Finishing my third week in clinical CPE–clinical pastoral education–super busy but updates to come. Here was my first homework assignment, describing how my faith, as a Jew and individually, defines my practice (So much of the language, like ministry, comes from a Christian background. I’m okay with that, but I know that the language would make many in the community I’m based in uncomfortable. Syntax and professional jargon.) So here’s the first homework.
Oh. And happy New Year:
I grew up in the 1970s Bay Area with counterculture parents, and the setting was decidedly relativistic—Whatever you believe is true. In my late thirties I experienced a dark night of the soul. I yearned for a thing that was true, independent of my belief. This dark period began to end when I came up with something I felt was an absolute fact: It is better to be kind. Soon I came up with another, more personal truth: I am not a singularity, but stand in the middle of a history, with ancestors and offspring, as a Jew, an artist and as a human.
In a way, these beliefs give me my marching orders: try to be kind, try to push the boundary a little further all the time, don’t get comfortable in my kindness, find the path that’s right for the moment I’m in and the person and situation I’m dealing with. We are all a family, and my Judaism and my time as a writer tells me we are together part of a very long story.
A story from Judaism tells that everything and everyone in the physical world has a fragment of the unified divine light in them and that to do Tikkun Olam, to heal the broken world, we have an obligation to raise up these sparks—to honor the divine in their carriers through prayer, repentance, and right action. Also to honor the spark in ourself. This goes along with a Jewish belief that each moment carries in it a blessing—the spark of the divine—and a curse—the opportunity to move away from the divine—and it’s up to us to bring our free will to bear and make a choice. The mission of chaplaincy seems to be a perfect overlay for this conscious raising up of the spark of divinity in each person.
Finally, my experience with death—both in my life and with hospice—teaches me that our body is mortal. In my life I have seen the concrete effects of both facing this reality and ignoring it. Since the death of the body is a conclusive ending, it becomes an individual’s last opportunity for reconciliation, and I’ve come to see this reconciliation is a way to embrace your loved ones beyond your death and throughout their lives and the lives of those they touch, and ultimately to be a healing for the world. My desire to help at this time in people’s lives is a result of my yearning for justice, and Tikkun Olam.