Happy Monday, Friends! Let me tell you a story.
I knocked on the door. No response. I could hear a giggle, sheets rustling. I knocked again. “Come in!” a raspy, annoyed voice shouted. I walked into the room and saw a woman in a hospital gown, connected to an IV and a heart monitor lying in bed next to a man dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. They continued to giggle, but the man was nervous. “Are you, her doctor?” he asked, pointing to the woman. “I swear we weren’t going to do anything.” The woman laughed. “No,” I replied, “I’m not her doctor. I’m much worse. I’m the chaplain.” The man turned ghostly white and jumped out of bed as if I was a snake and shark combined into one. The woman turned beet red but laughed. I smiled.
The fourth Unitarian Universalist principle is “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” The summer between my junior and senior years of college, I served as an intern and chaplain in the Pastoral Care department of the hospital in my hometown. Strictly speaking, this was not Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), but I did everything a CPE student might do. My primary responsibility was to visit each patient every weekday. Some patients welcomed me; some patients wanted nothing to do with me; some patients were too sick to engage with me. I would speak to them, say prayers, and occasionally I got to know their families. I was present for the death of two patients, attended to countless patients as they were prepped for surgery, and celebrated with patients and their families when they got out of the ICU or were discharged from the hospital. I became a regular at the nursing stations and social work offices.
But amid the excitement and overwhelming education and personal and spiritual development, an often-asked question haunted me: What should I believe? Asked by people old enough to be my grandparents, many of our patients came from backgrounds where personal searches for truth and meaning were luxuries neither afforded to the working poor nor allowed to people untrained in theology and the Bible. My patients were not the type to research Biblical Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. They went to church, they heard sermons and Bible talks, and they were guided through Bible studies by well-intentioned pastors. It was not unusual or at all wrong for them to request that a pastor—or in this case, a chaplain—explain what they should believe. Yet, I was younger than them. I had lived so fewer years and experienced so much less than they had. Who was I to tell them what and how they should believe?
The transmission of belief and God’s revelation in the lives of humans have been debated at length by theologians. None have come to a definitive conclusion regarding how best God communicates God’s will or how the church should pass on that which it believes. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning can and should be different for each person. Some people never leave the faith of their childhood. Others need to ask many difficult questions and wrestle with conflicting emotions before arriving at a conclusion. Still, others will go their entire lives questioning and exploring without solidifying many, if any, of their beliefs. While the stark black-and-white of fundamentalism gives some people purpose, shades of gray keep others interested in the journey.
What do you believe? How did you come to believe what you believe? Do you ever question what you believe?
Let us pray: God, grant us the patience and the grace to examine and question our beliefs. Guide us to the fullness of belief in you and the ways in which you are revealing yourself to us today and every day. We may not reach the same conclusions or the same theology but help us find you in the midst of our searching and discerning. We ask this, knowing of your goodness. Amen.
Blessings, friends, on your weeks. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.