Epiphanies

Last Thursday, the Spiritual Naturalist Society posted the following article I wrote about my gift to our eldest daughter and her husband on their wedding day.

After the twelve days of Christmas in the Christian liturgical year, January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany. Also called Three Kings Day, this feast commemorates the visit of the magi to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12. One message of Epiphany is that whatever love and good has been manifested in the world through Jesus of Nazareth, it is for everyone—not just a particular tribe; ethnic, religious, political, or otherwise.

According to the dictionary, an epiphany is also, “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” (Dictionary.com)

Epiphanies are on my mind as our eldest daughter got married the day after Christmas this year. As I considered what I wanted to give her and her husband as they embark on seeing life together, I compiled the following epiphanies that have come to me—sometimes suddenly and sometimes gradually—throughout my life.

On your wedding day and in the years ahead…
May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May you sense a wholeness that includes the lack.
May you come to know and to trust how much you are loved.

When you feel like the luckiest people in the world…
May you give thanks.
May you delight in each other.
May your analysis give way to wonder.
May you remember that this too shall pass.

When conflict erupts or lies dormant between you…
May you each find the strength to remain true to yourself and your own deepest values while staying close with each other.
May you each give space to the other by learning to self-soothe your own anxieties.
May you each become skilled in non-reactivity.
May you become willing to tolerate discomfort for growth in your relationship.
May you each be led by your integrity rather than driven by your pain.

When life becomes unmanageable…
May you come to trust that any power greater than your own ego can restore you to sanity.
May you be held onto by many supportive communities.
May your own experience of being loved grow as you serve other people.
May you have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

When you need relief from distress…
May you return to the present moment.
May you recall all of the people who have loved you into being.
May you breathe in and breathe out with your hand on your heart.
May you have courage to feel whatever you feel even for a moment.
May you become curious about the places in your body that are able to safely hold your pain.

When the crap passed on by your families of origin becomes too much…
May you trust that compassion surrounds and infuses even your conditioning.
May you have courage to speak to us about the harm we have caused you.
May you forgive us our shortcomings.
May you learn from our mistakes.

When you wish things were different…
May your illusions serve you as long as you need them.
May you be enveloped by beauty when they fall away.
May you allow yourself (and life) to be as you are rather than how you wish you were.
May you find a refuge in impermanence.
May you be supported by interconnection with everyone and everything.

And finally…
May your curiosity lead you.
May you realize there is nothing to realize.
May you discover the divine in the faces and stories of the people you encounter.
May you always be companioned and surrounded by love.

These practices and awarenesses continue to help me. Will they be helpful for them? I hope so. Probably when they need the help and not before. The help may come from something in this list of wedding blessings or it may come some other way. It is the nature of an epiphany to come to us when we need it and in a way that is unmistakably for us.

Sources: The Buddha, John of Patmos, David Schnarch, Bill Wilson, Reinhold Niebuhr, Mr. Rogers, Deborah Grassman, Frank Ostaseski, Jesus of Nazareth, and me.

For a beautiful Epiphany novella, see The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke (1895). Available from your favorite bookseller and here from Project Gutenberg.

Love One Person

Do you know that you are a human?

You Know that You Are a Human
by: Vasyl Symonenko’ (English translation by Kyryl Snizhko)

You know that you are a human.
You know that, or do you not?
That smile of yours is unique to you,
That torment of yours is unique to you,
Your eyes no other person has got.

Tomorrow you won’t be here present.
Tomorrow on this blessed land
Others’ll be running and laughing,
Others’ll be feeling and loving;
Good people and bad ones, my friend.

Today all the world is for you:
Forests and hills, valleys deep.
So hurry to live, please, hurry!
So hurry to love, please, hurry!
Don’t miss out on it, don’t oversleep!

‘Cause you on this Earth are a human.
And whether you want it or not,
That smile of yours is unique to you,
That torment of yours is unique to you,
Your eyes no other person has got.

