Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Can I Help?

We've been asked to say to ourselves, ". . . as a minister" as frequently as possible this year. This is to remind us that we are going to be going out into the world in just ten short months, into a world that will dump us in the figurative deep end without a qualm. When we walk out of the chapel after our ordination, we need to be prepared to serve, often and well, ". . . as a minister."

Part of our preparation for serving is to read through Ram Dass and Paul Gorman's How Can I Help? This is a book designed to introduce you to the ways of helping others in the world, everything from hospice care to helping people on the street, and all the myriad types of suffering in between.

In the third chapter, one of the shared stories states, "No one teaches us to face suffering in this society." That sentence has stuck in my brain. I keep thinking about it, and it's true. Certainly some of us have been caused to suffer during our childhood or young adulthood, but suffering is not the same as facing suffering. Dass talks about how we often don't even see the suffering around us; we look down or away when a beggar walks by, avoid visiting people in hospice and palliative care, and give painless donations at work to avoid having to really deal with anything personally.

Compare that to the work done by the grads of The New Seminary after 9/11. They simply went out and started helping. They stared suffering in the eye and didn't flinch. They held hands, offered prayer, consoled the dying, listened to the living. I'm morally certain that they were grieving, tired, hungry, lonely, needy, and afraid, and they didn't let it stop them. I'm sure that most of them used their own feelings of inadequacy (a natural thing in the face of such a huge disaster) to be human with those who needed them. That is what the seminary teaches. This is what I am learning.

Self-honesty is difficult. Standing for what you believe in is difficult. Seminary itself is difficult. Yet each of these things is necessary and brings a lasting joy to my life.
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