Chaplain leading spiritual event


Spiritual guides do not impose belief or doctrines. The same is true with chaplains.  Think military chaplain where there might be one chaplain serving a unit of soldiers made up of people with differing beliefs all of whom need support amid their shared experience.  The expansive love, support, and humble honoring of the soldier whose beliefs are unlike his or her own is precisely how that chaplain is living out his or her own faith be it as a Christian, Muslim, or other.  And so it is within college chaplaincy at liberal arts colleges like Cornell.

What do college chaplains and spiritual guides offer our students and others (aside from the Spiritual Life programs and services listed elsewhere)? Presence. We ponder with them. When asked for we pray with them. We wait with them. We stand at the edge of the cliff, look out over the edge of the abyss with them. When a student's idea of God, self, world, or others just fell apart, we stand knee deep in the messiness with them (for, in the words of a hospital chaplain friend, "If spirituality only takes you to peaceful places, it probably isn't real."). We do not rebuild meaning for them, but stand alongside assisting with hope, presence, and all possible blue prints.

So what exactly is spiritual guidance? Carol Ochs puts it this way. In her work, Jewish Spiritual Guidance: Finding Our Way to God, she writes that spiritual guide work includes "helping those seeking guidance to ascertain how they relate to God, and where they find the Holy in their lives. Spiritual guides help seekers expand their God images, making sure to include the insights that have come over the years of growth and maturing. Along with the change in our image of God comes a change in our understanding of who we are in relationship with God."  

Still, about half of the people who seek out Cornell's Chaplain don't claim to be religious.  They have spiritual lives and needs too.  And so another helpful more expansive analogy for spiritual guide is that of midwife: Spiritual guides help others to breathe amid the pains and risks associated with both loss and growth (transformation). Another analogy is that of a gardener tending seeds planted in pitch black Iowa dirt: We care for others amid the growing, even when it seems like nothing is happening. We wait with them, watching with them, offer ways to fertilize, and nurture them as they germinate and unfold their own speed and time. All of this is what is meant by 'the care and growth of souls.