Now watch Roman Maksymovych of L’Arche Ukraine reciting the poem in this beautiful video:

Love One Person

Poetry

PINK MOON-THE POND
by Mary Oliver

You think it will never happen again.
Then, one night in April,
the tribes wake trilling.
You walk down to the shore.
Your coming stills them,
but little by little the silence lifts
until song is everywhere
and your soul rises from your bones
and strides out over the water.
It is a crazy thing to do–
for no one can live like that,
floating around in the darkness
over the gauzy water.
Left on the shore your bones
keep shouting come back!
But your soul won’t listen;
in the distance it is unfolding
like a pair of wings, it is sparking
like hot wires. So,
like a good friend,
you decide to follow.
You step off the shore
and plummet to your knees–
you slog forward to your thighs
and sink to your cheekbones–
and now you are caught
by the cold chains of the water–
you are vanishing while around you
the frogs continue to sing, driving
their music upward through your own throat,
not even noticing
you are something else.
And that’s when it happens–
you see everything
through their eyes,
their joy, their necessity;
you wear their webbed fingers;
your throat swells.
And that’s when you know
you will live whether you will or not,
one way or another,
because everything is everything else,
one long muscle.
It’s no more mysterious than that,
So you relax, you don’t fight it anymore,
the darkness coming, down
called water,
called spring,
called the green leaf, called
a woman’s body
as it turns into mud and leaves,
as it beats in its cage of water,
as it turns like a lonely spindle
in the moonlight, as it says
yes.

Love One Person

More Rilke on Death

I have just finished reading The Dark Interval: Letters for the Grieving Heart, by Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated and edited by Ulrich Baer (London: Bloomsbury, 2018). I am still sitting with these passages, because their themes ring true with my own experience of death, grief, and loss. Emphasis added by me. — Love One Person

Dear Madame:

After receiving your letter I was very happy that Monsieur Contat had allowed me to write to you and send the book [Duino Elegies] which had been destined for you, because of what you say about your life: that its most painful event was also the greatest. This is, basically, the secret thesis of these pages, and it is perhaps even the innate belief that brought them into existence—this conviction that what is greatest about our existence and renders it precious and ineffable also makes very careful use of our painful experiences to enter into our soul. It is true that sometimes also happiness may serve as a pretext to initiate us into that which, by its very nature, surpasses us. But in such cases it is much easier to understand right away that it wants only the best for us, although it is surely no less difficult to make use of this good we receive in the midst of happiness than it is to acknowledge that there is something positive at the bottom of the absences inflicted on us by pain. Every day when looking at these beautiful white roses, I ask myself whether they are not the most perfect image of this unity, and (I would even say) this identity of absence and presence that perhaps forms the fundamental equation of our life? The writings of Malte L. Brigge represent only a first step or two in that direction. One would have to go there much more forcefully and, above all, one would have to make it one’s mission to destroy those ancient and inherited doubts that separate us from the best part of our own strengths. We distrust those strengths to the point that we let them become Strange to us, because they offer or impose on us, depending on the circumstances, other ways of permanence than those we believe to be compatible with our personality. It is a blessed moment of inner life when one decides or resolves from now on to love with all one’s strength and unflinchingly that which one fears the most, that which has made us—according to our own measure—suffer too much. Don’t you believe that once such a decision has been made, the word “separation” is nothing but a name stripped of all meaning, unless it were the wonderful anonymity of an infinite number of discoveries, unheard-of harmonies, and unimaginable encounters …

I thank you, dear Madame, for this beautiful, silent photograph. It keeps the fragile memory in balance when one places enough white roses on the other side. — Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Marguerite Masson. January 4, 1923.

