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We Need More Chaplains

weekly message Aug 26, 2020

About 10 years ago I was on a clergy retreat in the middle of the woods in New Hampshire. And I was sitting by the fire with a mentor who had been guiding me for over 10 years at that point. He lived the type of life I aspired to and I took every opportunity I could to listen to him. But at one point, he turned to me with a very troubled look on his face, tears were actually welling up in his eyes. He was so concerned about the changing climate, the rising numbers of refugees, the racism and the fracturing civil society. And he said, “We need more chaplains. What are you doing to create more chaplains.” I was really struck by this idea, I mean, I am still talking about it 10 years later. But at the time I was also overwhelmed by the scope of what he was asking. And I was living within this paradigm of certifications and diplomas. Chaplain was a professional position in my mind and I couldn’t see how I could ever help create a world of chaplains.

But over the years, my understanding of chaplaincy has changed. While there is certainly a role for professional credentialing for those who want to work in a hospital or hospice or with the fire department, you don’t need a diploma to companion others along the journey of meaning. All you need is the willingness to listen.

While for some people this listening is secular, for me it is profoundly sacred. That is just how I understand the world. When we engage in deep listening, we are setting ourselves aside and we are opening to an encounter with what is. Some people call this God, some people call this Presence, some people call this Don’t Know or the Unknowing. All of these are names for something that really is beyond name and form. I personally call it My Darling because that is how intimate it feels to me. But you likely encounter it differently. Perhaps you have your own name. If you don’t, that is okay too, but if you continue your journey with me, the journey into sacred listening, you will hear the name that is right for your sacred relationship.

In this commodified culture, where efficiency is king, where bigger is better, and where we all seem to live with a deficit of attention, I believe the solution is in the other direction, it is in creating micro-communities where we give each other the gift of being heard, of being listened to at the deepest level. A level where we not only encounter another human being, but another human being as a companion on the journey into what is, into God, into Presence, into the experience of our interwoven Being. The great mystic Thomas Berry has called us to awaken and to find ourselves as members of a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. But for this to happen, we need to bring our listening and our understanding and our companionship to the world. And I believe that small groups committed to spiritual reflection and discernment, held in our homes or other quiet places can offer us the intimacy and the depth we have been longing for.

After a lifetime of seeking, after giving myself over to the journey so completely that I took it as a vocation, I have come to believe the encounter with the sacred is a communal experience. In the words of Martin Buber: I require a You to become. This notion of the isolated self is a falsehood. And we can experience a greater sense of Being by engaging in intentional reflection and deep listening as a community, essentially becoming chaplains to one another.

I created the Seeker’s Table to help people, like you, explore why you feel so disconnected, how to cultivate hope in the face of so much despair, and what it means to live a transformed life. A life transformed by spiritual reflection both individually through meditation and communally by participating in a Seeker’s Table.

There is a lot of information on group spiritual direction, but it can feel overwhelming to try to do the work on your own. So I developed an Immersion program that guides people, step by step, over nine weeks along a clear and easy to accomplish path from isolation to interconnection. Each week we explore a new spiritual theme or competency and rehearse the creation of a small discernment group so by the end of the nine weeks you feel comfortable in your own spiritual voice and competent as someone who knows how to listen for the sacred, a chaplain in the truest sense. And as a bonus you will have created these amazing friendships with people from around the world who walked the Immersion Journey with you. These people will become some of your best friends because you feel the same longing.

For me, the answer to the loneliness of the world, to the heartbreak of the world, the answer to a future of companionship and mutuality is not efficiency, it is intimacy. If you would like to experience a deeper spiritual connection and help the world, you should join us. The world needs more chaplains. I hope you will become one of them.

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