I’m reading an excerpt from “Becoming A Competent Chaplain: Character and Training” by M.Shank.
I am intrigued by the section on ‘Soul Listening.’
Disturbed because there seems to be some distinction between listening with spiritual focus, and listening with a social focus, as if one was somehow more worthy or better than the other.
Let me rephrase this: in a previous part of the chapter, there is a short story of two chaplain interns. One shares that they had just finished a lengthy conversation with a resident, but it felt like the conversation was more social in nature, and not ‘spiritual’ and therefore the chaplain felt like they had somehow not done it right, or had maybe wasted the time of the visit.
The next chaplain shares they had lengthy visit, but did not classify that time as being social, but instead of them providing a ministry to the resident through listening. Just listening, and being a part of their story at that moment.
I wonder if there needs to be a distinction between the two. Or are they both the same, but depends on how we, the chaplain, enter into the conversation.
In reading this, and watching a video like this:
I wonder if we are somehow breaking something. That we somehow must lead a conversation or steer it. That we are somehow not being a good chaplain or a good Christian for that matter if we don’t somehow find a way to direct a conversation to something that is on our radar as being spiritual.
In the text I’m reading, I am considering this line: “In supervision interns consider what they are listening for and by what processes they listen.” (Becoming A Competent Chaplain: Character and Training.” M. Shank.)
This, at times as I read through this text and see videos like the one above, feels like I need to go into a conversation or interaction with someone or a resident I serve with an agenda.
“Spiritual care listening becomes more effective with intentionality and active participation in the conversation in ways that clarify personal spirituality.” (M.Shank)
Then goes on to say:
“Active spiritual listening is an art of supporting self-revelation with feedback that validates what people express. By contrast, a chaplain’s questions can be experienced as control, resulting in a person risking less vulnerability.” (M.Shank)
That’s what I’m getting at with these ideas: listening to someone can always be spiritual care.
Did Jesus turn his ‘spiritual listening’ ears on and off when he engaged people? Or did he simply remain ‘spiritually on’ all the time? Ready at the drop of a word, at the sight of a person climbing a tree, at a touch…a special touch…of someone in a crowd of people bumping and pushing?
Why must we come into conversation with others thinking that we need to somehow hijack the conversation and twist it?
I know….I know. That’s not the point of the video. But at the same time….it is.
I get it – the idea being presented is how to engage a person in ‘spiritual conversations.’
But I’m thinking that many conversations that we dismiss as not being ‘spiritual’ are, in fact, incredibly spiritual and are wide open doors into people’s lives.
- A senior sitting alone in a chair, holding a stuffed animal…stroking it, crying softly. “You look sad.” You say as you sit down next to them. She looks over at you, and begins to tell you how much she loves her pet dog…the stuffed animal she’s holding, and wonders why the dog isn’t moving or barking. Is that crazy talk? A talk fueled by dementia? Or is this a spiritual listening and caring opportunity? I believe it’s the later. I also don’t believe I need to go into the conversation with a prefabricated list of questions or statements to steer this person into a spiritual conversation with me. IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING.
- A talk with another resident about their favorite war movies. Spiritual, or just ordinary? It’s tempting to think of this as an ordinary ‘unspiritual’ conversation – but what if I also mentioned that the conversation somehow led to this person opening up with me about a huge part of their adult life story – from first employment, failings, firings, injuries, depression, disease, all the way to struggling with a lack of purpose…but not wanting to talk about it at the time. What started off as an innocent talk about movies, opened up to deep conversation around a very spiritual topic: purpose. Meaning. Life.
Those are just two of so many more.
I feel bothered by the idea of spiritual conversations being intentional.
Spiritual conversations, I think, are about me being aware. Aware of what God is doing around me – that He is ALWAYS at work around me, and that at any moment – no matter where I am, or with whom I’m talking to – HE could open a door.
I believe everyone is spiritually sensitive somewhere. Hardened perhaps. But sensitive.
We don’t have to force, manipulate, steer, or lead a conversation towards spiritual things. I don’t think, at least at this point in my understanding, we even should dare do something like that.
This implies that I have some sort of agenda to the conversations I have with people – that I pass or fail, succeed or fail at my job as a chaplain if A)I was able to pray with someone during or at the end of my conversation with them. B) If I was able to engage them around topics that we normally associate with spirituality like God, Jesus, faith….
If I don’t have solid examples of A and B happening in my interaction with the person I’m with…did something ‘spiritual’ happen?
I can’t lead anyone to faith or to Jesus. God does that. The Holy Spirit does that.
Part of this flavoring of ‘having spiritual conversations with people’ implies that I’m doing the leading. I’m steering. I’m engaging.
IN reality, God has already been engaging. God has already been at work. God has already been nudging, coaxing, presenting himself, talking to…..engaging with that person for years. Decades. He just might open an opportunity into His work through a simple conversation around your favorite war movie.