Reflections on Clinical Pastoral Education
Although CPE students offer spiritual and emotional support to patients, the primary goal at this level is our own development as ministers. As we sit and occasionally pray with patients, our assignment is to pay attention to our own feelings: what do we enjoy, what do we avoid, and what causes us fright? In learning those answers we will be better able to set aside personal reactions in order to serve pastorally, sharing God’s grace and love unfettered. Needless to say, this is a lifelong project.
The hospital environment brings to my mind Buddhist therapist Tara Brach’s teaching that paying attention to another is the “most basic form of love.” We love best when we turn to the other and truly listen. No problem-solving, no interruptions, just listening. In a hospital, this may happen with patients, families, or staff, a group whose need for attention is often overlooked. Listeners, in turn, are “touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged” (Radical Acceptance, p. 222).
During CPE, I have been able to bring the transformative and healing theology of the CTS community to patients from all walks of life. I have also been able to clarify what it means to me to be a religious leader, to have integrity (in the sense of being an integrated person), to practice humility, and to bear loving witness to real pain and powerful healing.