Being and Doing

A few years ago I spent four months as a hospital chaplain, visiting patients and their families to offer spiritual support.  Some time in the middle of the chaplaincy I had a run of shallow visits, when it seemed that everyone I visited was fine, doing okay, looking forward to going home, all set and in no need of a chaplain.  They could have talked about whatever it was that had brought them to the hospital, but they had no particular desire to share those things with me.  After a while I started to wonder what I was doing wrong.

Reporting some of those visits to my supervisors, I realized something: I was repeatedly asking if there was anything I could do for the patients.  Perhaps that in itself wasn’t making much of a difference in how each visit went, but it said something about my attitude during those visits, and I really didn’t like what it said!

In my home church I led workshops on Voluntary Simplicity, a program of reducing clutter and distractions, resisting consumerism and cultural expectations, and rejoicing in community and the spirituality of everyday life.  We talked about saving our time and money for the things of real importance to us, considering such values as authenticity, mindfulness, gratitude and Sabbath.  In one workshop we asked ourselves: “Are we defined by what we do or by what we are?”  Making a point about the cultural emphasis on doing rather than being, someone in the group noted that we name ourselves human ‘beings’, not human ‘doings’!

In short, when it came to chaplaincy, I thought I had it mostly figured out.  I knew that there would be very little I could do for the patients and families I visited, and that the greatest gift I could offer was simply to be present, to be compassionate, to be myself.  I might listen to them or read to them or pray with them, but that would be secondary to the simple fact that I was there.  But then I realized that I didn’t have it all figured out, that I’d not fully embraced the concept of being and could slip back to an emphasis on doing at any time.

There’s a short movie that nicely demonstrates why we should struggle to be and not just to do.  It shows two groups of people passing basketballs amongst themselves and the instructions that come with it say to watch it twice.  The first time requires some concentration, counting how many times one group passes their ball, not counting passes by the other group.  The second time is just a matter of watching.  Most people are amazed to realize that, a little while into the movie, someone in a gorilla suit wanders in from one side, waves at the camera, and then ambles out the other side!

We can be so caught up in an ordinary task that we fail to notice the extraordinary that’s right in front of us.  And when stress, anxiety or looming dead-lines are involved, we’re even more distracted from being mindful, from being present, from simply being aware of being alive.  As a task-oriented person, I continue to be challenged to find a balance between doing and being, between ways of being in the world and ways of being with the world.  Supported through the spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, I recognize that sometimes my task is to simply be, reconnecting to myself, to others, to the world around me, and to see the spiritual in the everyday.

As we struggle with being and doing in our everyday lives, may we remain mindful that we are both embodied and spiritual, engaged in our tasks at hand even as we remain aware of ourselves as beings held in the web of life.  May we sense the sacred in the profane, finding that sacramental vision of being that centers us as both spiritual and embodied.  May we immerse ourselves in the spirituality of everyday life so that every breath is worship and every act is prayer.  So may it be.

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1 Comment »

  1. Good Advice Andrew. :-)

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