I call to the Shaman who travels between the worlds. To the Witch who bends and shapes the energy of nature. To the Herbalist who uses the power of plants. To the men and women of boldness within the Unitarian Universalist tradition who crafted a progressive, inclusive faith from two heresies. To those who find their Gods living in everything and everywhere. I call to technicians of ecstasy, to the seers and the storytellers.
But to patients, I am none of those things.
Would you like to pray together?”
“Yes, I would. Thank you, I would.”
“What would you like me to include in the prayer?”
“Just to pray to Jesus that I get well and that this biopsy does not give me any pain.”
“Sure we can do that…”
This conversation happens to me multiple times a week as I engage patients on the floors of Mt. Sinai Hospital. Although our time together may result in peace for the patient, it does not always result in peace for me. As a member of a minority religious group in the United States that turns towards many faces for God/ess and not just one, sometimes scenes like this are not quiet moments. How canI engage theologically with the work of the chaplain, to engage people who have very different theologies than mine? I am Wiccan High Priestess of 11 years’ experience, a pagan for 21 years, and I am Unitarian Universalist. I may not share my patient’s specific beliefs. But I certainly share their humanity.
Shared humanity is the most important part of this work. I may not address the Divine the same way you do when I encounter my own suffering, but I can address the divine in you and coax it out so that it can be a comfort to you. When your family members surround you with looks of concern or even tears, I may not be able to conjure hope from your doctors, but I can stand there with you when you step into spaces of suffocating pain.
When I mentioned to a seminary colleague that that I was interested in doing a unit of CPE, She said to me that the job of a chaplain is to see people when they are in the pits of despair- not necessarily to pull them out of it, because often that is beyond your control- but to stay there with them in that pit. I have found this to be an apt description.
I call to the Shaman who travels between the worlds. The Witch who bends and shapes the energy of nature. The Herbalist who uses the power of plants. To the men and women of boldness within the Unitarian Universalist tradition who crafted a progressive, inclusive faith from charges of two heresies. To those who find their Gods living in everything and everywhere. I call to technicians of ecstasy, to the Seers and the storytellers
As a chaplain intern, I am all of those things. But then, I am none of those things. I am something different.
I am a midwife of the Sacred. That is my calling as High Priestess, and that was the calling of my matron Goddess, Brighid. So beloved of the Irish as a Goddess, she transitioned into becoming a saint, and was spoken of as the Midwife of Christ – a healer, a bard, an artisan. I have felt her presence in my life strongly- but never before have I connected to her as healing goddess, except for her ability to heal and comfort me. But now I am humbly asking her to make me like her- a midwife of the sacred. A helper and a healer.
But what is the sacred? Is it just a beautiful moonlit night, dancing with my brothers and sisters with our feet bear to the earth as we revel in the rhythms of nature? Is it the harvest, the celebration of our toil and talents, presented with pride? Is it the sacred wisdom of the ancestors themselves, whether of spirit or blood, whom we honor with offerings or remembrance? I it even at the rites of passage we create for ourselves – the mystery of stepping into our power as practioners- the secrets we hold to our hearts, the lineage of mystery traditions going back millennia?
During the holiday year, I am aware of loss and renewal as it is ritually expressed in my small congregation through attunement to cycles of fertility and decay. This is our notion of the Sacred.
But the Holy does not just get birthed at these sacred times of the year. Nor does it contain itself to observances in mosques, synagogues, and churches. The Holy must be birthed in any place where there is struggle. It is in these places that midwives of the sacred, whatever their religion (or gender) must go.
The struggles we have with our training are uniquely our own. It would be a mistake for me to say that I always feel safe with peers or patients; sometimes I am confronted. Sometimes I am the one doing the confronting. The point is not to feel 100% safe. Nature itself is not always pretty. A seed may experience the fear of drowning in a strong rain, or feel the power of a wind carrying it away to soil that has uncertain purchase. But nevertheless, in this atmosphere of learning, where everyone is having similar experiences but differing perspectives, the alchemy of growth is occurring. We are all students, anchoring ourselves in our common humanity even as we are buffeted by suffering
I call to the Shaman who travels between the worlds. The Witch who bends and shapes the energy of nature. The Herbalist who uses the power of plants. To the men and women of boldness within the Unitarian Universalist tradition who crafted a progressive, inclusive, faith from two heresies. To those who find their Gods living in everything and everywhere. I speak to technicians of ecstasy, to the Seers and the Storytellers. I call to them, for they, too, have been wounded.
I come from a wounded community. Some of us cannot tell our families or the world what we believe. Custody battles, teenagers committing suicide, prison inmates who cannot get the religious support they need because even though we are the most ancient of faiths, no one recognizes us. I come from a wounded community. I serve that community, but I have learned this summer that there are more wounds to serve than ours, and I have learned some of the skills necessary to serve them. I have come to know how diverse the wounds of this world are.
I call to those shamans, witches, herbalists, prophetic voices, heretics, shape-shifters, seers and storytellers. I call to them and in calling I bless them, for their voices whisper in my heart. I call to them, for it their power grows in my soul. I call to them and bless the, for their struggle is my own. I am all of them, and I am none of them. I invoke them. I invoke you, Midwife of the Sacred.
1 thought on “Invocation: A Pagan Chaplaincy Perspective”
I’m just starting CPE from a very similar perspective — 15 years a Wiccan, a dozen years a UU. After just a couple of weeks (and very little patient contact so far) it’s amazing how much what you’ve written is resonant for me. Thank you so much for your clarity.