Each year the COMISS Network promotes Spiritual Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2019 is Cultivating Space. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 1. Learn more about Spiritual Care Week at spiritualcareweek.org.
By Darryl Jefferson
I am a big fan of words and their definitions. Most of the time when I am reading or listening to someone speak, I am fascinated with the words that are chosen to describe the main idea conveyed. When I was given this topic to write for this blog, I automatically gravitated to the word cultivating, which is an agricultural word. I wanted to explore the definition and meaning behind this word. To fully understand the definition I decided to reach out to one of the most important agricultural minds I know—my father.
My father is a retired County Extension Agent for the Texas Extension Service. In our rural county, he worked with and offered support to many ranchers and farmers for their livestock and crops. He coordinated the many 4-H clubs for our county. He also studied to be a Master Gardener as well as taught many Master Gardening classes. I knew he could explain the meaning of the word, “cultivate.” This is what he said: “To cultivate means to…”
Break Up the Soil
“If you don’t attempt to break up the soil, the soil can become very dense. Light, nutrients, and water will not be able to get to the roots. Without these necessities, the plant can’t survive or thrive.”
Just like in chaplaincy, we chaplains do our best to help the people whom we serve to survive and thrive with a healthy quality of life. We make attempts to break up the dense soil around them, such as guilt, shame, unworthiness, fear, doubt, loneliness, etc., to allow these necessities—love, understanding, reconciliation, respect, dignity—to come and nourish the person.
Create Growth and Expansion
“The plant needs room to grow. If the soil is loose around, the seed which is becoming a plant can move in the direction that it needs to go and become the plant it was called to be. Also in that room, oxygen is in those spaces offering stamina for the plant to grow.”
Just like in chaplaincy, we chaplains do our best to honor the people whom we serve to continue being the people they were called to be without judgment or attempting to change them. So many times we come in contact with people who feel they will not be accepted for reasons of religion, race, creed, gender, and other areas. We need to allow the person to receive care as themselves.
Continuing with the imagery of agriculture, grapefruit seeds do not grow into orange trees. No matter how much work is put into the growing of the seed, that work will not change the composition of the plant. We come in contact with people and offer them care and support. When they leave, many things might change (health, well-being, awareness, etc.), but their general makeup will be the same. We chaplains are not there to change a person, but to give them the space to continue to grow in the midst of their sickness or adversity.
Also, within that space, the Divine (oxygen) is present to offer sustenance for the person to grow in the way they are called. There are times that we chaplains offer all we can to a person, but then there are forces not of human hands beyond our control that are present to offer what human hands can’t produce.
Take Away the Weeds
“Anything that causes distraction takes away nourishment. Weeds can deplete the plant of its nourishment, so there must be constant focus on the pruning and eliminating of these weeds for growth.”
These outside forces (weeds) can affect the growth process of people. Just as we broke up the soil to create and allow growth and expansion, these outside forces can occupy the spaces of growth to deplete the person. These forces, such as guilt, shame, unworthiness, fear, doubt, and loneliness can not only come from within a person, but they can come from outside realms, such as family, community, and world views. We do not have the task to do the pruning, but we can offer assistance in identifying the weeds to help the person find their meaning and purpose.
This brings me back to the first word of the topic: hospitality. Some of its synonyms are neighborliness, warmth, companionship, and comradeship. The entire cultivating process can only take place within the confines of hospitality. The gardener must offer care to the plant for it to grow, just as in chaplaincy in relation to the person.
Gardening and ministry have more similarities than I thought.
Darryl Jefferson is a Staff Chaplain II for Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Memorial Hermann-TMC is a Level I trauma one center with more than 1,000 licensed beds, and includes Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Darryl works with patients and families at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-TMC.