Vulnerable Moments

There is so much I wish I could share about my experiences working in a hospital. I have held the hand of a dying man, had existential discussions with a terminally-ill agnostic, have witnessed smudging ceremonies, heard family members share the incredible and humorous memories of loved ones they’ve lost, have had warm conversations about the value of faith with Christian patients so surprised but happy to see a Muslim visiting them at their bedside, and so many other moving experiences that remain very close to my heart.

When the subject of my working as a hospital chaplain comes up in conversation with others, it is commonly met with a look of surprise and my being asked how I could do something “so difficult.” It is not always easy for me to explain. I don’t see myself as “stronger than others.” Rather, I find strength in the sacredness and vulnerability of the moment.

Being with someone while they (or you) are emotionally vulnerable appears to have become increasingly rare in our lives; leading to fewer people experiencing them (or, at least, experiencing them less frequently). Instead, vulnerable moments have been replaced by online rants to everybody but nobody at all. Social media has been preventing us from social-izing and helping us to hide our true faces behind our latest selfie. It is as if our hearts are becoming pixelated in our increasingly virtual world.   

For sure it is not easy to cope with our own mortality, grief, loss, or a sudden and unexpected illness. These thoughts and experiences challenge a very core but unfounded belief that many of us share and base our day-to-day lives on: the belief that we will be given enough time in life to do all that we hope to.

However, our time in this world (including our youth, health, and time with loved ones) is all limited. In fact, having to face the reality of our own mortality may very well be the most significant and unifying quality that we all share; but too often we refuse to talk about it.

While working as a hospital chaplain I have been privy to many vulnerable moments; each one of which is truly a rare treasure. I have come to see that it takes great strength to be vulnerable with others. In contrast, the online profiles we often create merely mask a more dynamic human being with faults, pain, humour and love.

Facebook posts and comments are but fool’s gold, it is in the sacredness of a moment where I seek that which truly enriches my life.

So, I remind myself to be vulnerable with those who I love and to all of those who have allowed me to be a part of your moments in 2016 and prior: thank you for the honour.

Who Do You Love? (And Have You Told Them?)

Who do you love?

Who does the heart within your chest pull you in the direction of? And by this I do not mean a “love for their good looks” or any other type of worldly love; this love is way beneath the type of love I am talking about here.

Who does your heart long to be around because when you are in their company they remind you of who you truly want to be in life and who delights you with encouraging words about what you are doing well right now?

Who do you have around you that you long to be around because you enjoy their good character? Or, you enjoy the way they treat you and how they make you feel?

Maybe they have recently reminded you of something that you are good at, or of something you care about.

Who is it that, were you to be in distress, you would want their company? Who is it that, were you to say something that hurt them it would also cause you deep pain and remorse?

My dear brothers and sisters in Islam:  Who do you love?

And have you told them?

Saying “I love you”

Saying “I love you for the sake of Allah” is no small thing. And when we hear it our hearts feel touched; often times growing in love and appreciation for the person who said it to us.

And, yet it is not always easy to express our love to people. In fact, sometimes we may even express things that hurt the feelings of those we love. Just because we love someone does not mean that we will always say the right thing, or that “they will understand.” When we love someone, we need to love them the way that they want to be loved and cared for.

We all desire to be loved and cared for in particular ways. These little ways are like signals that we are, indeed, loved.

Whether that means receiving a little text message every now and again from someone checking in on us, perhaps from a parent, spouse, or friend; or for someone to call us out of the blue for no other reason but they have missed us, or thought about us and wanted to say “salams;” or perhaps upon walking into our kitchen we see that our favourite breakfast, lunch or dinner is being prepared by someone who just wanted to put a smile on our face, alhumdulillah.

Did Our Prophet Teach Us to Love?

Continue reading “Who Do You Love? (And Have You Told Them?)”

Reflection on Neediness

Our neediness of others is reflective of the reality that we are not One, while Allah (Exalted is He) is. Yet, while Allah, alone, is unique in this quality, through our lack of possessing it (that is, through our lack of being One), we may attain to other godly qualities. For example, it is through our humility and recognition of our own neediness that we develop a concern for the well-being of others. And, through this concern we cultivate qualities of compassion, kindness, and justice (all qualities of our Most Merciful, Most Kind, and Just Lord).

Through the experience of our own neediness, we step on our nafs to care for and fulfill the needs of others.

While difficult to accept during varying events in our life (particularly traumatic ones), our neediness is a blessing. Our experience of neediness is one of the most personally felt signs pointing to the beauty, majesty and absolute power of our Lord who acts compassionately without any need. Our neediness reminds us of the blessing of family members and close friends, of faith, and to be grateful for what we do have. Hence, neediness leads to gratitude – one of the highest qualities and states of a believer.

Our neediness keeps us knocking on the door of the Most Merciful; laying our face down on the floor in humility, fear and hope before the presence of our Lord’s absolute power and generosity. Our neediness is humbling and reminds us of the One who is without need, who we can call upon in our most dire of straits.

Neediness is more than just a “feeling,” it is a reality indicating the nature of our very existence before our All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer who cares for all of creation.

Through recognizing our neediness, we recognize this reality and the compassion and power of our Lord. And, through testifying to His Oneness, we humbly state that He is the only One, Eternally-Besought-of-All (Himself being without need). And, through this recognition, we find ourselves calling upon the only One who can help us and cares for us purely out of divine concern, and without any need what-so-ever: the One, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.

