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 been. Is this not what we want... to go with someone to where alone we neither could have gone? 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, perfect clarity. While she had a terminal illness, it was not affecting her cognitive capabilities or capacity to communicate clearly. Many persons have death-bed visions; this is not a death-bed vision. The vision occurred years prior to my meeting her.
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. As her chaplain, my role was to honor her experience and how she understood it. I was present to assist in understanding only upon request of the patient. She did seek guidance. I offered Mary a potential solution within the context she presented to me. Hence, she provided the boundaries for my response.
So, let us listen with an open heart and mind. We can do that with a beginner's mind, putting aside assumptions and listening with our whole being. We do not need to agree on any one meaning or the nature of the experience to listen 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 about 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 confusion. All her life, she says, she sensed someone with her... an unseen, silent presence. She had not known the identity of this companion. 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 that had companioned her throughout her life. She did not know who the other two beings were. The three could represent the Trinity, as taught in Christianity, but I did not raise that possibility, it being outside her focus on the one she saw to be Jesus.
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Mary's confusion was about how to respond to Jesus. She expressed no concern about the other two presences. 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 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. Unlike them, I had no interest in promoting any religion. My experience with and appreciation of the mystery of life allowed me to be receptive to Mary's experience. And I had long since discovered I knew little about the boundaries of possible and impossible.
When meeting Mary, I had left the church ministry, where I was expected to promote one religion. I chose to be a chaplain to serve patients and their families and friends, of whatever faith or no faith. To enter into Mary's experience with her, not stand aside, was a way of fulfilling this choice.
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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 Holy. 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. The guidance 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.
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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.