************

“Woe to those who have been consoled” comes close to what the courageous Marie Lenéru wrote in her remarkable and strange “Journal,” and here indeed consolation would be one of many distractions, a diversion, and thus at bottom something frivolous and unproductive. Time itself does not “console,’ as people say superficially; at best it assigns things to their proper place and creates an order. And even this works only because later we pay so little mind and hardly give any consideration to that order to which time so quietly contributes, that instead of admiring everything that now softened and reconciled comes to rest in the great Whole, we treat it as the forgetfulness and weakness of our heart just because our pain is no longer as acute. Alas, how little the heart forgets–and how strong it would be if we did not stop it from completing its tasks before they have been fully and truly accomplished!–Not wanting to be consoled for such a loss: That should be our instinct. Instead we should make it our deep and searing curiosity to explore such loss completely and to experience the particular and singular nature of this loss and its impact within our life. Indeed, we ought to muster the noble greed to enrich our inner world precisely with this loss and its significance and weight…. The more deeply we are impacted by such loss and the more violently it shakes us, the more it is our task to reclaim as our possession in new, different, and definitive ways that which, by virtue of being lost, is now so hopelessly emphasized. This would then amount to the infinite achievement of overcoming on the spot all the negative, sluggish, and indulgent dimensions that are found in every experience of pain. This is active pain that works on the inside, the only kind that has any meaning and is worthy of us. I do not love the Christian ideas of a Beyond, and I increasingly distance myself from them without, of course, thinking of attacking them. They may have their value and purpose, like so many other hypotheses about the divine periphery. But for me the danger is not only that they render those who have passed away less concrete and at least for the moment less reachable for us. But even we ourselves, in our longing for a beyond away from here, become in that process less concrete and less earthbound, while it is our obligation–as long as we are here and related to tree, flower, and soil–to remain earthbound in the purest sense, and even yet to become so! In my case what had died for me, so to speak, had died into my own heart. When I looked for the person who had passed away, he gathered inside of me in peculiar and such surprising ways, and it was deeply moving to feel that he now existed only there. My enthusiasm for serving, deepening, and honoring his existence there gained the upper hand almost at the same moment when the pain would otherwise have invaded and devastated the entire landscape of my mind. When I remember how often with the most extreme difficulties in understanding and accepting each other–I loved my father! During my childhood, my thoughts often became confused and my heart froze at the mere thought that at some point he might cease to be; my existence seemed to me so entirely determined by him (my existence which from the beginning was aimed in such a different direction!) that to my innermost self his departure was synonymous with my own demise. But death is so deeply rooted in the nature of love (if we only become cognizant of death without being misled by the ugliness and suspicions attached to it) that it nowhere contradicts love. Where to, finally, can death drive a person we have unspeakably borne in our heart but into that very heart, where would the “idea” of this beloved being and his unceasing influence (for how could this influence cease, which, while he was still alive among us, had already become more and more independent of his tangible presence) … where would this always secret influence be more secure than within us?! Where can we got closer to this influence, celebrate it more purely, and submit to it better than when it appears in concert with our own voices as if our heart had learned a new language, a new song, a new strength! I reproach all modern religions for providing their believers with consolations and embellishments of death instead of giving their soul the means to reconcile and communicate with it. With death, with its complete and unmasked cruelty: a cruelty so horrific that it completes the circle by reaching all the way back to an extreme mildness which is as great, pure, and utterly clear (all consolation is murky!) as we never imagined the sweetest spring day to be! But mankind has never even taken a first step to experience this deepest gentleness, which, if even only a few of us truly received it, could perhaps gradually permeate and make transparent all conditions of life. Nothing has been done to experience this most abundant and soothing gentleness–except perhaps during the most ancient and guileless periods of the past whose secrets we have nearly lost. I am certain that the content of all of the “initiations” anyone ever experienced was nothing but a “key” that allowed us to read the word “death” without negating it. Just like the moon, life surely has a side that is permanently turned away from us, and which is not its opposite but its complement to attain perfection, consummation, and the truly complete and round sphere and orb of being.

