Home > care, relationships, Spirituality > What we offer to people with just our presence

What we offer to people with just our presence

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Made a post a few weeks ago on reflections on a ministry of presence but since then, I have had a few more thoughts on the matter.

from istockphoto

First, David Benner makes me wonder if it is possible to have a genuine ministry of presence without mutuality.  Not that there needs to be “mutuality of roles” to use a Benner expression. The question before me: does a ministry of presence require that dialogue take place.  Benner says spiritual growth requires that dialogue take place with others. Here are some of his thoughts about dialogue in his new book, Soulful Spirituality.

  • Dialogue is one of the deepest forms of soul engagement we can experience with another person.
  • The goal of dialogue is exploration, discovery, and insight.
  • Dialogue “is rare because it can be threatening and will often be difficult.”
  • Dialogue “does not require symmetry of roles.”
  • Mutuality can be present if I am able to answer the following three questions affirmatively: Am I willing to bring myself, not just my care, to the encounter? Can I accept the other as a whole and separate person, as he or she is? Am I willing to be open enough to their experience and ideas that my own may change as a result of our interaction?
  • If I cannot answer yes to the above questions, the relationship “may involve expertise and empathy, but it will never be an encounter worthy of being called dialogue.

So, without dialogue, I may be able to offer “expertise and empathy” but can I offer a ministry of presence?  Comments welcome here!

yelllow lights by fabiane13 photo

Second stimulation to my thinking–listening to a NPR (national public radio in America) story about how a hospice program offers hope to dying patients in St. Louis.  The St. Louis Lumina program trains their hospice workers to be storytellers who “learn how to interview dying people so that they can leave tangible statements of values and legacy.”

The words of one volunteer riveted my attention, “Volunteer Susan Kissinger says it’s difficult and emotional work. She helped a middle-aged ALS patient write a series of letters to his wife and kids before he died. But Kissinger says it’s a gift to be let into hospice patients’ lives.

 “There will be times when the emotion will rise up,” Kissinger says. “And I guess that’s just a gift I have to offer: I can just be present here and accept the gift without being overwhelmed.”

Is Kissinger not saying that she offers a ministry of presence to the dying patients by providing space and time for the emotions of people’s stories to rise up. As she says, she accepts the gift of the emotions being shared “without being overwhelmed.”  Because she is in some ways outside of the situation, she can offer a ministry of presence to people and allow them to process emotions that may have been suppressed for a lifetime.


New Rainbow Rose created by our Dutch friends

One of the dying patients in the hospice program interviewed for the NPR program, Courtney Strain, “provided a  simple guide for the family and friends of people who are dying. Here are some of the things she wanted people to know:

  • Hallmark doesn’t fix it all. … Write a letter or send an email. … [Talk to me when] I’m strong enough to sit and laugh or cry with you …
  • Don’t pretend that everything is going to be OK.
  • Don’t abandon me at my most vulnerable time. … Sit and pray with me. Don’t just pray for me.
  • Don’t treat me like a child — even a well-loved child. … Include me in decisions that affect our family or social group …
  • Instead of asking, “What can I do for you?” offer some concrete suggestions — like bringing a meal or treat, or running errands …
  • Respect my decisions about my health care — my doctors, my medications and my treatments — and about my end-of-life plans …
  • Just because I’m dying doesn’t mean I’m any less capable of being your friend. Dying isn’t my whole identity.

Apparently, the thoughts above came from “What You Can Do When A Friend (Like Me) Faces The End Of Life.”  NPR provided a link to this document but I have been unable to get anywhere with it.

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