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 with a small multifaith peer group and accredited supervisor) in order to enhance future professional practice with people of all faiths and none.
Towards the end of my first unit of training, our supervisor, Rabbi Bonita Taylor, invited each of us to imagine a consult with a Biblical Character. The one below comes courtesy of one of my peers. (I animated it here. To see more, reach out to me via email or LinkedIn.)
Chaplaincy Verbatim: A consult with Naomi
Clinical Site: Moabite Home for the Destitute
Alias or Initials of Resident/Client? Naomi Marah
Date of Visit: Sivan 6, 1080 BCE (Shavuot) Visit #: 1st
Referral: Yes from her daughter-in-law, Ruth.
If yes, why? She was deeply concerned about her mother-in-law’s condition and felt it would be helpful if someone could get her to talk about her troubles. (Sidenote: evidence of enmeshed relationship between Dtr in-law and MIL.)
Age about 50-55 years Gender F Ethnic Background: Middle Eastern
Family Widow, no surviving children; two daughters-in-law
Occupation Unemployed, homeless Religion Jewish
Date Admitted 6 days earlier
Diagnosis Depression, nervous condition, fainting spells, thought to be brought on by major stress, anxiety, and poor diet.
Chaplain (C1) : Good morning. I am Chaplain Sarah. I am just making my rounds and thought I would check in on you. How are you doing today?
Naomi (NM1) : How am I doing? I don’t know how to answer that question. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
C2: I see that you are dressed in your street clothes. Are you leaving?
NM2: Yes. I am going home.
C3: Can you tell me what home means to you?
NM3: Excuse me. I don’t understand what you’re asking me.
C4: Well, home means different things to different people. For example, for me, home means my favorite chair and other such comforts. I wonder what home means for you?
NM4: Well, for me, home is surely nothing to look forward to. You see, my husband and I and our two sons, Makhlon and Khilion, left Bethlehem about 10 years ago when a famine descended upon our land, and we set forth to the fields of Moab. We had so much back then, before we went into exile: a family, money, servants…really, we were the wealthiest people in town. Everyone admired us. And I had my looks…well I was never a beauty mind you, but I was always pleasant to look at. I was so happy then. I had so much.
I don’t want to even think about what awaits me back home in Bethlehem! I can already envision the crowds of people there when I arrive. I am sure they will be aghast at what I have become. They will see that I have turned into a lonely, sad, old woman, a pauper. Oy how they will pity me… or perhaps they will mock me. I just can’t bear the thought.
C5: It seems like you’ve had a tragic reversal of fortune…
NM5: You don’t know the half of it. My husband died shortly after we arrived in the land of Moab. Then, there I was, stuck in a place where I had no friends, no family…not even a fellow Jew to be found. I had to mourn alone.
C6: I once had a significant loss in my life, and I know how important it is to have a support system around you to buffer the loss. It must have been terribly lonely to endure such a tragedy without having people to support you..
NM6: (Nods her head in agreement and sighs.) I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it was for me, having to raise two young songs as a single mother…and in a strange land, no less. And if that wasn’t enough of a curse, I had to watch both of my sons intermarry because the only women they met were Moabites. Imagine that I should have two daughters-in-law who are not Jewish…that I, of all people, should not be able to provide future generations of our people!
C7: So you feel cursed… Can you say more about this?
NM7: Yes, I do (She begins to rage…) God is afflicting me. It is so harsh, so unfair that I should suffer like this. Do I deserve this punishment Chaplain?
C8: Why would you think God would punish you?
NM8: I can’t get it out of my head that maybe God is paying me back for my husband’s wrongdoings…or because I did not do anything to stop him. I should never have let Eli take us out of Israel. We had plenty of money to survive the famine. But I know that the reason he wanted to leave is that he was afraid that we would have to share what we had and then we ourselves would have been reduced to poverty…or hungry mobs would have robbed us of our fortune. It was selfish to leave, and I knew that at the time. We turned our backs on them. And now God has driven me into poverty; I suppose that She is making me suffer the misfortune that the others did, those that we left behind. If we had acted more generously, it might all be different now. Maybe She would have spared us.
