In her book, The Work of the Chaplain, Dr. Naomi Paget writes, “Through humble service, unconditional acceptance, unwavering faith and uncompromising love, first responder chaplains earn the trust and confidence of those they serve … People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I remember responding to an on-duty death — truly one of the most tragic and challenging moments for any law enforcement family. Arriving at the station, the shock of trauma was everywhere. What can we say at a time like this? Very little! What can we do? We can simply be there. Be available. Love everyone up. Hug those who want a hug. Pray in silence or aloud with those wishing to pray.
Fortunately, such incidents are rare. But that doesn’t mean chaplains shouldn’t always be available — in good times and bad, excitement or boredom, on patrol or in the station — to support the spiritual well-being of deputies, “with whose care the Almighty has entrusted us,” writes Rabbi Friedman (in Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement).
Spiritual wellness knows no season, no clock. You can’t just take it from the shelf, dust it off and put it back. “Chaplains have to know something about the human spirit and its longing to make the world a better place …” Rabbi continues. “(We) have to recognize within the law enforcement officer his/her nobility of spirit … Have to be able to acknowledge it and give honor to it, all the while avoiding empty flattery and pat answers about anything.” Always.
Not having pat answers means meeting you in spirit where you’re at, right now, right here, on your own unique path. Not to recruit you to any religion or to pretend we have easy solutions to life’s never-ending enigmas (such as an on-duty or any unexpected death, or even lesser wounds from anxiety or depression).
No human can solve life’s greatest mysteries. “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours,” God tells Isaiah, “Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours.” But together, we can learn to live with and even to rejoice in mystery, with purpose, peace and happiness.
Fr. Thomas Merton prayed: Although “I think I’m following Your will, that doesn’t mean I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does, in fact, please You!” And if I have that desire, in all that I do, “You will lead me on the right road …”
A good, competent chaplain can accomplish some pretty amazing things, writes Rabbi Friedman, often without uttering a single word! We call this a “ministry of presence.” Good chaplains remind us that there are people who take the world of the spirit seriously. Good chaplains acknowledge that they see in you, our beloved deputies, a fellow high priest, in service to God and others — a person for whom the world of the spirit is significant.