Spiritual Care professionals, aka Chaplains, work in many domains, caring for the soul of institutions and the individuals they comprise. A central part of professional chaplaincy training involves the “verbatim” process i.e. reconstructing a challenging or interesting patient/client consult and reflecting on the process (often sharing this with a small multifaith peer group and accredited supervisor) in order to enhance the Chaplain’s ability to support people of all faiths and none in times of crisis and/or transition.
During my training to become a Board Certified Chaplain, my supervisor, Rabbi Bonita Taylor, invited each of us to imagine a consult with a Biblical Character. The one below is an example she created with some minor edits. (I animated it here. To see more, reach out to me via email or LinkedIn.)
Clinical Site: Jaffa Psychiatric Institute
Alias or Initials of Resident/Client? Jon Do(ve)
Date of Visit: 11th Tishrei Visit #: 1st
Referral: Yes from a ship’s captain in Tarshish.
If yes, why? The Captain wouldn’t give more information other than to say that he and his crew owed their life to Jonah and were deeply concerned about his welfare.
Age About 30 years old Gender M Ethnic Background: Middle Eastern
Family No known next of kin. Estranged?
Occupation Prophet Religion Hebrew
Medical Data: No previous irregular medical history. Suspected depression and suicidal ideation
Date Admitted ~3 days prior to consult
Chaplain1: Hello Jonah, my name is Chaplain Taylor. Your nurse is worried about you. She tells me that you’re have a truly difficult night…
Patient1: (long sighhhhhh…) I would rather die than live to see this.
C2: You sound deeply grieved…
P2: Yesterday, I awoke here to the sound of a dove cooing on the window-sill. When I opened my eyes, I found a blooming plant on my meal-table that a friend had sent; it was very beautiful with large leaves. I put it on the windowsill where it could let the light through and still protect me from the sun’s glare.
C3: It sounds as though the plant brought you comfort…
P3: Yes. But today, the sun was too strong for it; anyway, I think it may have had worms. Now – in just one night – it’s withered.
C4: You cared very deeply about the plant…
P4: Yes (pause) so deeply that I want to die.
C5: It saddens me to hear you say that…
P5: You don’t understand what my life’s been like – no one here understands. They all think I’m crazy.
C6: I’d like to try and understand, won’t you help me?
P6: I don’t know (pause – then a deep sigh)…you being a woman of the cloth and all…maybe you will understand.
C7: I’d like to try…
P7: (He started slowly and then began to speak more quickly as the words tumbled out of him). Well…there I was minding my own business – y’know, it’s not like I’m famous or anything. I’m just a regular guy. Suddenly, I felt this “urge” to go to Nineveh. Nineveh! Of all places! I’ve never been there – but everyone knows that it’s an evil place – y’know, sort of like Sodom and Gomorrah? Not only that, but I was supposed to go and tell them – now, you are really not going to believe this – I was supposed to tell them that God was fed up with their wicked behavior and that – and that – they had better change – or ELSE! I mean – why me? If you had been told to do that, that would make sense – you’re a spiritual leader. But me? I’m just a regular guy.
C8: How frightening! Even as a Chaplain, I would be terrified if I thought that I was supposed to go and turn an entire city away from sin.
P8: I wasn’t frightened – annoyed, maybe. Anyway, I figured that I’d been working too hard – so I went down to Joppa and booked a cruise. They had a special package to the Tarshish Spa.
C9: I’ve been to spas – they’re restful and calming. I always feel better afterwards.
P9: That was the idea – and I figured that the cruise would start that R n’ R off nicely. And, it was nice for a couple of days: good food, quiet…And then, suddenly, from out of nowhere – wow! – we were in the middle of a tempest. The sea rolled and the ship pitched about like a cork in a wind-blown pond. The winds were so fierce they nearly tore the ship apart. Even the crew was sick – and scared. They started to off-load cargo to create more – or is it less? – ballast? Anyway, at one point, I thought they were going to abandon ship – except that getting in lifeboats was more dangerous than staying aboard. I went looking for a safe haven and I hid down in the ship’s hold. I guess I fell asleep.
C10: You felt safe there…
P10: I guess I did. I guess I fell into a deep sleep. The next I knew the Captain was shaking me and calling my name. They had already tried everything, including sending out flares and signals hoping to capture the attention of another boat. Finally, at their wits end, they thought about praying. The Captain had insisted that everyone come to his cabin to pray to their own god. He had hoped that together they would reach “the right god” who would be appeased by the volume of prayer and would then stop the storm. But, when the gales continued fast and furiously, he took a head-count and noticed that I was the only one missing. So, they started to search for me and when they found me, the Captain insisted that I join the group and call upon my God. Chaplain, frankly, I’m not a religious man. Of course, I go to Temple a couple of times a year – certainly on Yom Kippur – but I’m not what you’d call zealous – no offense, you understand. But what could I do when the Captain insisted that perhaps my God would be merciful and not let everyone perish?
