Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Editor’s Response


Dear Readers:

With permission from the publisher and the author, I recently republished an article of interest from the Smalbany blog and retitled it on this blog, “Do Funeral Service Providers Police our Spirituality? Character is important?” I found the article interesting, relevant and topical and completely compatible with this blog’s purpose. I continue to be of that opinion, while taking especial care not to take sides and to offer the information as information to my readers, and not necessarily my personal or professional opinion of the parties involved. That having been said, I do agree in principle with what the publisher and the author have to say.

Apparently the original article has been receiving some considerable attention and the Editor of the Smalbany blog has published his/her personal remarks on the article, and I’d like to share those remarks with my readers.

While I can understand that some readers of the original article and perhaps even the republished article which was unedited and republished here in its entirety may have found it difficult to get their arms around the message, I find that the editor’s concern and care in responding to some of the comments he/she received is intelligent and responsible. I found them interesting and clarifying so I’d like to provide my readers with a link to those comments. Please take a moment to read the Editor’s comments. You may find them helpful.

Here’s the link: The Smalbany Blog Editor’s Response to the Deathcare Exposé

Peace and blessings!
Ch. Harold


Why don’t funeral directors offer chaplain services?


Whether they deserve the criticism or not, funeral directors and funeral homes sometimes get some very bad press or we read some devastating review of a funeral service written by persons who expected, needed more than what they got on the price list. Why is that, you might ask yourselves, when you feel you covered very base in the funeralization services the family asked for and you provided.

Are you dropping the ball?

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you might have exceeded your skill set? That what you may have started wasn’t really finished? That you left the bereaved at the end of a long pier with nowhere to go but off the deep end

I’m not just picking on the funeral director or the funeral home staff. I’m also talking about poorly trained clergy or clergy who accept a gig with a funeral home but who have no clue how to provide what the bereaved need. For any professional or paraprofessional to attempt to provide services for which they are not fully trained, competent, and experienced is almost criminal, and can have tragic circumstance in the short term and certainly over the longer term, particularly in the bereavement situation? But we still have funeral directors and funeral home staff who try to be spiritual guides and psychospiritual facilitators, bereavement support providers, and they are not trained to do that. Worse still, we have clergy or ministers who have their eye on the honorarium and attempt to perform effective and complex funeralization rituals but have neither the training, the requisite knowledge, nor do they have the communications skills necessary to the task, and end up simply provided a lackluster service and a meaningless ceremony. Sometimes one really has to ask one’s self, don’t you have any self-awareness? Are you that arrogant or greedy to think you have the skills to do everything?

Is this where you’re leaving the bereaved?

Well that can happen when you attempt to do more than that for which you have been trained.

I’m writing from the vantage point of having witnessed some pretty awful and uninspiring attempts at memorialization and bereavement services that have sent me home almost sick to my stomach, wondering what in the world did that funeral director think when engaging that clown. Or doesn’t that funeral director realize how shallow his prayer delivery is? Don’t they have any sensitivity for the lack of depth they are exhibiting to persons in existential crisis? Obviously no one has bothered to point out their shortcomings to them. Doe they even care? Would they care?

Not only do many funeral homes simply ask if the family belongs to a faith community, and if they do, simply make a phone call to coordinate a funeral service with a minister who probably never even met the deceased or couldn’t pick out the family in a lineup. Some funeral directors simply hand the bereaved a clergy list at some time during the arrangements conference and leave it at that. Others couldn’t even care that much and simply offer to lead a graveside prayer, intoning a bland “Lord’s Prayer” or, if you’re really lucky, might even read a staid “The Lord is My Shepherd”, before flatly dismissing the family. And you wonder that you don’t have customer loyalty? Wake up!

Thanks! But where now….