There should be no fear that we are not strong enough to endure any and even the closest and most horrible experience of death. Death is not beyond our strength, it is the highest mark etched at the vessel’s rim: We are full whenever we reach it, and being full means (for us) a feeling of heaviness, that something is difficult … that is all.–I do not mean to say that one should love death. But one should love life so generously and without calculating and selecting that one automatically always includes it (the half turned away from life) in one’s love, too. This is what actually happens each time in the vast movements of love, which cannot be arrested or contained! Only because we exclude death in a sudden fit of reflection has it become increasingly strange for us and, since we kept it at such a distance, something hostile.

It is conceivable that it is infinitely closer to us than life itself…. What do we know of it?! Our efforts (this has become increasingly clear to me over the years, and my work has perhaps only this one meaning and mission, to bear witness to this realization, which so often unexpectedly overwhelms me ever more impartially and independently … perhaps more visionarily, if that does not sound too proud) …our efforts, I believe, can aim only at assuming the unity of life and death so that it may gradually prove itself to us. Since we are so prejudiced against death we do not succeed in releasing it from its disfigurations… I urge you to believe, my dear Countess, that death is a friend, our most profound and perhaps the only friend who is never, ever misled by our actions and vacillations… And I do not mean this, of course, in that sentimental, romantic sense of renouncing or opposing life, but it is our friend especially then when we most passionately and profoundly consent to being here, to change, to nature and to love. Life always says at once: Yes and No. Death (I implore you to believe it!) is the true yes-sayer. It says only: Yes. Before eternity.

Just think of the “Sleeping Tree.” How good that I just thought of it. Think of all of the small pictures and their inscriptions–bow, in your youthful innocent faith, you always recognized and affirmed both in the world: the sleeping and the waking, the bright and the dark, the voice and the silence … la présence et l’absence. All the presumed opposites which converge somewhere in one point where they sing the hymn of their union—and this place is, for the time being, our heart! — Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Countess Margot Suzi-Noris-Crouy. January 6, 1923.

************

Now it is necessary, in an unspeakably and inexhaustibly magnanimous gesture of pain, to include death in life, all of death, since through someone precious to you it has moved within your reach (and you have become related to it). Make it part of life as something no longer to be rejected, no longer denied. Pull it toward you with all your strength, this horrific thing, and as long as you cannot do that, pretend that you are comfortable and familiar with it. Don’t scare it off by being scared of it (like everyone else). Interact with it or, if that is still too much of an effort for you, at least hold still so that it can get very close, that always chased-off creature of death, and let it cuddle up to you. For this, you see, is what death has become for us: something always chased away that no longer had a chance of revealing itself to us. If at the moment when it hurts and devastates us, death were treated by even the simplest person with some familiarity (and not with horror), what confessions would it share when it–finally–passed over to him! Only a small moment of open-mindedness toward it, a brief suppression of prejudice, and it is ready to share infinite intimacies that would overwhelm our tendency to endure it with trembling hesitation. Patience, Liliane, nothing but: patience.

Once you have been granted access to the Whole and thus been initiated, you solemnly celebrate your own true independence. You become more protective and more capable of granting protection exactly to the extent that you have lost and now lack protection. The solitude into which you were cast so violently makes you capable of balancing out the loneliness of others to exactly the same degree. And as your own sense of difficulty is concerned, you will soon realize that it has posited a new measure for your existence and a new standard for your suffering and endurance. — Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Claire Goll. October 22, 1923.

