A new free service from Humankind, more episodes to come
On The Spiritual Care Podcast you’ll hear stories of caregivers (chaplains, nurses, social workers and many others). They provide spiritual support for people in need, and often in distress. They’re trained to be inclusive, not exclusive.
These professionals serve in multiple venues, including hospitals and hospices, colleges, the military, prisons, retirement communities, first-responder services, community organizations and other settings. They face a range of social concerns: diversity, war and peace, health care, people who’ve been marginalized, families in crisis, etc.
As caregivers, they offer a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear to people encountering times of challenge, unease and sometimes loss of meaning. Our podcast explores the skills they bring to the profound act of listening.
The Spiritual Care Podcast, with Humankind host David Freudberg, is non-sectarian and features voices from a variety of faith traditions and walks of life. We also honor the many people on a spiritual – but not necessarily religious – journey.
Our stories may be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about how to listen and care. This new series may appeal to diverse listeners: spiritual congregations, social workers, medical professionals, theologians, nonprofit leaders, academic administrators and school guidance counselors, military members, human resources professionals, social activists representing vulnerable communities, and participants in other organizations.
The heart of our podcast is stories of personal transformation, as experienced in the lives of the people cared for — and the caregivers themselves. Our aim is to acquaint listeners with the practice of spiritual care and to stimulate reflection about the inspiring stories presented.
We hear from Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) campus chaplains and students, representing different traditions, on the challenge of promoting interfaith understanding in a complicated an diverse world.
We profile a military chaplain who served in Afghanistan and who has been absorbed by questions of war and peace — and who ultimately resigned from his role as an army chaplain over American drone policy.
We hear from remarkable professionals who accompany — and learn from — people in their their final chapter of life.
Joel Bauman, MD, a geriatrician now working in a hospice, describes ways that physicians are called to provide compassionate support and sometimes spiritual care of dying patients.
Interfaith Understanding on Campus
We hear from chaplains and students on a college campus (Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennesee) with a long tradition of promoting dialogue among various groups. How can chaplains act as bridges between people of different traditions? What are the teachings of love for neighbor found all great religious philosophies? What can we learn from potentially rich exchanges honoring diversity? How can students be encouraged to ’stretch out’ and discover new truths. How can we face and mitigate the prejudices and preconceptions that most people carry with them? And what role can interfaith service activities play in breaking down barriers?
Beyond just tolerating other people’s views, and other people’s experiences, we can find a way to relate to them, and to respect them for what they are, and to embrace them, in a sense, and see them on equal footing.”
— Vanderbilt Univ. student Shawn Kerry
Safe Place in a War Zone
Rev. Chris Antal, a Unitarian Universalist minister in the town of Rock Tavern, New York, was drawn to service in response to the attacks of 9/11. He entered military chaplaincy partially as a way to help soldiers who are prone to harming themselves in the wake of war. He also wanted to bring a “liberal voice into a very conservative chaplaincy,” consistent with the commitment of his tradition of acceptance for people representing different faiths and sexual orientation backgrounds.
In this profile, Rev. Antal explores how he was drawn to faith-based engagement with indigenous religious leaders, where he was stationed at Kandahar Air Base. “I was uniquely equipped to engage in interfaith dialogue” with Muslims. But what’s it like to be a spiritual presence in a war zone? What’s the duty to honor the lives of human beings who die in war, whether from your side or the “enemy”? Rev. Antal grew disenchanted with the U.S. military policy of deploying unmanned aircraft (drones), which are often associated with civilian casualties. In 2016, he resigned in protest from his commission as a chaplain in the Army Reserve and, after a Congressional inquiry, received an honorable discharge. We end this episode with an excerpt of Rev. Antal’s moving sermon about modern war.
I was challenged with the question, ‘Why, and for what?’ And that question came to me from the people I was serving as the chaplain, in most cases. It’s a question that I’d asked myself… I wasn’t the chaplain who was going to give the Army answer, or the religious answer even, per se. I never saw spiritual care as about helping anyone feel good. Spiritual care is, for me, about living well. And living well means at times holding appropriate pain, including moral pain like guilt, and regret.”
— Rev. Chris Antal, Army chaplain (ret.)
Caring for People at the End of Life
At the end of life, when most people need medical care and emotional comfort, some turn also to chaplains for spiritual support. In this episode, we hear from two chaplains in Massachusetts: Nancy Small, a Catholic oblate serving patients near Worcester; and Rev. Beth Loomis, Director of Pastoral Care and a United Church of Christ minister, based at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. What are the challenges of serving those facing their final chapter? How do chaplains comfort people as they try to make sense of the kaleidoscope of their life experiences, including joys and regrets? How do hospice staff, including nurses and social workers, affirm that everyone’s life has worth and meaning?
We also hear the candid reflections of a dying patient, Brian Noone, recorded with his devoted wife Rosalie by his side. Listen to a beautiful rendition of Love Call Me Home, a hymn sung by the Hallowell Singers, a Vermont-based chorus that performs in the rooms where hospice patients stay.
