THE POWER OF SYMBOLS
I discovered that we may call symbols—sacraments, ordinances, or a point of contact. Your faith tradition may have a different name; nevertheless, spiritual symbols are a concrete means to reach and touch the Transcendent God.
For many years I have been a member of The Pennsylvania Society of Chaplains. This group provides various continuing education seminars. At one meeting, a professor from a reformed Christian perspective addressed the need for God to be God and for us chaplains to not execute God's plan. He reminded us, "We don't heal, God heals. We do not need to make things happen, God makes them happen."
Then, he suggested this thought, which I wrote down:
"If you want to make every hospital visit a success, you need to bring these five symbols with you into the room—healing oil, holy communion, the Bible, laying on of hands and prayer. Ask the patient if they would receive these symbols of God's presence and watch the Lord work."
I was advised that by utilizing these five scriptural symbols, people would sense that they had received ministry; therefore, I would not need to worry about my inelegant comments. The power that these symbols represent would accomplish what was needed. Reading an open Bible, anointing with oil or grasping one's hand in prayer surpasses anything I could achieve with my initiative. "We cannot do it. Let God bear the load of ministry!" the professor would reiterate. Ministry is about the God who acts in human beings. For many in our profession, it takes deep courage to say, "I can't do this myself." The symbols unveil concrete expressions of the Lord that people touch and hold with their faith. These Bible-honored symbols are points of contact connecting us with God.
I recall one chaplain's spiritual support group that he modestly named, The Psalms. His sole intention was to recite the lament psalms with whoever attended. The group never lacked an audience. In fact, patients could not wait to arrive. Additionally, they read aloud certain passages of the Bible that affected our spiritual lives—such as Psalm 23, the Lord's Prayer, etc. When we announced over the loud speaker that a service with Holy Communion was being offered, more people came to these occasions than the regular worship services. Numerous patients desired to be anointed with oil as well. Certainly, we have experienced this divine power whether we consciously know it or not. Symbols of faith employ the five senses to associate with spiritual convictions and draw us closer to the original faith that touched our soul. That is the power of symbols!
The power of forgiveness, prayer, and symbols operate tremendously in the hard places of ministry. Because of their divine origin, I believe they demonstrate and release God's healing power. As a chaplain or a lay minister in the Christian faith, we minister the life of Christ, who brought wholeness to a fragmented world. This area of ministry—symbols—represents that God is the ultimate Healer, while we humbly share as the conduits of God's wholeness in humanity. Without a doubt, chaplaincy is a front row seat and a privileged place where we watch God work as we stand back and give him the glory!