************

Yes, for it is our task to imprint this provisional, perishable earth so deeply, so painfully and passionately in ourselves that its reality shall arise in us again “invisibly.” We are the bees of the Universe. Nous butinons éperdument le miel du visible, pour l’accumuler dans la grande ruche d’or de l’Invisible. [We wildly gather the honey of the visible, in order to store it in the great golden hive of the Invisible.] The Elegies show us, by way of this effort of the continual transformations of the beloved visible and tangible into the invisible vibration and excitation of our own nature, that new frequencies of vibration are introduced into the vibrating spheres of the universe. (Since the different elements in the cosmos are only different exponents of vibration, we prepare, in this way, not only intensities of a mental kind but, who knows, new bodies, metals, nebulae, and constellations.) And this activity is curiously supported and urged on by the ever more rapid vanishing of so many visible things that will no longer be replaced. Even for our grandparents a “house,” a “well,” a familiar tower, their very clothes, and even their coat were infinitely more, infinitely more intimate, and almost any object was for them a vessel in which they encountered the human and added to the store of the human. Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, make-believe things, mock-ups of life … A house, in the American sense, an American apple, or a grapevine over there has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, the grape into which had entered the hopes and thoughtfulness of our forefathersThe things that are animated and share in our knowledge because they were truly experienced, are running out and can no longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last ones who will still have known such things. On us rests the responsibility not only of preserving their memory (that would be little and unreliable), but their human and lares-like worth. (“Lares” in the sense of the guardian deities of the home.) The earth has no other way out than to become invisible: only in us who with a part of our nature partake of the invisible and who have (at least) some stock in it, and who can increase our holdings in the invisible during our sojourn here. In us alone can this intimate and lasting transformation be consummated that turns the visible into something invisible which no longer depends on seeing or touching it, just as our own destiny grows at once more present and invisible in us. — Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Witold Hulewicz. November 13, 1925.

An Open Letter to our ISD and School Board

[Names other than my own and have been redacted. Needless to say, we are in Texas near the DFW Metroplex.]

This is an open letter to the Superintendent, ISD Administration, and the ISD Board of Trustees:

My name is James Jarrett. I am 46 years old and in reasonably good health. My family and I have made ______ our home for the past 14 years. I am a front-line healthcare worker supporting patients and their families in hospice care both here in ______ and in the surrounding region.

At my wife’s and my request, our youngest daughter (a student in the 5th Grade at ______ Intermediate School) has worn a mask to school every day since the 2021-22 school year began. Remember, however, that her mask protects other people from her germs. Other people’s masks protect her from their germs. As I’m sure you are aware, hardly anyone is wearing masks in _ISD so far this year.

This past week, that same youngest daughter tested positive for COVID-19 (with symptoms). Yesterday, a PCR test confirmed I also am positive for COVID-19 (with symptoms). I am fully vaccinated and in reasonably good health. Because of that, I am hopeful that my breakthrough infection will pass in the next several days without more serious symptoms or the need for hospitalization.

I write today not so much for myself as on behalf of the medically fragile people in our community. People for whom a COVID-19 diagnosis may still be a death sentence. These are our parents, our grandparents, our siblings, our spouses, our friends, and our children. They are the people that our _ISD students, teachers, and support staff go home to each day bringing the miasma of germs they have picked up in _ISD facilities. These people are us.

Vaccinations are an important component in protecting the people in our community and around the world from COVID-19. I applaud _ISD for providing information and the readily accessible vaccine clinics you continue to make available in our community. This is not enough. Personal protective equipment (masks), physical distancing, regular hand hygiene, and symptom screening remain 4 necessary tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and for protecting the people who need it most.

As an example of the effectiveness of these 4 protocols, I offer the example of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Every day on its COVID-19 page, UTSW publishes the infections rates among its 19,000 employee population in the following table:

[https://www.utsouthwestern.edu/covid-19/. Accessed 9/12/2021.]

As you can see from the right-hand column, the total number of COVID-19 infections due to on-campus exposure among UTSW’s 19,000 employees since March 1, 2020 is 72. Seventy-two people out of 19,000 have contracted the virus. Why is this number so low? This is partly due to the vaccines. Also, because UTSW has required masks, physical distance, hand hygiene, and symptom screening for all employees and visitors to its clinical facilities since March, 2020 when the pandemic began–long before the vaccines became available.