It’s very natural, at that point in life, to start to look back on life, and ask questions about, “What has my life meant?” I remember being told once that everyone needs to know that their life has mattered, that their life has had meaning.”
— Nancy Small, hospice chaplain
Welcoming the Stranger
‘T.Y.'(center), social worker Larry Clum (R) with host David Freudberg
We visit a shelter at Seattle’s Mission for a rich exchange with a formerly homeless man who feels the spiritual care he received from mental health workers helped him develop the ability to transition into housing. We hear from a social worker, Larry Clum, who explores what it means to companion homeless people without an intent to “fix” their problem. Also, several chaplains reflect in-depth on the experience of connecting with people who are facing challenges related to mental health, addiction and homelessness. Included are comments by Kae Eaton of the Mental Health Chaplaincy, Rev. Jonathan Neufeld, community minister at Seattle Mennonite Church, and Rev. Beverly Hartz, with the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care system.
Most of us, are lucky enough to have many things that ground us into our identity. You know, our families, our friends, our vocations, our jobs, our homes. And when we find people that have severed ties with those grounding moments, they often lose themselves in the process too. So if we can look at them not as the other, but as ourselves, if I can see myself in you, then we start to create a reality actually for both of us. It’s not a one-way street; it’s a gift that travels in both directions.”
— Rev. Beverly Hartz, Vets Admin. Puget Sound Healthcare System in Seattle
(L-R) Mental Health Chaplaincy associates: Larry Clum, Rev. Beverly Hartz, Kae Eaton, Rev. Jonathan Neufeld
Serving the Whole Patient
Among the hundreds of thousands of social workers currently serving in the United States and beyond, some see their role, in part, as spiritual care providers on a non-denominational basis. Rooted in the philanthropic movements of the 1800s, social work developed from charities known as benevolent associations, which sprang up to serve the urban poor. These were complemented by publicly supported poor houses, called “alms-houses” as well as “settlement houses”, pioneered by the legendary Jane Addams, who sought to express what she saw as a spiritual calling. An agenda of social reform naturally harmonized with a commitment to faith.
In this segment, we hear the stories of two contemporary hospital social workers, Sue Best, an Oregon-based palliative care social worker and Melissa Stewart, senior clinical social worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. They describe encounters with patients who are looking for a way to explore important life questions that can arise in times of challenge.
For me spirituality is the core of each person, their foundational beliefs, and values…And whether you are a devout Muslim, Jew, Christian, or a person of good will, we are all spiritual beings, because we all make sense of life, in some way, but we may express it very differently. So I think that whenever someone faces a crisis, or for the people I see with serious or traumatic illness, it comes to the core of who they are.”
— Sue Best
Bonus episode: Hospice Doc Joel Bauman
NOTE: This episode was originally broadcast on the Humankind public radio series in a segment entitled “The Final Chapter”.
We hear the reflections of Joel Bauman, M.D., a long-time geriatrician who helps terminally ill patients move through the minefield of emotions around dying. An end-point of life is, of course, inescapable for us all – a fact as basic as our birth. But many people have trouble coming to grips with the natural passage of death. It’s not a matter of wallowing in morbid emotions, but of acceptance – and of savoring the subtleties, the mystery of actually being alive in this moment.
According to Dr. Bauman, many doctors (in contrast to chaplains) are not well-trained in spiritual guidance. And indeed some patients would turn away from, even feel repelled by, spiritual language. But others, facing their demise, become absorbed in contemplating the mysteries of life and its fleeting nature, in the big picture and big purpose, in what it means to be human and to transcend this life we’re given. And health care professionals in these settings often find themselves naturally drawn into patient discussions about life’s meaning.
As people are anticipating leaving their sense of being on this earth, a whole range of emotional states come up. Anger at being sick, anger at some behavior that may have led them to be sick (the smoker with lung cancer, the alcoholic with end-stage liver disease), bad behavior in life… Or I remember interviewing this 91-year-old gentleman who had been a bombardier in World War II, and he was one of the guys who was dropping bombs on Dresden. And his spiritual distress at the number of children that he killed 70 years before… Guilt, anger, shame, incomplete business, and does my life have any meaning? Will it have any meaning? How am I going to be remembered? That’s the spiritual crucible, in a nutshell.”
— Joel Bauman, physician
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- A think tank with a mission to promote research literacy in chaplaincy to improve patient outcomes, of interest to chaplains, educators, researchers and others. A partnership among Rush Univ. Medical Center, Brandeis Univ. and the Joint Research Council.
- A multifaith professional community supporting spiritual and ethical life in higher education. Welcomes all individuals engaged in multifaith religious and philosophical work at public and private institutions.
- Multidisciplinary, international professional membership association for spiritual care providers in health care.
On Living by Kerry Egan, Riverhead Books, 2016 (Penguin Random House)
Written and produced by DAVID FREUDBERG
Studio recording by NOEL FLATT and DOUG SHUGARTS
Editorial support by David Cruz, Cathy Graham, Andrew Andresco, Ken Rogers, Brian K. Johnson
© 2018 Human Media
Presented in association with the BTS Center. Funding provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.