My Jewish patient meets Jesus... peace beyond the impasse
Apr 14, 2021
Saying For Today: And I had long since discovered I knew little about the boundaries of possible and impossible... I am not sure there is any such boundary.
'Pleasant Cove - Woolwich, Maine'
Today's Saying: Can you drop your agenda to guide the other to where you are? If so, possibly, you can go together to where neither of you alone has ever been. Is this not want we want, anyway, to go with someone to where alone we neither could have gone? And is this not love?
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First, before you read the account below, I wish to speak of the patient's state of mind. She was not delusional or suffering from dementia. Mary - the name I will assign this patient - was well into her 80s and presented, in repeated visits with me, her chaplain, perfect clarity. While she had a terminal illness, it was not affecting her cognitive capabilities or capacity to communicate clearly. Likewise, the vision Mary speaks of occurred before she became terminal. Many persons have death-bed visions; this is not a death-bed vision.
Second, the following writing does not promote any one religion or religion at all. Mary's experience, options, and choice regarding faith are her own, and as a chaplain, my role was to honor that without seeking to convert her to any particular persuasion. The hospice chaplain aims to provide guidance based on the patient's experience. The patient decides the boundaries of the sharing, and any chaplain guidance is by permission. I offered Mary a potential solution within the context she presented to me.
So, let us listen with an open heart and mind. We can do that with a beginner's mind: putting aside assumptions and truly listening with our whole being. We can enter this shared, sacred space together, even though we are located at different places geographically. We do not need to agree on any one meaning or the precise nature of the experience to listen within ourselves for the truth for each of us.
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In Mary's final days, now in hospice, she shares with me a concern regarding her religious faith. She was born into a Jewish family and had lived as a Jew. She cherishes that heritage. Yet, something happened she has not been able to reconcile with her Jewish heritage. She needs an answer to this conundrum. I could see this seeking a resolution was part of Mary's need to get ready to move on from the body. Until she found an answer for herself about this, she was not at peace to welcome leaving.
Mary shares the source of this puzzlement. All her life, she says, she sensed someone with her... an unseen, silent presence. She had not known the identity of this companion. Then, in her later years, three presences in human form appeared in her home. Mary instantly knew one was Jesus, and this though she had never been a Christian or had any conscious relationship with him. She, furthermore, upon seeing the presences, knew Jesus was the unseen, silent companion. She did not know who the other two were.
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There are parallels in the Christian Scripture to this presence of three, as well as in scriptures of other faiths. I am avoiding veering off into such, which would lead us from the direct experience as told by Mary.
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Mary's confusion was about how to respond to Jesus. She expressed no concern about the other two presences. Her focus was on Jesus alone. How could she, a Jew by culture and religion, turn from the heritage she loved so much? How could she deny she had seen Jesus, however? Mary could not see how to reconcile her Jewishness with her experience of Jesus as life companion and in vision? She was experiencing this as an impasse, stuck between apparently irreconcilable opposites.
Unlike most chaplains in the region where I served - the Deep South of the United States -, I did not advocate the exclusivism of the Christian religion. Also, unlike them, I had no interest in promoting any religion. Additionally, my experience with and appreciation of the mystery of life allowed me to be receptive to Mary's experience - anyway, my role was to honor that to Mary what she said she experienced was true for her. And I had long since discovered I knew little about the boundaries of possible and impossible... I am not sure there is any such boundary.
When meeting Mary, I had left the church ministry, where I was expected to promote one religion. I chose to be a chaplain to provide a safe space for patients and their families and friends, of whatever faith or no faith, to share, to be loved, respected, even reverenced, in the patient's last days. To enter into Mary's experience with her, not stand aside, was a way of loving her.
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So, over a series of visits, I found myself offering a potential resolution to Mary's dilemma... and I, too, felt the dilemma, for I had gone through many struggles to reconcile my life, belief, and experience of the Sacred. The guidance entailed sharing how Jesus was not a Christian - verifiable from the Christian Scripture. He lived and died a Jew. I shared with Mary how Christianity was formed after Jesus, not by him. This being true, Mary could embrace her Jewish identity and be true to her love for Jesus. She could do this without becoming a Christian, for to love Jesus did not necessitate changing her religious faith from one to the other or trying to embrace two religions. Mary could remain a Jew - not even have to identify as a Messianic Jew. She did not have to become anything else than what she had always been, only know she could be that and love the silent, unseen companion who had been with her since childhood. This made sense to her, and this resolved the impasse.
Today, rather than elaborate on the above story, I want to let the story speak for itself. It can speak in varied ways. Possibly, the story, including Mary's experience or my way of working with Mary, has wisdom for us each.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.