more lessons from chaplaincy training – being failure

This cartoon was making the rounds on Facebook and it would be really, really funny if it wasn’t so true.  So, it’s only really funny.  In the pre-ordination council, I shared that the most valuable lesson I take away from Chaplaincy is the experience of finally knowing what it felt like to be a failure.  I meant – and mean – it sincerely but not as any form of drama or elicitation of sympathy.  What I would hope is hearing that stirs a sense of empathy – a resonance with that feeling of failing.  OK, the shrink in me is beginning to quibble with the structure of the words: Oh, she says, you’re not a failure; you may feel like one but your feelings don’t define your being!

I don’t like my inner shrink.  She’s annoying and often fails (Hah!  Take that!) to let me feel that thing that lies just beyond the words.  It felt like being a failure because I was failing.  I’ve always held that there’s nothing wrong with experiencing one’s failing, failings, or failures.  Drop into it, shower in it, relish it, and most of all, respect it.  And this is particularly important while going through a process because after you emerge from journey, that experience will be instantaneously reframed.

The most powerful lesson I learned from Chaplaincy is the myriad ways one can drift from the plotted course.  Whether that course is in realizing a dream, fostering a type of relationship, accomplishing a task, or just plain showing up day after day committed to just showing up – failing lies soft and rounded at our feet like our shadow when the light is just over the shoulder.  We drift from that course set in our fantasies of the life we want, the life we feel entitled to simply because our dramatic narratives seem so noble.  And we agonize about what causes us to drift from our values, our ideals, our path.  We think if we only did not suffer so, we might hold more true to the course.

We don’t drift because of our suffering; that drift is our suffering.  Without it, we would lie stagnant with no means of determining where we are.  There would be no practice of returning to the source, tracking and re-setting our course.  No reason to search, to seek, to sit.

That makes the cartoon funny, really funny at so many levels, doesn’t it?  Failure is inexorable, inescapable, and irrevocable.

Aren’t we lucky!

making landfall

This pretty much sums up most of my experiences in life and Chaplaincy most of all.  You have to wonder why we ever set intentions when we head out on an adventure.  Or perhaps the very definition of “adventure” precludes the setting of anything but one’s compass.  In the aftermath of Chaplaincy ordination, I find myself wondering what the heck I was thinking of when I got caught up in the excitement of yet one more “little (two-year) project.”  It seemed harmless at the time; one could almost see the ad.


Intrepid adventurers for two-year voyage in
not knowing

Must be able to withstand long periods of submersion
and own a reliable compass

Organizers not responsible for any loss or letting go

Apply within

If I recall correctly, when I did apply (the popular myth is that I was conscripted), my own compass was quivering and spinning wildly.  I had little hope that anything would reset it and had resigned myself to living out a life of constant compromise.  Apparently encounters with large magnetic events will do that, derailing the intention of travel or throwing it off course.  Resisting the call, I said to roshi, “You don’t want someone in the program who is ethically challenged, do you?”

“You’re not, but who better?” she replied.

Over the course of these two years, I have come to discern between “my being ethically challenged” and “having my ethics challenged.”  Not a nuanced difference but in the fray, they are easily confused.  Sometimes, it’s not until the dust settles that I can determine whether I navigated through one or the other.  And here’s the real challenge: regardless of which it was, both will require a course correction.

The other day someone asked me how it felt now that it is over.  It’s not over, I replied.  It’s barely begun.  Someone else asked if I felt different.  Superficially, no.  But something seems to be roiling around in my gut and I’m quite sure it’s not that wicked flu everyone seems to have.  Another friend asked what the best part of all this has been.

Well, at 0830 the morning after I landed back in Ottawa, I attended a training for the Emergency Spiritual Care Assistance Team (ESCAT).  I’m one of the Buddhist faith leaders (what the heck does that mean!?) but now am a Buddhist Chaplain training to respond to natural and manufactured disasters.  I walked into the room at the hospital feeling jet lagged and worn anxious about meeting 20 Pastoral Care Volunteers and Chaplains for the first time.  There on the table was a cake and on it in lovely blue icing were the words:


The best part.  Not in the eating of the cake but in savouring the community who so generously celebrated my making landfall.