Seminary changes you. Or at least it has changed me. I describe it as becoming simultaneously more yourself and someone different. My personal theology has not changed greatly, I’m still a Humanist. I do not believe in a supernatural deity. I believe we human beings are the ones needed to change things for the better and those responsible for when they in fact get worse.
I more strongly identify with Unitarian Universalism than when I began this journey, which makes sense and is a positive outcome since I am studying to be a UU minister. I have expanded my religious humanist thoughts to religious naturalism but that feels like a small shift in the grand scheme of things.
Then I started praying. This past summer, I completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in a hospital. I was basically an Intern Chaplain for ten of the most intense weeks of my life. My very first day, I walked into a hospital room to talk to a patient and was asked to pray. The patient was Catholic, I have never been that (but do have many Catholics in my life). She and her daughter were scared of what was about to happen. Scared of the unknown, the possibility of death, the possibility of being separated.
So, I prayed. I don’t remember the words I used but having rarely prayed in my life I held their hands and then didn’t know how to start… and then I said “Dear God.”
After that, I spoke about hope. Hope for the success of the upcoming procedure. Hope for the skill of the medical staff. Recognition of all the lives touched by the life I was praying for. Recognition that so many people not there were impacted by the lives in that hospital room.
I spoke about love, and I spoke about the power of their Catholic faith. I didn’t make promises. And then I ended in a Catholic way “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Not my way but theirs. This prayer was for them not me. Something given by me to them to show that I, a stranger with the title of Chaplain cared about them and recognized their faith as important and powerful in their lives.
I believe prayer calls our attention to what matters in our lives. In this moment what mattered was holding on to hope for the success of this procedure. The delaying of mortality for a day, or week, or month, or longer. What mattered was that I recognized the people whose hands I held we human beings and connected by love and relationship to people that cared deeply for them.
Having now prayed for individuals, congregations, and yes even by myself. I think that the commonality of prayer is that we each need to be reminded and have our attention called to hope, love, and connection to something beyond the individual.
Some call this God, I consider this to be the best of Humanity. I can pray for that.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/christianoliverharris/