Sacred Art of Chaplaincy

I’ve been a hospice chaplain now for about 9 1/2 years and generally think of myself as pretty competent and pretty experienced. Sometimes I’m reminded of how much I still have to learn.

A few months ago I was asked to join a task force at my work San Diego Hospice and Palliative Care. It was to explore whether or not to talk with Richard Groves of The Sacred Art of Living, who has founded a program that hopes to transform how care is given to terminally ill patients. We were given his book The American Book of Dying; I read the book and was amazed at how transformative this is. He essentially says that we need to look back at the Medieval approaches to hospice care and recapture some of what they knew. Back then they ministered to the sick without the medications and technologies we have now at our disposal.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with current medications and technologies, and if I were sick I would want to use anything that is helpful. But we have come to rely on them to the exclusion of many other interventions, including spiritual interventions. Richard leads something called the Anamcara Project that we are bring to SDHPC starting in September.

The project sees healing as being multi-faceted and requires the practitioner to not only be skilled is his or her own profession but also to have done a great deal of interior work. Simply put it’s not enough to know about the illness, we also have to be willing to know ourselves and know the patient and family. This looks to me to be a challenging and hopefully life changing journey.

Serving on the task force has also given me a chance to work with some of the top people at SDHPC. When I first stated to work there in 2005 I was told by a friend that I would be amazed at the number of smart people I would meet there. Taking nothing away from the people I worked with at Vitas or Odyssey, she’s absolutely right. Task forces can often be a waste of time but this one has been enlightening for me. It’s also been heartening to be included in the group and I look forward to many more of these experiences.

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