When these 4 necessary protective measures were in place in _ISD during the 2020-21 school year, I was confident that the 4 _ISD students living in my household were as protected as they could have been from COVID-19. And everyone else was too. As soon as the vaccines were available, everyone in our immediate family got them and are now fully vaccinated. Except for our youngest daughter who just turned 11 in August 2021–the 5th grader at ______ Intermediate School who came home from school with COVID this week. She is too young to be vaccinated.

I have been dismayed at _ISD’s refusal to keep in place the protections it did during last school year. And my concern has proven valid. These 4 protective measures are even more crucial now with the delta variant running rampant through the people in our community.

Under the Health Protocols section of the _ISD website the district states the following regarding face coverings:

“Per the Governor’s Order (GA-38), school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. However, we are encouraging all students, staff, and visitors to wear masks while indoors when social distancing is not feasible.”

This year, there are 3 _ISD students living in our household attending 3 different campuses (______ Intermediate, ______ High School, and ______ ______ High School). The daily emails we receive from _ISD about the COVID-19 infection rate on each campus reveal that “encouragement” is not enough. It is not working. The number of infections are already noticeably higher than they were at any point last school year. Especially in light of the more contagious delta variant, why would we not do everything possible to protect the weak, the vulnerable, and the medically fragile people in our community?

Wearing a mask, washing our hands, maintaining physical distance, and symptom screening are simple practices by which we can help each other through this perilous time. This pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than anything in any of our lifetimes that we are not isolated individuals. We are all connected with each other. What affects one, affects us all.

“Individual freedom” is not valid if its exercise impacts another person’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Following orders” has been used before to justify unspeakable atrocities against humanity. There is what is legal and there is what is right.

Requiring masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, and symptom screening for all _ISD students, staff, and visitors, is the human thing to do. I appeal to your humanity and implore each of you to use your positions of public trust to do whatever is necessary to act without delay for the protection of the people touched by our _ISD community–our ______ Family.

Thank each of you for your consideration and attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

James Jarrett

Love One Person

Wisdom

“Your joy is sorrow unmasked…

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran

Love One Person

Poetry

Tickled Pink
by: Kevin Kling

At times in our pink innocence, we lie fallow, composting, waiting to grow.
And other times we rush headlong like so many of our ancestors.
But rushing or fallow, it doesn’t matter
One day you’ll round a corner, you’ll blink 
And something is missing
Your heart, a memory, a limb, a promise, a person
An innocence is gone
Your path, as though channeled through a spectrum, is refracted, and has left you in a new direction.
Some won’t approve
Some will want the other you
And some will cry that you’ve left it all
But what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone.
We pay for our laughter. We pay to weep. Knowledge is not cheap.
To survive we must return to our senses…touch, taste, smell, sight, sound.
We must let our spirit guide us, our spirit that lives in breath.
With each breath we inhale, we exhale.
We inspire, we expire. 
Every breath holds the possibility of a laugh, a cry, a story, a song.
Every conversation is an exchange of spirit, the words flowing bitter or sweet over the tongue. 
Every scar is a monument to a battle survived.
When you’re born into loss, you grow from it.
But when you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it.
A slow move to an embrace, 
An embrace that holds tight the beauty wrapped in the grotesque, 
An embrace that becomes a dance, a new dance, a dance of pink.

*****************

Many people get this.
Many do not.
It happens anyway.
Breathe.

Love One Person

Poetry

Poem
by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is—

so it enters us—
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

Love One Person

What Is a Humanist Chaplain?

For the past two years I have presented a didactic on this question to Clinical Pastoral Education residents at one of the ACPE accredited centers in Dallas, Texas. As a chaplain endorsed by The Humanist Society, I am a provider of spiritual and existential care to people regardless of their ideological, religious, or philosophical perspectives.