Mspiration Interview

Saeed Saeed, an Australian writer and journalist, interviewed me recently for his unique blog: Mspiration. I was honored to be featured on his site alongside individuals who inspire me. I also appreciated Saeed’s relaxed and professional interview style and overall dedication to his site and its goals. May Allah reward him generously.

Those interested in reading excerpts derived from the interview, may click the picture below.

Mspiration

Spiritual Care Psychotherapy?

Have you ever thought of chaplains as psychotherapists? If the answer is no, then perhaps your perspective may change; particularly if you live in Ontario, Canada.

For the province of Ontario will soon be regulating the controlled act of psychotherapy, which, broadly defined below, includes aspects of spiritual care. And, like other healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and social workers, chaplains may need to register with the province to be able to legally engage in their practice in Ontario.

Of course, not all chaplains will need to register as psychotherapists. Joyce Rowlands, the Registrar for the new College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), notes that the province still honors the “longstanding tradition separating church and state” (Letter, 2013) and would not impede “faith groups that employ prayer and spiritual means to ‘treat’ or ‘heal’ bodily ills, based on language used by their belief systems” (Letter, 2013).   However, a portion of spiritual care (and arguably its essence) comprises the care of the spirit, which may include the assessment and treatment of various cognitive, emotional and behavioral disturbances brought about by (and/or related to) social, psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual crises.

Now, compare this to the definition of psychotherapy as defined by Ontario’s Psychotherapy Act of 2007:

The practice of psychotherapy is the assessment and treatment of cognitive, emotional or behavioural disturbances by psychotherapeutic means, delivered through a therapeutic relationship based primarily on verbal or non-verbal communication.

If these descriptions sound oddly similar, then think about what psychotherapy means. If broken down to its original Greek words, psyche means breath, soul, or spirit, and therapia means healing, or medical treatment. So, essentially the term psychotherapy was coined with “care of the spirit” in mind. Then, can there really be any surprise that there is a good deal of overlap?

Perhaps seeing chaplains as psychotherapists may be a way of drawing attention to the essential meaning of psychotherapy: “care of the spirit.” And, seeing spiritual care as overlapping with psychotherapy may help other psychotherapists to recognize the benefits of incorporating a greater amount of spiritual resources into the care of their client.

Either way, I am looking forward to seeing the discussion evolve and the continual bridging between psychotherapy and spiritual care.

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Reference:

Rowlands, Joyce (2013). Letter to Ciaran McKenna, Chair of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, Ontario Council.

Digging My Well

Several years ago, one of my teachers related to me a metaphor that has served to shape how I approach spirituality and spiritual practice. He informed me that spiritual enlightenment, like digging a well, takes dedicated effort and digging in the same location. However, a lack of trusting the location one has starting digging at may lead to a large field full of small holes: due to digging here, digging there, but never getting deep enough to truly reach the fresh water below.

To a good degree, this has been my affliction. My anxious desire to be with God has brought both a sacred meaning to my life, but also a deep sense of failure at times when I feel like I have fallen short of that goal. Throughout my life I have moved from one digging spot to another after my efforts in a prior location feel “spent.” However, as I move into my new location I feel a renewed sense of hope that this might be the spot where I strike a deep stream of fresh cool water; a stream which fills my well, quenching my thirst and satisfying me after all of my prior efforts.

I can’t say for sure if I have, or ever will, reach the water. However, during my intensive residency program (at St. Joseph’s Healthcare) I gained a new appreciation for the dirt I am digging in.

I have come to learn that dirt is not merely what separates me from the water beneath it, it also holds me up, allows me to stand tall, and, in my efforts at digging it, I have gained access to discover what is buried beneath.

I have learned that dirt is a humble substance, but also strong. Dirt has a history of past lives and forms prior to its present state. And, together with water, dirt provides the space for new life in its various forms to exist and develop each in its own unique way.

Digging my well has provided me with a new way of looking at my search for water: I have become inspired to honor and find value in my effort even when I am not sure if my goal has been reached. And, seeing honor in my digging in the dirt helps me to remain steady in one place.

Living the Legacy of Loved One’s Lost

A deeply personal account of my own struggle losing my mother to cancer. These brief words were offered as support to family members and friends of patients who had lost their lives due to illness and other causes. They were provided as part of a memorial service that took place at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton on May 9, 2013. I share these words here for those who might find benefit in them.

[Duration 11:22]

Continue reading “Living the Legacy of Loved One’s Lost”

Can You Be Loved?

I have recently discovered how much my own self-care is related to how I understand my relationship with my Lord. Particularly, how I feel a certain sense of anxiety at times as to whether or not I am fulfilling my potential. This worry takes a toll on my physical and spiritual health. My discontent with my present self makes me feel unable to rest at times and unable to fully enjoy even the triumphs after a struggle. This is, in part, because I believe that I have not fully reached my potential which is my true struggle and goal.

My discontentI have come to realize that this perception clouds my ability to appreciate and accept aspects of myself in my present state. I am struggling, I am learning, I am forming, I am changing, I am evolving, I am doing… all of this for some future goal. But, what about what I have right now? Or better yet, what about who I am right now?

Continue reading “Can You Be Loved?”