“Would you like some time with our chaplain?” That might well be one of the most important and meaningful questions you might ask of the bereaved. It shows several things: First, it shows that you have an appreciation for the various levels of the bereavement experience. Secondly, it gives the bereaved permission to acknowledge that they are also experiencing a spiritual component to their bereavement. Thirdly, it gives permission for the bereaved to open up a discussion about a religious or spiritual component to the funeralization services you are offering. It also demonstrates that you offer complete care and are not only interested in selling tangible products and services. It all adds up to a statement that you actually care about the holistic wellbeing of the bereaved. But do you ask that simple question? Have you ever event thought of asking it? Or do you expect the bereaved to come in with a laundry list of services they expect you to provide?

Falling apart and no one to help!

It is a simple expression that shows you care. It’s a simple expression that shows you appreciate the complexity of bereavement. It’s a simple expression that shows you know your business.

One of the most satisfying things that I have heard recently is when, at the conclusion of the graveside service, the funeral director addressed the family and thanked me on behalf of the family. The funeral director, addressing the rather large group of mourners, said: “We’d like to thank Chaplain Harold for this beautiful service he created for S. I sat in on the family conference he had with M. & H., and I know he really cares.” The beautiful note I received from the family several days later was all the encouragement I ever needed to continue what some feel is a very difficult ministry. It is difficult, and draining at times. But it builds relationships and it brings healing. Sometimes it is incredibly uplifting when you know you really made a difference.

One of the universal characteristics of bereavement, loss of any kind, is suffering. Suffering may be physical or mental or spiritual or all of these. Suffering has been referred to in the professional literature as an illness that benefits from treatment on the path to healing. I’ve often referred to mortuary science as being an extension of medical science; they have so much in common. There’s suffering, illness, and the hope of healing, if not cure. If you think about the parallels for a moment and you’ll be awestruck.

So why is it that funeral homes and funeral directors don’t ask that very important question? Is it that their training doesn’t emphasize the fact of psychospiritual suffering and dumps it all into a big bucket called grief? Is it because funeral directors don’t have a complete understanding of the psychospiritual aspects of deathcare and the importance of spirituality in providing deathcare? Is it because they simply brush it off as the responsibility of the family to find spiritual support? Or is it because they feel, like most healthcare providers, that if it’s not physical, let the clergy have it (regardless of competence)? Or can it be that funeral directors simply don’t want to get involved in anything more than just a disposal service? Could be a little of all of the above, don’t you think so? (Those same questions could be asked of the healthcare professions, too, with similar outcomes!)

Caregivers at all stages in the dying, death and after-death experience should be providing this support up to and and at hand-off to the next caregiver team, including hand-off of the deceased and the bereaved to the funeralization professionals who will be providing deathcare services. The care should be seamless. But far from being seamless it all to frequently is simply non-existent.

In reality, you can’t do it all; if you try, you run the risk of mistake or even offending, and that can have disastrous repercussions. Professional wisdom and humility would require that you do what you do best and are best equipped to do, and leave the rest to those with the requisite expertise. Why should the psychospiritual care of your families be any different? After all, you don’t entrust embalming or reconstruction to the florist or the hearse driver, do you?

This is the whole purpose of what we do and why we do it.

As a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain, I have spent years studying spirituality. I have covered the literature across cultures and belief traditions. I have established networks of colleagues through retreats, conferences, and continuing education. But more than that, I have assisted hundreds of families in getting through the grief and mourning associated with bereavement, and have helped in the closure and healing through well orchestrated, compassionate, and personalized funeral rituals.

Does your organization offer a holistic funeralization team that provide your families that expertise, and can you provide the whole range of psychospiritual facilitation services either on an on-call or p.r.n. basis, or on a part-time basis on site, at your location. The cost is very reasonable and the benefits to your organization and to your families are immeasurably enduring.

Why not take steps to discuss with a trained bereavement chaplain how you can collaborate and how you can provide professional spiritual care to both your staff and to the families you serve? Why not do that today, now?

If have any questions, please don’t wait another minute before contacting me or a bereavement chaplain near you for ideas on how to establish a partnership to provide your families with the best deathcare and follow-up care possible.

