by Linda F. Piotrowski, MTS BCC
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
The Essential Rumi. Coleman Barks. (1997) Harper
In a playful way, Rumi invites us to meet him in a field beyond our preconceived notions of God to explore the presence of the Divine within ourselves. In a similar way the conference planning committee, our board and NACC leadership invites us to St. Paul, Minnesota for our annual conference, “Winds of Change, Spirit of Promise,” to spend time in a field where challenge and promise co-exist.
Great thought leaders have accepted our invitation to be with us, to engage and inspire. A number of our colleagues have stepped forward offering their time and talents to highlight what is possible when we use imagination and hard work in service of the healing ministry of Jesus.
The publication of “Improving the Quality of Spiritual Care as a Dimension of Palliative Care: The Report of the Consensus Conference” in The Journal of Palliative Medicine is must reading for all chaplains. Perhaps more than anything in recent publishing it issues a challenge for spiritual care professionals to take the lead in inviting others to partner with us in the important work of reasserting the rightful place of spirituality in the constellation of healing therapies offered to patients and their loved ones while caught up in the medical system.
Recently I presented the article to the interdisciplinary journal club at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where I am the chaplain on the palliative care service. It afforded me the opportunity to digest the article fully in order to rearticulate its message. Initially, I found myself resistant to what felt like a dissection of the sacred work of uncovering the presence of God in the midst of suffering and uncertainty. This is, in fact, what the article does. As we discussed the article we talked about our respective roles on the team. Donna Soltura, MSW, my social work colleague, said, “I think of what I do as public and secular while what you do is private and sacred.” Our service’s clinical director, Sharona Sachs, MD contributed, “You, Linda, are caught. You are in a discipline that is struggling to assert its place at the table. You are serving in palliative care, a medical specialty that is also struggling to assert its rightful place within medicine.” She went on to remind the team and me that unless we are willing to dissect our work, to describe and define what it is and to teach others how to do it we will never have standing within the medical world.
To demystify is not to destroy. It is to clarify for ourselves and invite others into understanding and companioning. To share the mystery of our work does not demean it. It enhances it.
When we gather in St. Paul we will learn to enhance our work and develop new skills. We will also have many opportunities to strengthen our faith and our deep devotion to our ministry by way of holy conversations with colleagues over meals. The beautifully and prayerfully prepared liturgies and prayer celebrations will bring us together as people of faith. Preconference and conference workshops beckon as chances to learn from our colleagues who have bravely stepped forward as if to say, “Here is how I have studied my work, dissected it and defined it. There is a process for how to reach the alcoholic, the mourning, and the broken-hearted. Here is one way you can do this. Adapt it. Use it. Teach others. Change lives.”
Come to St. Paul this March. Together we will work hard, play and pray together. You will go home refreshed and renewed. This is a promise you can count on.