14 February 2010

The Chaplain

Faith in the Divine runs through my veins. I couldn't imagine my life without faith.

I was born and raised Catholic -- "old skool" Catholic -- although I had never been confirmed (a regret my mother carries to this day). My education is Catholic. I even once wanted to be a nun. But as I grew older, I dabbled a bit in mystic eastern religions due to curiosity. And that was quickly quashed by my very devoutly Catholic mother. In youth, I was a bona-fide born-again Christian, complete with a dream of one day preaching at the pulpit. I even have a degree in Judeo-Christian Theology. In later years, my eyes opened to other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and other polytheistic religions, as well as the goddess-based religions. My only regret is I know so little about Islam.

As I learned more about other faiths, I came to the conclusion that the God that I grew up with is also the God of the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the Shinto, and even the polytheists. God is God. It's just that people are different and well, because of that, they will worship and idealize differently. But the Divine is constant. Therefore, I respect other people's faith, no matter what canon. Your God is my God, so long as your god is not the god of oppression, or enslavement, or pain and suffering. It's all good. "One love," as Bob Marley sang.

Having said that, what always puts me on the defensive is when people force their beliefs on me; or imply that my beliefs are wrong. I believe that faith is a personal matter. And unless someone asks me, I don't impose my beliefs on anyone else. So, I think it's fair to expect that of others as well. "Live and let live."

The Chaplain knew none this when he paid me a visit at the hospital, poor thing. After asking about my well-being and listening to my story about the last couple of days at the hospital, he asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ. I said I was a huge fan. (I know, I know, that was unfair). Undeterred, the Chaplain tried another angle. He asked whether I believed in God. I honestly answered that I believed in many gods. "Many gods?" he repeated. "Yes. I'm a pantheist," I answered, with a smirk. Admittedly, I had hoped that with that response, he would leave me be. I know it wasn't the most courteous of answers. But it was a true answer. The delivery might just have been a little too curt. And for that, I was sorry.

It's just that the good Chaplain had me on the defensive, when he barraged me with his questions. When I calmed down I knew that he was just doing his his calling; that he meant well. He also believed that it would do me a world of good if I believed in Jesus Christ(as my Lord and Savior) and unburdened my troubles to Him in prayer (I know. I used to do what he did). And because he truly believed that, he was relentless in his conversion efforts, even though I tried to explain repeatedly that I appreciated what he was doing and offering, but "Thank you. No"

Bad form. I know. But you see, at that point, I was really angry at God. Angry! I was feeling very sorry for myself. And the last thing I wanted to do was to be in supplication and praise God to help me. What I really wanted to do was to scream at the heavens and ask why. Why me??? I didn't want to beg for anything nor promote goodwill amongst men. I wanted someone to give me an answer. Short of that, I wasn't participating in anything or turning my life over to anyone. I was at war with God and the Chaplain was caught in the cross-fire.

Here's the thing. I believe! With my whole being, I believe. But just because I believe does not mean I couldn't question or be angry. I am human. I have feelings. I also have the capacity to reason and question. So really, I don't think God took issue with my anger or my question. We were given the capacity to reason and feel, after all. And I don't think prayer would have helped me at that time. Certainly, I couldn't pretend that I wasn't angry or in despair. It's futile to lie to yourself or lie to God. I had to feel those feelings first before I surrendered to my fate or made peace with God(as I did later on). The Chaplain's prayer request was a bit premature at the time. So, I thanked him very much for the visit and bade him "good-bye." He left.

To my surprise, he was back the next day. Per usual, he asked how I was and I told him. Then, with a big smile in his face, he asked "do you still believe in your many gods?" I laughed. I had had time to cool-off and think since he saw me the day before. So I clarified what I meant and apologized for being defensive and curt with him. But I also asked very politely that he respect my beliefs inasmuch as I respected his. He nodded and took my hands. "Don't worry, we're not going to pray. I just want to tell you this," he said
"You see, what you are about to go through is like a boxing match. You and cancer are the boxers in the ring. You can have as many people in the audience cheering you on. You can even have your manager (who can be our care-givers and such) and other advisers on the side of the ring to go to for strength and advice. But in the end, it's about you and the cancer boxing in the ring. So you fight that cancer! Fight it as hard as you can. Because you're the only one who can. Okay?"
He had me in tears. That day, the Chaplain did accomplish his mission to help. Instead of imposing "his" God to me, he spoke of the God within us.

I'm grateful to the Chaplain's for this very empowering advice that helped fuel my bout with cancer last year. It's amazing what happens when we open our hearts.



WhiteStone said...

I think my "anger" with God occurred during an earlier (and probably much worse) crisis in my personal life. By the time cancer came along I was no longer angry...I had already reconciled and was able to rest in God's grace.
Interesting post. Bless you.

ce_squared said...

Bless you too, WhiteStone. I think we need to face crisis and wrestle with it. And if it involves wrestling with God, then it should be done. We should never be afraid to do that. Because in the end, we have better peace and understanding of our crisis. And more importantly, we do find a way to negotiate through it. It's important to be gracious to oneself as well. :-)

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