What follows are my current answers to the five survey questions posed in the article: C. M. Schuhmann, J. Wojtkowiak, R. van Lierop & F. Pitstra (2020) Humanist chaplaincy according to Northwestern European humanist chaplains: towards a framework for understanding chaplaincy in secular societies, Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, DOI: 10.1080/08854726.2020.1723190, in which the authors observe, “we need a broader understanding of chaplaincy that is not (necessarily) characterized by religion.” (Id., p. 2.)

  • How would you describe the mission of humanist chaplains?

The mission of humanist chaplains is to provide human-centered spiritual and existential care (according to established standards for professional competence); meeting people where they are; and holding space for them to explore meaning and purpose in relation to their own sense of the transcendent. Simply being accepted and loved as one is, with all that is happening, can produce profound healing effects within a person. Such sacred encounters between human beings allow new discoveries to be made, affirming care seekers in all their beautiful and mysterious humanity. Humanist chaplaincy results in greater “existential resilience” for care seekers in the face of life’s changes and difficulties. (Id., p. 4 citing Van Praag.)

  • What does ‘humanist’ in humanist chaplaincy mean to you?

“Humanist” means human-centered with the goal of enhancing human flourishing in relationship with oneself, other people, and the universe. The humanist chaplain’s attention is on whatever is happening in and with the human being in front of them in the present moment. Many forces are at play in the care seeker (e.g., religious, ideological, cultural, medical, familial, economic, psychological, and social). The humanist chaplain uses deep listening and naming skills to bear witness to the experiences and story of this particular complex human being; to companion them in the present moment; and to facilitate the care seeker’s own life-affirming sense-making in relationship with all these forces.

  • What kind of challenges do you meet with as a humanist chaplain or in promoting humanist chaplaincy?

Misunderstanding. Human beings are far more complex than the labels we attach to ourselves and to each other. Many people tend to think “humanist = atheist” and may subscribe to the myth that “atheist = bad person”. Many humanists are atheists. I am a humanist, and am not atheist. I am more interested in what is possible in the space of unknowing as I practice living with uncertainty around ultimate questions and companioning others in the same process. Humanists have faith in the goodness of humanity and in our interpersonal potential as an interconnected species. (Id., p. 12.) More advocacy is needed for positive humanist philosophy and values, especially in the southern US. (A great starting point for education is The Ten Commitments: Living Humanist Values.)

  • What motivates you to work as a humanist chaplain or to promote humanist chaplaincy?

I love people. We are endlessly fascinating, frustrating, and fabulous beings. We are remarkably similar in how we experience wounds and what we do with them as a result. Across all imaginable diversities, every person wants to experience happiness and avoid suffering for themselves and their loved ones. Simultaneously, we each have our own one-millionth part* in our unique expressions of life and of love. The tension between our beautiful similarity and mysterious uniqueness has captivated my attention and motivates my work every day as a humanist chaplain supporting people in hospice care as well as their grieving loved ones.

  • What do you consider to be sources of inspiration in your work as a humanist chaplain/as a promoter of humanist chaplaincy?

My greatest sources of inspiration as a humanist chaplain are people–diverse human beings and their life stories, their courageous expressions of love, and their endurance of suffering to which I bear witness with compassion.

(* The phrase, “one-millionth part” is from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.)

Love One Person

Poetry

Roses, Late Summer
by: Mary Oliver

What happens
to the leaves after
they turn red and golden and fall
away? What happens

to the singing birds
when they can’t sing
any longer? What happens
to their quick wings?

Do you think there is any
personal heaven
for any of us?
Do you think anyone,

the other side of that darkness,
will call to us, meaning us?
Beyond the trees
the foxes keep teaching their children

to live in the valley.
So they never seem to vanish, they are always there
in the blossom of light
that stands up every morning

in the dark sky.
And over one more set of hills,
along the sea,
the last roses have opened their factories of sweetness

and are giving it back to the world.
If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn’t mind being a rose
in a field of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

Love One Person