C11: I would have felt as though the world were on my shoulders…
P11: That wasn’t the half of it! When the gale continued, they cast lots to find out who caused the tempest. I thought it was a lot of mumbo-jumbo – but, hard as it is to believe, they took it seriously. When the lot fell upon me, they believed that I caused the storm.
C12: I would have been afraid for my life!
P12: Believe me, I was! And, when they found out that I had received “a message” from God and had ignored it…that I was on their boat trying to flee from God – they begged me to come up with a solution. Well, my first thought was that I was as much a victim as they were; but they didn’t seem to be in a philosophical mood.
C13: Well, at least they didn’t want to hurt you…
P13: No, they didn’t want to hurt me – but they were afraid. And I even began to think: What if it’s true? What if the storm really is my fault? What if we all perish because of me – because I ran away from what God seemed to want me to do?
C14: That’s an enormous burden to bear…
P14: I couldn’t take it anymore so I told them to throw me overboard. They were decent folk so they refused…at first. But when the storm worsened, they were too scared not to – though at first, they prayed to my God not to condemn them for my death. Then, they tossed me in.
C15: You’ve really suffered…
P15: …You still don’t know the half of it! I thought I was gonna drown for sure – and then, I found myself in this big, deep, dark, wet, cave-like “something-or-other.” When I told the doctors here, they thought I was delusional. You probably will, too – but it really seemed like (he paused for some seconds and I could hear him swallowing hard) I was surrounded by…ribs! And there was a fishy smell. And no matter what you think – and as God is my witness – I know that I was swallowed by a huge fish!
C16: Oh God!
P16: Exactly! I sat there for three days and three nights. I had wanted to escape from God’s sight and now I thought for sure that I’d gotten my wish. I didn’t know what to do – so I prayed. I prayed like I’ve never prayed before.
C17: You must have felt so terribly alone…
P17: At first yes. But then, miraculously, I knew that God had heard me because suddenly the big fish spat me out on dry land.
C18: Wow! What an ordeal you’ve been though…
P18: Yeah, it was a terrible ordeal. And it wasn’t over. No sooner did I collect myself when I felt that “urge” again. Y’know, the one telling me to go to Nineveh and denounce their wickedness. If I didn’t know the first time that it was God telling me what to do, I knew it then! If I’d only listened the first time [his voice trailed off…]
C19: It sounds as though you want to learn to trust your intuition…
P19: Well, I guess I needed to be hit over the head; I mean, I might be slow – but I’m not stupid!
C20: [softly] What does that mean?
P20: I headed for Nineveh. When I arrived, I made my way downtown to City Hall. There was a Speakers’ Corner near there and I figured that was a good place to begin. I told them what I knew were God’s words – that if they didn’t change their ways and repent in 40 days, they’d be in BIG trouble! At first, nothing happened. After all, why on earth should anyone believe me? And then, that Eyewitness News Van came along and I made both the 6 o’clock and 11 o’clock news. Chaplain, I swear this is true – people actually took me seriously. They started tearing their clothes, putting on sackcloth, fasting, and changing their behavior. Even the mayor sat in ashes and publicly asked for forgiveness. And then – and this is amazing to me – God forgave them!
C21: Wow! It must feel great to be so successful…
P21: No…not really. In fact, I’m so angry, I want to die! After everything those “S-O-Bs” did, why should they be let off the hook so easily – without being punished? I mean, people who spend their lives smoking should get lung cancer, right? We’re supposed to be punished when we do wrong, right? This is simple Chaplain – how come you don’t understand?
C22: You are really angry…
P22: Of course I’m angry. I’ve lived a decent – maybe even an innocent – life. I feel cheated; there’s lot I might’ve done if I’d known that God would forgive me so easily.
C23: You’ve lived a decent life and it hasn’t turned out the way you wanted it to…
P23: Not for me. Not even in this hospital with a simple thing like my plant. I really liked it – and now it’s gone.
C24: It really doesn’t seem fair, does it?
P24: [sounding tired] Not really.
C25: [a bit tired] I am glad you survived your horrendous ordeal. [pause] I know you said that you didn’t pray much, but I’m wondering how it would feel if I said a prayer for you…
P25: Well – if it makes you feel better – you being a Chaplain and all. I guess it would be OK.
C26: Dear God, Jonah is calling to You out of his affliction. He feels lost and cast into the depths. Please hear his prayer and help him to bring his life up from the pit. Help him feel how his compassion for his plant is equal to Your compassion for all Your people, including him. Please grant him refuah shleimah – complete healing and wholeness – for his troubled mind. Amen.
C27: Have an easier night.
P27: Thank you so much. Good night.
Chaplain entered a chart-note into the patient’s record and made a referral to Social Work for supportive resources including housing, bereavement, and employment.
Stay tuned for my post-verbatim reflection, inviting readers to apply Jonah’s lessons to our era.