Author Contact:
Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Chaplain / Thanatologist
pastoral.care.harold @ gmail.com
Telephone: (518) 810-2700

 


Conversion 101: A Reflection on Repentance vs. Metánoia


On reflection, one of our most distinctive traits as human beings, although created in likeness of the Creator God, is our freedom to choose to approximate the Divine or to take an alternate route, distancing ourselves from a forgiving God, a detour we call sin. The Greek is for missing our waypoints is hamartia (αμαρτία, from αμαρτάνειν hamartánein), which in the classical language, means to “miss the mark.”

Conversion 101 – A Reflection

In a recent reflection posted for the Companions of New Skete, we read the word repentance, a word that has plagued theologizing linguists for centuries because it is an extraordinary mistranslation, a linguistic glitch that distorts the intended meaning of the Greek word metánoia – and conflates it with the Greek word metámelomai (see Mark 1 vs. Matt 27:3, sources which employ the words metanoeo/metánoia or metamélomai (μεταμέλομαι)) that occurs in the Second Testament (and in the LXX), which renders the Hebrew word “nacham” (change of mind, finding comfort). That word metánoia (μετάνοια, change in mind, conversion) continues as evidence of the extraordinary insult in translating dating back to the Latin Fathers’ translation of metánoia, rendering it poenatentia, and thus associating it with penance and punishment, and which reflects the later Medieval Scholastics’ teaching of a God, who is vindictive and vengeance seeking, angered by our choice to sin, and the teaching that for our sinfulness God demands propitiation, payment to avoid Divine wrath. The sinner must purge themselves of their guilt engendering guilt and condemnation. That teaching reached its pinnacle of silliness with the teaching of “tollhouses”, stages of purification through which the soul must pass to attain salvation.  This is a notion of a distorted God and flies in the face of the teaching of a forgiving and merciful God, and our freedom to change.

Metánoia is not the only casualty of the Latin translators, we can also note the confusion of messiah and savior in the translations from the Hebrew; that confusion continues to this day and continues to mislead the ignorant faithful and far too many of the clergy. No less a figure than Tertullian took offence to the translation of metánoia with poenitentiam, arguing that metánoia is not a confession of sins but a change of heart. (Having made that statement, I do not argue that the “change of heart” does not result from reflection of one’s past behavior or regret for having sinned. St Augustine himself is clearly a witness to that.)

The word repentance, which has persisted in myriad translations and in pastoral and theological usage, does not convey the very important and authentic meaning of metánoia: a change of heart.

In the ordo salutis, at one pole of which we have the steps leading to healing and return to the source and final end in the Western Catholic (faith, contrition, regeneration, penance (epitimion, pokúta; following confession), sanctification, purgation, theosis) or in the Eastern Catholic (Orthodox) (catharsis, theoria, theosis by way of virtuous life, prayer, and participation in the Mysteries), or in the Reformed tradition, election/predestination. Repentance, at least in the Western tradition, has to do more with penance, less with metánoia.

This is metánoia, not repentance. The Great Error of teaching is based on erroneous translation!

So, what is my point, you may ask by this time? I find myself reflecting on the Orthodox tradition, in which sin is conceived of as a disorder, an illness, and confession as a ‘medicine’, with metánoia being the healing therapy, leading to – another insult to conscientious linguistics and competent translation — “salvation”, where salvation may be in its broadest connotation a sort of being saved or deliverance, in truth is not being saved but being “healed” (it derives from the Latin salvus, and like the English word “salve,” is healing).

There are a number of reasons for these confusions but whatever the reasons, we have to deal with them now, in our lives, in our teaching.

No matter what the reasons for the misuse of the term repentance or why it has persisted, the fact remains that our healing, our salvation if you prefer, depends not on revisiting old sin, or on guilt, or on propitiation (save for the salubrious effects of epitímion, if employed by the priest) but on metánoia, a change of mind, heart and conduct.

In fact, a more appropriate reading of John the Baptist’s call to “repent” is actually a call to change of heart, a change of mind and conduct, not to revisit past sinfulness. Moreover, the reported teachings of Jesus point also to the notion of change of heart and conduct, less than a recollection of past sinfulness. While I am not purporting that we should not maintain an awareness of our freedom to make wrong choices or that we should not examine ourselves regularly, nor that regular confession and consultation with a spiritual guide are nice but not necessary, I do feel that we must look forward, while employing all of the preceding, to changing our way of thinking and behaving. And Yes! this process of metánoia or conversion is a lifetime process, and we would be ill advised not to revisit our hearts and minds and conducts regularly, in order to tweak and fine tune ourselves, ensuring we are on the correct spiritual heading towards the destination, which is God.

