Pastoral Care Training – Using Religious and Spiritual Experiences and Resources

How do we help individuals think about their religious experiences and spiritual resources that can help them toward wellness and wholeness?

Each of us as care givers, and each of the individuals we serve, have a personal view of the spiritual/religious aspect of our lives. Some people exclude the possibility of a spiritual life, which is itself a perspective on the spiritual life. Others self-identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ which has a wide range of meanings, from vaguely aware of a spiritual component to live and being ‘in-touch’ with the world, to actively believing in a personal god and relating to that deity through prayer and other private practices – but simply not subscribing to any particular set of religious doctrines or faith community participation. Still others participate to varying degrees in a formal religious life with community, institutional, scriptural, and ritual expressions.

Throughout our lives, as we grow and mature, our experience of the outside world changes, as does our reflection on it. We are exposed to differing ideas and traditions. Joyful and trying moments open new opportunities for learning or challenge long-held beliefs. We discover and embrace different habits and practices that nourish our spirits. This field encompasses the diversity of our spiritual/religious experiences and resources.

Regardless of where we or others locate on this spectrum of belief and practice, these perspectives impact the way we experience crisis, how we cope, and how we recover.

The goal in this session is two-fold:
1. Help the participant understand their own experiences and resources.
2. Help the participant lead others to access, understand and appropriate their own spiritual/religious experiences and resources.

1. Understanding our own spiritual/religious experiences and resources
a. Experiences: Think back on your life to those times when you were most aware of spiritual questions and the spiritual dimensions of life. Often these coincide with significant transitional (also called ‘nodal’) events – birth, death, baptism, graduation, marriage. A crisis in our own life or that of a close friend may prompt us to consider the deeper things of life. Or, we may choose a transforming experience intentionally – such as a retreat. List some of these nodal events, and briefly describe why they were/are spiritually important.

b. Resources: During these nodal events, during the seasons around them, or at other times in life, what spiritual/religious practices help anchor your life? Do you have particular prayer habits? Are there texts which enlighten and inspire you – or comfort and encourage you – or challenge and convict you toward greater growth and health? Is a particular community of likeminded spirits important in your life – a church, synagogue, mosque, prayer center or other group? Are there rituals, solo or communal, which strengthen you spiritually?

c. NOW, think about how a health crisis or ongoing challenge impacts your ability to access these resources, and connect with these experiences? Do you become isolated, cut off from the religious community that is so important? Does physical impairment prevent certain prayer postures or other practices? Do you draw closer to God/Spirit during such times of crisis, or pull away?

2. Help the participant lead others to access, understand and appropriate their own spiritual/religious experiences and resources.
NOTE: Your experiences do not determine or necessarily coincide with those of others. What seems completely sensible and natural to you may be absurd to others. What you pursue and embrace may be repellent to others. Only when you understand your own experiences can you reflect upon them and how they impact you, and then set them aside so that you can be open to the experiences of others. That said, the questions you used above for self-reflection are also available for you to use when you invite others to reflect on their experiences. Generally you want to avoid referring to your own experiences which risks leading your conversation partner and possibly cutting them off from their own insights.

a. Experiences: How do you experience/express the spiritual/religious aspects of your life? Do you consider yourself in tune with the spiritual side of life, or not very interested in it? What’s going on with you right now, from a spiritual perspective? When have you been through something that was similar to your current experience?

b. Resources: If your spiritual life is important to you, what particular aspects are central to you – things you do that help you most? During past times of crisis, what spiritual practices were significant then? What can you learn from those reflections and bring forward into your present experience?

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