Each year the COMISS Network promotes Pastoral Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2017 is Hospitality: Cultivating Inclusion. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 1.
By William S. Beaver
What’s your favorite color? How long has that been your favorite color? Why is that your favorite color? What do you feel through that color?
Colors move us emotionally, and for many of us, spiritually. In my faith, I believe God placed a high value on color at the beginning of Creation with the command “Let there be light!”
Light is more than just removal of darkness. Light contains the spectrum of color. We have eyes which can see color and, if we slow down long enough to reflect on it, can be moved emotionally by colors in Creation.
Have you ever taken a picture of a sunset or beautiful sky? Shared it with someone? Does it take you awhile to shop for the right colored clothing? What color car do you prefer to drive? Repainted your home lately? You see, colors affect our emotions on such a deep level we will make life and financial decisions involving color. We want to feel good and colors help us get there.
In cathedrals and places of worship across the ages and cultures, stained glass windows have been used in place of clear glass windows. Stained glass works best if the worshiper is on the inside, during daylight hours, being bathed by colored rays of light. The intent is to draw people in to worship or commune with God, and experience God’s presence. For ages people have understood that color affects our spirit.
God communicates with us through the colors of Creation. After the Flood in Genesis, God placed a rainbow – an arc of the concentrated light spectrum captured in atmospheric moisture, as a sign of the covenant between God and humanity. At least that is how the author of Genesis understood the rainbow’s meaning. In the biblical book of Job, we find a man who is suffering terribly. When he cries out to God demanding an answer to his suffering, God responds through a whirlwind. in that whirlwind Job hears a beautiful, detailed description of the rich colors and life found in Creation. Job places his hand over his mouth and admits he doesn’t know who God is. God essentially is using color and Creation to say “I AM.” In the biblical New Testament Jesus calls himself the “Light of the World.” In Revelation, the Lord’s throne is surrounded by a rainbow. You think that color means something to God?
There is comfort in knowing — in our spirit and not just in our mind, that “I AM.” Sometimes we must expand our practice of meditation and worship to include the use of color. There’s a reason why “adult” coloring books, journals and Bibles of all kinds have flooded the market today. People are rediscovering that color can be used in meditation, worship, and communication with God.
Have you slowed down lately to reflect on the colors you experience in Creation? How do they make you feel? Is God speaking to your spirit through colors in Creation? What is God saying to you?
As a CBF-endorsed Chaplain, I value hospitality and inclusion, and strive to find ways to bridge gaps between myself and others so that sacred ministry can occur, regardless of the audience. As an Army Chaplain, it is my duty to work in a pluralistic environment and to be respectful of all Service members and their belief systems, even those systems vastly different from mine, including atheism.
I serve them in our Army Medical Center’s Traumatic Brain Injury functional recovery program, and in our 28-day substance abuse recovery program. I cannot lead a Bible study with them, pray with them, or preach with them, in groups they are ordered to attend. I would violate my own tenets as well as those of my Army regulations. The challenge is to be pastoral and to meet the Service members where they are. I believe that all humans are created in the image of God. Regardless of our various views of God, I believe we all have the capacity to experience God. In seeking a modality in which to help heal the spirits of my patients, I have found that the use of colors and shapes are a tool that creates space for them to experience God, while respecting their currently held views of God.
The result is that the patients — regardless of their faith or beliefs, create these “story flags” as they relax and sing along to soft music I play from my phone. Their emotions are expressed in such a way that oftentimes words cannot adequately express. When they are finished, the patients take turns discussing the meanings of their “story flags.” As the Chaplain, I am able to ask them probing questions to help them see for themselves the hope in their own stories. Rather than being preachy, I am able to use these “story flags” to meet the patients where they are, and invite them to continue to seek spiritual answers in their lives. I have found this often leads to patients wanting to speak with me off-line about spiritual matters. In fact, I see just as many atheist patients as I do Christians. I have learned that this tool of “story flags” creates authentic hospitable and inclusive sacred space in which all group members can gain something.
As Chaplains and ministry professionals, we will continue to be asked to care for people of all faiths as the world continues to get smaller. As a Christian, I believe that it is the Holy Spirit that does the healing of a person’s soul. I cannot save someone or even give them hope when I believe it is the Lord who saves and gives hope. It is my calling to simply come along beside them and to walk with them a bit on their spiritual journey of discovery. I can be a source of strength, if only for a brief time.
U.S. Army Chaplain (CPT) William S. Beaver serves at Dwight D. Eisenhower Hospital at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga.