, “Let me pray.” So we closed our eyes, and more long moments of silence elapsed. When it seemed he was done praying and we both opened our eyes, I said, “May it be so.” I also said a brief prayer to Divine Essence to offer comfort. I didn’t know what “Divine Essence” meant. I simply chose the phrase that most closely aligned with his faith system – and hoped it landed. Thinking on the fly like this feels ridiculous, but I always hope my peaceful, warm presence makes up for the times in which I miss the mark. Most of the time it does.
When we were done with our prayers, I placed my hand on his chest near his heart and asked, “Do you have peace in your heart about dying?” He looked at me with sad, hazel eyes and said, “No peace.” I paused in the moment, letting that reality sink in. Then I asked, “How do we get some peace in there?” He shook his head no. He didn’t know.
I thought for a moment. The truth is I don’t have answers either – and it seemed important to acknowledge that. So, I said, “How about if we ask Divine Essence for peace? I don’t have the answers, but I do know this: Divine Essence is filled with love for you and only wants good for you.” He very faintly smiled and nodded very slightly. So I asked Divine Essence for peace. Then he opened his eyes, looked at me and said, “I like you.”
I don’t have a definition or a spiritual framework for Divine Essence, but I felt it right there in that moment. And, most importantly, so did my sweet patient. A hospice nurse was standing behind me, and she told me later, “When you said that thing about Divine Essence, I felt a shiver go through my whole body – and I’m not even religious!” I told her I was so grateful she was there to witness that sacred moment with our patient.
And so, dear friend…I want you to know this. I don’t have answers, but I do know this: Divine essence is filled with love for you and only wants good for you. May it be so.