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In June I began a series on the paradoxes of spiritual care:

1. An expert who assumes they are there to learn (July)
2. A professional who benefits from the relationship (August)
3. Someone who gets ‘jobs done’ whilst putting relationships first (Sept)
4. The person who brings hope by being present to despair (Oct)

This is the last of the series, The one who is fully participating and saying the least. Thank you for your feedback along the way, it’s been great to hear about the conversations and reflections that have been prompted by these newsletters.

One of the strengths of spiritual care is that it can come in many forms. In our final paradox, we are turning our attention to conversation-based spiritual care. What does a spiritual care conversation look like? It has many markers, one of which is that the listener is highly engaged.

When you think about ‘participating’ in a conversation, what do you picture? If we are joining in a conversation with friends or colleagues, chances are there is a lot of talking on both sides, and if you weren’t saying much it might be a sign that you were uncomfortable or distracted.

In a spiritual care conversation the focus is to enable the person or group you are with to feel deeply heard. It may be to support them in their own process of discernment, celebration, mourning or to get in touch with their spiritual resources. To enable this, intentional spiritual care requires that you are fully present to the person you are with, and that you are listening to understand the spiritual heart of the conversation you are in.

It means listening for the other person’s values, their bedrock convictions, their sense of self and their sources of hope. If they have a faith, it means inviting them to connect with their deepest beliefs in the light of what they are sharing.

You might like to try a little exercise that is used a lot in spiritual care development programs. After you have sat with someone and offered spiritual support, write down, line by line, as much as you can remember from the conversation. It’s painstaking work, and you won’t get it exactly ‘right’ in terms of precise wording. Don’t let that stop you. After you have done this, sit back and look at how much you said, and how much the other person said.

Be honest with yourself. If there are large chunks of text for you and small chunks of text for the other person, ask yourself how well you were really listening and how much you were leaping in to problem solving mode, or filling uncomfortable gaps with your voice.

Reflect on your participation in the conversation – were you fully present? Quite often, in doing this process, we realise that in our attempt to offer spiritual care, we have in fact not stopped to really hear but instead filled the space with our own longing to be of help.

Thank you for your commitment to flourishing in later life. We look forward to working with you in 2018.

Until next time,
Ilsa Hampton