He Has Died. He Has Risen: David Maginley, M.Div
I’m a Reverend sitting with three cool guys,
talking about spirituality, cancer, death… and I’m just waiting for the f-bomb.
There’s a mischievious tension in the room. I’m a Reverend sitting with three cool guys, talking about spirituality, cancer, death… and I’m just waiting for the f-bomb. I’ve listened to their podcasts. I know they’re edgy – some may even say crude. But these guys are real, raw, and best of all, genuinely curious – driven by compassion, fueled by the hunger to dig deep into life, love, mortality; the whole human journey. This is their passion. And I love it, because it’s my passion too.
My job is to provide spiritual care in the cancer, palliative and intensive care units at the Victoria General hospital in Halifax. I help people through the biggest crisis of their life – that they could loose it. It’s familiar territory for me, as I’ve had cancer four times. All the same, it’s very challenging, even more so as many initially don’t want to see me. I’m clergy. I represent church. So people tend to think that if I’m at the foot of their bed it must be bad, really bad. Worse, some think that I’m there to innoculate them with religion, or to pray or talk about God or bless them as they die. Granted, I am trained to support people of various faiths and belief systems, so I can offer that traditional type of care - but only as the patient leads. Most of the time I sit, listen, and help them cope. Most of the time, I’m a witness to their unfinished love stories. In a way, most of the time, I’m doing what these three guys in a simple recording studio are doing – getting on the person’s level, marveling at beautiful vulnerability, learning from the noble courage I see before me.
But there are differences in our approach (and my language is less salty!). I’m listening with a clinical and mystical curiosity, for I see my patients as both part of a fractured humanity and the fullness of the divine. God in disguise – a localized expression of the underlying consciousness from which reality emerges. I’m seeing the quantum mind having a Newtonian experience – one that sucks. It’s marked by worry, suffering, and possible death. And it’s marked by beauty – astonishing beauty.
I think of Sarah. She lies in the ICU, a forest of technology around her, lines and tubes rooting her to a bizzare tree of life. She is on the edge of immortality, but her family is lost in the wilderness of worry. All they can do is wait, and it never feels enough. I sit with them, but provide no answers or assurances. Only listen as they tell me the story of who she is, and how life fell apart. They express their deepest hopes and fears, and mysteriously come back to themselves a little more in the telling.
And I stand by her bed when they are not there. I reach out with my heart, and offer myself as an instrument through which something greater can touch her consciousness. She seems so far away. There is no agenda other than to enter suffering and use compassion to keep my keel deep in the water when the emotional storm threatens to capsize everything. The quality of my presence determines the therapeutic encounter.
The conversation with Sickboy explores this work, and the studio is charged with excitement at the melding of contemporary terms and ancient mysteries. We talk about rituals like prayer, blessing, and meditation – how they tune our consciousness so we resonate with the sacred song that sustains us in every moment. A health crisis cranks up the volume on that song. It amplifies life, and is the prime opportunity to become a bit more compassionate with our mess as well – the unfinished love story.
Like the best of conversations over beer, my visit with Jeremie, Bryan and Taylor ended on the ultimate: What is out there? Do we continue? Here’s my take: God is love. And love is not an emotion, but the highest state of consciousness we are evolving into, that we emerge from, to which we return. The ultimate step in that process, unfortunately, is death. And the ultimate hope is that death is not the end. Many of my patients affirm that is, indeed, the case: that we continue. They say this because some of them have seen it. And I agree, not just because I’m a minister, but because, many years ago, I saw it too.
You’ll have to listen to go down that rabbit hole.
After explore this most sacred ground of the soul, I thank them, and they promote my book, Beyond Surviving: Cancer and Your Spiritual Journey. (Thanks, guys!) And then it happens. Clusterf**k bombs all around! I silently bless the place as I leave.