Harley Davidson Spirituality
After the suicide threat, things started getting a little better for Charlie and Beverly. The Hospice team was able to make them more comfortable – he with the appropriate level of medications and she with coping strategies. The social worker on the team came up with a new blender out of our special funds so that Charlie could begin eating again and he put back on a little weight. I was able to do some gentle spiritual care with Charlie.
It wasn’t easy doing pastoral care with Charlie. He was almost devoid of any spiritual development and what he did have was shattered by the behavior of the church. Charlie’s soul was severely traumatized and there was no spirituality left to help him cope. I was walking on thin ice with him spiritually from day one. If it hadn’t been for my style as a minister, I’d never been invited back after the first visit. Fortunately, the subject of Charlie’s chopper kept coming up. I’d ask him to take me to the shed to start it up and we’d stand there and listen to it run. One day it occurred to me that the closest experience that Charlie had to a genuine spiritual experience was in the saddle of that Harley. I started encouraging him to ride and mentioned it to the rest of the team as well. Our conversations started to center around how it felt to be in the wind and free. It seemed to me that Charlie’s attitude, sense of humor and general coping ability was improving. He was becoming more hopeful even in the face of the horrible death that was just around the corner.
One day when he and Beverly and I were sitting around talking about dying and what eternity meant, Charlie said, “I think I believe in reincarnation.” I was pleasantly surprised because this offering from him was totally opposite of his bitter stated position that when we die-we die just like the other animals. It pleased me because it seemed that Charlie was in the process of pulling the pieces of his fractured soul together and he was spiritually healing. It was bittersweet for me because I knew that we didn’t have much time and I contemplated the possibility of this healing under healthier circumstances and how far it could have gone. I grew attached to Charlie because he’d responded to me and gave me the supreme pay-off for doing Hospice work – ultimate healing even in the face of death. I was elated to see it and his work fed my soul.
Not that Charlie was thinking like me or that he was following my beliefs or theology. None of that matters to a chaplain anyway (or it’s not supposed to). We are not evangelists. God knows there are enough of those around in every shape and form. Evangelism is the easy work. Most have a canned message that takes a salesman’s attitude and the memory of a few simple verses. Evangelists don’t have the burden of nurturing people after they’ve scared the hell out of them and left them with a rudimentary system of faith. They drive to the next “revival” and all but forget about the new converts they’ve left at the altar. Fundamentalist evangelists are particularly annoying because they think that everything revolves around their beliefs. They are usually so ignorant to everything but the subject of salvation that they are able to spread as much damage as they do the “gospel.”
Chaplains work with the doctrine and theology that is given to them by the patient. If the church evangelists and pastors haven’t done their jobs by the time they come into the clinic, there’s very little that can be done except heal the wounds left over from a very dysfunctional church experience. Charlie was no exception. He was deeply wounded from wacky fundamentalist behavior. If I’d had time with him there might have been far more healing.