With Dvorzak’s music in the background. in my final visit to this accomplished pianist, I reminded her that she also had brought great joy through her career. I asked her if she had anything more to say. She gasped, “Why me?”
Why indeed? in my now fourteen years as a hospice chaplain, I have yet to discover a satisfactory answer. The problem of suffering and death remain a mystery, but in attending to the ill and witnessing those who care for them, my own beliefs crystallize.
I do not believe in any intrinsic value to suffering. Religions have struggled with this question of suffering and their answers range from the inscrutability of fate or God through original sin to the forge of compassion that may develop. Each explanation has its charm, but the pain and unfairness remain.
The notion of “purgatorial transformation” made sense in rooting out all within me that was not loving, but I saw suffering not as the means of that but more as part of its consequence. What I believe now is what I sometimes say as a blessing, “May God’s great love for you have forgiven and forgotten anything was not of your truest and best self and bring all of the beauty of your love, gifts, and goodness into that new life that remains a great mystery.”
In the “grace and grit” of the patients served, I see considerations and perspectives that make me cry with awe. I also often witness such faithful care given to the ill by those who love them whose pain their own emotional, physical, mental and spiritual suffering. They often thank Hospice for our attention, but diminish the witness of their own courage — as patient or caregiver –which is, to me, the sign of the presence of the nameless Divine.
In these moments, deep personal spiritual influences spill through my psyche and soul again — doting grandmothers, loving parents, vital priests and nuns of my youth who lived with generosity and courage. Later, this “cloud of witneses” was complemented by the poor I knew in South America, in congregations where I’ve served or worship, by those on other spiritual paths, in my wife and children, and in colaborations with those not believing in a personal God but whose quest for justice inspires me.
Thus, my beleif simplifies inot the prayer of Thomas merton that has sustained me for 40 years. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so…. And (yet) I know You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you e ever with me and will never leave me to face my perils alone.”