C9: It sounds like you are feeling some regret…
NM9: I suppose I am..Yes. And actually, I haven’t even told you everything. The story gets even worse. First one of my sons died, and then the other one died. (Begins to sob). I don’t understand… I was a caring mother, and I sacrificed so much them… I did everything I could to protect them and make the best out of our unhappy circumstances.
C10: My goodness. You’ve had SO much heartbreak in your life… And I’m also hearing how you gave so much of yourself to protect your sons, and that you were a devoted and nurturing mother.
NM10: But alas, no reward. Here I am…left childless. I don’t even have the possibility of ever having a grandchild. Oh, if only I could have had a grandchild! That alone would have given me a reason to live.
C11: I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like to have your whole identity stipped from you.
NM11: That is true. Just look at me. I’m a shell of what I once was. It’s gotten so that I don’t even recognize myself. If someone were to call me by my name, Naomi, at this moment, I doubt that I would even turn around.
C12: it seems like you are finding it impossible to reconcile who you are now with who you were before all these tragedies…
NM12: Yes. That’s why I need to leave. Start over. I really have no choice. Both of my daughters-in-law want to leave with me. But I tell them, why leave your home, all that you know, a chance to marry again and have children? Why??? Just to follow an old woman who cannot care for you? Its ridiculous!
I think I have finally talked some sense into one of them, Orpah. It seems she understands that she will be better off if she stays behind. But the other one, Ruth…she has literally been clinging to me…refusing to let go. She claims that she wants to go wherever I go, live wherever I live, die wherever I die. She even wants to convert and become a Jew. I know that she’s just being kind, but frankly, the way I feel right now, I just want to be left alone.
C13: I’m wondering if you are feeling so broken that it’s hard for you to appreciate or receive any gestures of chesed that Ruth might be expressing toward you…
NM13: Hmm… (nodding)… I am feeling so disgusted and empty that I can’t envision ever caring about anyone or anything again.
C14: If I were in your place I think I would be feeling sick at heart.
NM14: (Silence. Tears begin to form again in her eyes.)
C15: May I offer a prayer on your behalf?
NM15: I can’t imagine what good it will do. But sure, if you want to. I suppose it can’t make things worse than they already are.
C16: What would you like me to ask God to focus on for you?
NM16: Again, I’m not sure it can make a difference, but…if I could ask for anything, it would be…that something good could happen to me again, that there might be an end to this terrible suffering.
C17: Let me take a moment to reflect on what you’ve just said. As I pause, I invite you to close your eyes and listen to your breathing. (I close my eyes and take a few deep/audible breaths before continuing…)
Dear God, I am here with Naomi, at the Moabite Home for the Destitute. Naomi is feeling so much anguish after having experienced unimaginable suffering over the past ten years. She left her homeland, endured the painful loss of her husband and two children, and now finds herself homeless and alone. Please God, may she feel your loving compassion, emerge from this exile, and find the will and the strength to move on with her life. May she begin to recognize and accept the goodness and kindness of others. Grant her a safe journey back to the land of Israel…and also towards healing and wholeness in her life. Amen.
NM17: Amen, From your mouth to God’s ears, Chaplain. Thank you.
Chaplain entered a chart-note into the patient’s record and made a referral to Psychiatry for evaluation and Social Work for supportive resources including housing, bereavement, and employment.
Chaplain’s Theological Reflection
I have always focused on Ruth in the story that bears her name and been fascinated that she leaves a place that is familiar in order to journey to a new place, as an act of faith and love. Ruth chooses to take the more challenging and risky path, seeking, in order to find, something bigger and more meaningful in her life.
Previous to this verbatim, I had not really concentrated on Naomi. But, by doing so, I have learned about a truly tragic character who gains redemption at the end of her story—with the birth of her grandchild Obed, who grows up to become the ancestor of the royal house of David. As Naomi begins to accept Ruth’s closeness, devotion, and loyalty, she begins to find life again, to find purpose, and ultimately to find fulfillment.
To enhance my spiritual growth and my work with future clients, I’ll be asking myself this Shavuot:
- What or who do I need to accept into my life?
- What does redemption look like for me — and what steps can I take towards it?