Far from the negative connotations and denotations of the term “repentance,” metánoia compels a positive, proactive, life-affirming response to God’s offer of union through His grace.

Reading St John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent“, the saint teaches that “[R]epentence is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.” We could easily replace “repentence” with “metánoia” or “change of heart” without substantially distorting the saint’s teaching (assuming the rest of the translation is correct).

Having said all of that, I do not wish to avoid reflecting on the concept of repenting on behalf of others (so important for Greek monastic theology from the 4th century on), at least in nascent form, can be found in the LXX, but that’s another diatribe for another time.

Our reflection was on repentance as compared with metánoia, and our Lenten retreat centers on forgiveness. So what’s the connection I’m trying to make? Well, having reflected on the importance of metánoia, it would seem that claiming a Christian lifestyle would be a mockery if not abject hypocrisy, if we were not to engage metánoia as our radical, i.e., fundamental attitude towards forgiveness. We have the freedom to choose Divine Light or a fragmented, autonomous existence choosing darkness. Self-awareness, authenticity, that is, the admission that we are capable of sinning — sin is not just the province of evil people — our purification and forgiveness comes from getting to the root of the reality of potential and real sinfulness, and this involves metánoia: a change of mind, heart and conduct. Some have referred to this as “soul surgery”, something we can’t do ourselves, but for which we need God’s grace and the wisdom of wise and patient spiritual guidance from another pilgrim capable of nudging us towards opening ourselves to the truth about ourselves, acknowledging that truth, doing something about it, and navigating us towards true forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately healing.

This is a radical revolution, an about face in our attitudes rooted in a change of heart and an orientation to God. If we commit ourselves to metánoia, we approach true self-awareness, a prerequisite for the essential authenticity, and self-control through the action of the Holy Spirit and Divine Grace.

Whoever acts as his own spiritual guide has a fool for a client.

As I reread and reflect on my thoughts, it becomes obvious how frequently I, and you, have been deceived by detouring from the true path to the Divine; in other words, we have frequently been deceived by sin of one sort or another. We all have heard the saying: “Whoever acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.” This can apply very aptly to our spiritual life as well. As we cannot do our own soul surgery, we cannot act as our own spiritual guide, and we really should have a wise spiritual father or mother who can provide good counsel to us, based on their mature spirituality and their deep listening skills. We are fortunate, as Companions of New Skete, to have a treasure of rich resources at our disposal, and we would be pitiable spiritual sons and daughters if we were not to avail ourselves of these resources.

In conclusion, our focus should be less on repentance as such and more on metánoia. Through a change of heart, a reorientation, a radical transformation of outlook, a change in our view of the world and ourselves, a renewal of how we love, and how we see beauty.  Metánoia should be at the heart of our teaching, our liturgical preaching, and our participation in the liturgy, which is a great source of healing and inspiration. The liturgy is faith in action, and Orthodoxy is a liturgical culture; we are liturgical creatures. We must appreciate the gift of liturgy and spiritual guidance. I speak from experience: Those of us practicing vocations of compassion often come away from encounters with the faithful-in-crisis, whether spiritual or existential, with a deep sadness, a sadness that has its roots in a realization that our faithful have acquired and live with an image of the Christian life and the Christian God that are distorted. One of those distortions is that God is punishing one because of one’s past, present, even future sins. This is not the message of the Gospels. Let us recall the scripturally based prayer of absolution teaching that “God desires not the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live.” That prayer teaches metánoia, not medieval notions of repentance and wrath, guilt and shame. It also teaches forgiveness.

I think, during this liturgical season of reflection, that we should seriously make metánoia and forgiveness our goals as compassionate companions.

Please share your thoughts with me about my thoughts.


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