Buddhism is commonly viewed as non-theistic since it refutes the existence of a divine creator. Christianity is a mono-theistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus as the son of God. How can a spiritual caregiver–a student of Zen Buddhism and long-lapsed Roman Catholic, say–be of service to people of various faiths?
Last night, toward the end of a busy shift with several deaths, Lenny*, a quiet-spoken patient who’d been sitting in front of the fireplace in the lounge, asked whether I would pray for him. Yes, I’d be glad to pray with you, I replied, let’s go to your room for some privacy.
As I accompanied him and his walker down the hall, I asked about his faith. “I believe in God” he replied, “and Jesus …” after which his voice trailed into space. As we settled on the edge of his bed, I opened my little book to “Christian prayers for the sick and dying.” Each one that I read praised God and asked for forgiveness and comfort.
I’d barly said Amen (“so be it”), when Lenny raised his voice to call out Hallelujah and Jesus loves me. Without hesitation I repeated his words and assured him of God’s boundless compassion. I did so to calm Lenny’s fears that He would not love him because of “mistakes I’ve made, the way I’ve lived.” As I helped him under the covers and stroked his hair, I placed one of his hands over his heart space. “As you rest,” I suggested, “feel your heart and your breath. That’s where Jesus enters, where you can feel His love.”
How did I find these words, spoken with sincerity? Neither in the debate about God’s existence nor my pastoral credentials … whatever occured between us arose from Lenny’s cry for grace and my wish to ease his suffering.
* I make every effort to disguise names and circumstances of the hospice patients I write about.