This conversation took place at a table in Starbucks in Fair Lawn, NJ at 7:30pm, between E and God. E has started a CPE program at NYP, where she will be interning as a chaplain. Part of her role is to talk about God and spirituality, both topics/ideas that she does not feel she knows how to talk or start a conversation about. She decides to talk to God, the one that is going to be a focus of future conversations to see what advice He has in how to hold the conversation about God/higher power/spirit. E is quite nervous at the beginning of the conversation, as she is not used to having a set meeting time with Him being present. She is not always the best at asking for help and is also quite nervous about the concept of her question. As someone who is studying to be a clergy member, it seems like they should be comfortable and knowledgeable in how to have a conversation about/with God, and to create a “holy” space and a space for spirituality. After starting the conversation she becomes more comfortable speaking to God, even though He rarely answered any question, but rather changed body language.
Text of the Verbatim
E: Um…hello, God? So…I’m supposed to have a conversation with You. Well, I am supposed to have conversations about You- or about Higher Powers- or spirituality- or with You but with other people, and I don’t really know how….
E: I know I don’t really see myself as someone who is “spiritual”. I pray, but most of the time it is because I feel like I am commanded to. Of course there are times that I do feel something..like that time on the beach in Tel Aviv, or those few times in my apartment…And yes, those times too when something great or weird or bad happens and I am walking alone and I call out to You and say what I want. Or when I am in the shower and I don’t think that anyone else can hear me…
E: But how do I have a conversation with someone else? How do I bring that into the conversation? How do I make it a natural conversation, when it is something so unnatural for me to talk about? I have no idea how to start that conversation with someone else. It sounds strange to me to ask a question about “seeing” or “feeling” God. Especially because I am not always so sure that I see or feel or know that You exist. I know I am supposed to- especially because I am becoming a rabbi, but the best I can do is say that I want to or I try to believe. I know that I try to believe that things happen for a reason, that there is some logic to the chaos of life- otherwise the world is too painful. Although there are times that believing that is actually more painful, because why would there be so much suffering in the world then?
E: Yes, I know, I am going on a tangent. So talking to people. Yes, I know it is something I know how to do. I know that I am someone that people turn to to share things with, even people I just met. I know that people look to me to have conversations about You and religion, they have for years now.
E: Yes, I know- I was able to have those conversations. I was able to listen. But here is different. There, they came to me. They found me and started talking, here I am going to them. There I met them before, I might not have been friends with them, but they were friends of friends. They knew who I was, here are complete strangers. Here are complete strangers that are going through a really tough time, because why else would they be in the hospital- and they are going to talk to me?! Do You really think that I have the words that will be able to help them? Do I have the ears to really listen to what they are saying and to find out what they need and want? Do I have the strength to hold their troubles and help them rebundle them to continue on? Are they really going to look at me like I am someone worth talking to? Aren’t I too young and inexperienced?
E: Yes, I know- I spoke to lots of people many years older than me and their children. Yes, I was the person that they trusted to talk to about their fears of getting older, hopes of death, fear of their parent’s getting sicker, the toll it was taking on them and their families. Ok, fine, so I did some of it already- but that was different. I knew them, I was with people for long periods of time. The workers knew me. The other residents knew me. The other families knew me. There was a point of familiarity- and again it wasn’t my job. Yes, I never wanted to say something that would be hurtful. But I could always pass them off to the social worker. I mean, if something was said I had to pass it off to a social worker.
E: Ok fine, so I know how to do the talking and listening. I am coming from a background of text. I am coming from sitting and learning and pouring over writings about You, writings of law. I know about traditional Jewish ritual. I know about praying three times a day, saying psalms in times of crisis, washing hands, what to do when a meat spoon falls into a dairy pot, how to how “clean days”, how to perform a wedding and a funeral. But what about talking about you, God? What about creating prayer? What about creating a space of holiness? What about really acting as a member of clergy and carrying that responsibility? How do I do that?
Reflections and Evaluation
I came to think about some of my fears of starting to actually work with people in the capacity of chaplain. I think there are many skills that I already have, but there are many that I also do not. I know there are many things that people enjoy or find spiritually moving, but I do not. It will be a challenge for me to try to bring that to people, or to figure out how to bring what I know/feel am good at in order for there to be a meaningful pastoral experience between myself and the patient/family. I think I need to look more into ideas of what is prayer and how to create prayer, as well as the creation/holding of “holy” space. This summer is also my last summer as a student, and thinking about the idea that in a very short amount of time I will actually be looked at as someone to turn to and actually be working in a field that I have been training in for the past 6 years. Even though I already answer questions and work with people, I have the ability to say that I am a student, but in a very short time I will actually be a rabbi, and I feel like I will have to have more ownership over what I say to other people. Even though I have been part of rabbinic teams before, I feel like here has higher stakes.