Spiritual Orientation

“What may I do for you?” is my usual question to a hospice patient after introducing myself as the Chaplain for the VNS Hospice program. This question is not just a generic opener seeking a conversation, but is the beginning of spiritual counseling. For the first step in helping with spiritual care is discerning the patient’s own spiritual resources. This is not as easy as it may sound for even within the traditional faith traditions there are a wide variety of spiritual perspectives. Here are four spiritual paths that are common in many of the world’s religions:

God’s Plan: Many religious people find great comfort in knowing that their life is part of a larger divine plan. When confronted by illness or pain we sometimes struggle to make sense of this plan. The believer understands that God’s ways are far beyond our human capacity to understand the grand scheme, and it is enough to know we are part of the God’s master plan.

Natural connection: Some people find their connection to the natural world brings them the greatest sense of spiritual peace and calm. A walk on the beach, the feel of grass, or observing birds provides a reminder that we are one part of a much larger world. As part of God’s great creation we may know a profound peace in reflecting on that union.

Service: Many religious persons find spiritual peace in helping others. The service may provide food or housing for others in need, or it may work to correct injustices in the world. These compassionate souls are often the most distressed when incapacitated by illness. It can help to accept that the giver has now become the receiver and the caregivers are finding spiritual peace.

Prayer: Forming a relationship with God often happens through talking to God in prayer. This may not lead to any particular outcome, but the praying itself often provides spiritual healing.

These spiritual orientations just touch the surface of the ways in which we may feel the divine in our lives. And all three are present in most of the world’s religions. A problem that can occur in providing spiritual care is to assume the orientation of the patient without first finding out what is helpful for him or her. A good question to ask is, “what ideas or activities has given you spiritual comfort at other times of pain in your life?”

By first discerning the spiritual orientation of the patient then we may begin a conversation that leads to lasting help and comfort. In so doing we are beginning a relationship of trust and care and that is the most important part of the process of spiritual care.

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