I first considered taking a unit of CPE a couple of years ago.
It was 10% because I thought I might want to be a chaplain. It was 90% because I didn’t want to be a minister.
CPE seemed like a perfect solution, because I knew that it stood between me and ministry any way you slice it. So, if I hated it, then probably that scary “calling” thing would return from whence it came. And if I loved it, then perhaps I could find an easier way to chaplaincy than the current Unitarian Universalist path to ordination allows.
What I envisioned doing, after all, was about patient care. And there are lots of ways to do that. The majority of which don’t require a deep understanding of denominational polity or skills in congregational conflict resolution.
In short, why seminary? And, more to the point, why ordained ministry? I just wanna be there for people.
Next month it will be two years since this particular brand of insanity began in earnest . . . and in those two years of Trust the Process (and Fight the Process, and Kick the Process, and . . . ), I can tell you that the answers to the above questions are so much deeper and richer and more complex than I ever imagined.
And also, after the last three weeks, I can tell you something else. About CPE.
It is not about patient care.
Professional chaplaincy mostly is, but to be in that role and present in a way that is simultaneously simple and delicate and risky and generous . . . you gotta go through the stuff above. The ministry stuff. The formational challenge, and the time, and the struggle. The arduous path that initially seems unrelated to the end result–it cannot be skipped.
And meanwhile, I have discovered that this—my mandatory summer of crisis and opportunity—it, too, belongs to the formation process, and all its deep mysteries, and not to the world of healthcare.
I expect I’ll say more about that soon. Or someday, at least. I’m really in it, at the moment, and that means, for now, that I’m not sure from one day to the next if there will be anything left over after I complete task 1. Which is to simply be.
In the meantime, though, I will tell you something else.
If what I really wanted were a continuous focus on patient care, I have discovered a role that actually does this:
[whispers . . . ]
It’s the CNAs.
These people, at their best, are the moving hands and walking feet of Jesus in these tiled hallways.
The doctors or the administrators or even the accountants may well be God.
But Christ is somewhere else.
These weeks, I’ve seen Him in the whispered joke in a patient’s ear as her bed is wheeled down a too-public corridor, in bringing a quiet, determined dignity to tasks that otherwise offer a patient precious little, and in the touching and talking and being human with a person in a bed or a line or a wheelchair who is, first and foremost, a human, too.
And I am so grateful for this reminder.
We are humans, all of us. As professionals, and as patients, we deal with this reality—our frailties and our incredible possibility— in every moment. Some of us are ignoring it, some of us acting it out in one hundred small ways . . . and some of us struggling to remember how we might connect with our humanity once again.
The institution is not human. The procedures are not human. But this hospital . . . that insurance company . . . this government . . . it is made up of and designed and remembered and carried on and implemented by people.
Things feel so big, the dealings so impersonal, the daily workings so unalterable, that it’s hard to see, at first glance.
So look again.
I am continually inviting myself to do this, too. And when I do, I wonder:
What if we made it our number one job each day to remember that we aren’t a role or a title or a degree, not really? And that the one across from us, with the hair the color of your sister’s, or freckles, or dimples, or a gold tooth, and a look of fear or dread or hope or resignation—that person isn’t a patient or a stroke victim or a financial concern, not really?
What if we truly remembered this, with each phone call or e-mail or data input task:
I am a human being, here to serve other human beings–in love–and this entire institution exists, whether it knows it or not, to fulfill that mission.
Here. Now. In this very moment.
Whatever I believe in most deeply, my hands and my heart belong to it.
And whether I intend to or not, I serve that spirit with my every breath.
Please, God . . . let it be love.