excerpt, What Is A Spiritual Assessment?

[This is an excerpt from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 3: Understanding the Spiritual Assessment. A complimentary copy is available as an e-book on Amazon.com thru April 24, 2016.]

Chapter Two: What Is A Spiritual Assessment?

Rev. Keith A Evans DC, DMin and Zacarias C Buhuro MA, MDiv

For chaplains in any setting, the unspoken protocol is to assess the spirituality and beliefs of the individual which they are ministering. Completing a spirituality assessment allows the chaplain to see what spiritual or faith-specific resources the individual may need for the situation. To do this well, one must understand what spirituality is and what the objectives of completing a spiritual assessment might be.

For a quick review of how spirituality is defined, Christina Puchalski MD of George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health states,

Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred (Puchalski, 2014, p. 642).

Stephen R. Covey states, “The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one” (Covey, p. 170).

One can quickly assess from just these two definitions of spirituality that spirituality is multi-faceted and complex.

Chaplains are often asked, “Is there a difference between spirituality and religion?” Some may disagree but my generalized answer is, “Yes.” First of all, everyone has a spirituality within them, whether they personally recognize it or not. People are spiritual in nature. Secondly, I view religion as the way an individual or group determines how they learn and practice (rites, rituals and worship) their spirituality, beliefs and their theologically-based faith. Religion is where your theology, doctrines and dogmas are developed. However, I do not believe a person can commit to and authentically practice a religion without a sense of their own spirituality or spiritual needs. But one may express their spirituality outside of traditional religious practices.

George Fitchett’s book Assessing Spiritual Needs: A Guide for Caregivers (1993) has become a classic among professional chaplains and as a vital clinical pastoral education resource. Fitchett’s work revealed that many approaches were being used to accomplish a spiritual assessment. He discovered that chaplains were using a broad range of spiritual assessments from informal and personal methods to very precise, impersonal “diagnostic” surveys.

Fitchett discusses the importance of the spiritual assessment. For the chaplain, the spiritual assessment becomes the foundation for developing an action plan which will direct soul care, as well as to promote intentional and effective spiritual communication, as well as a way to evaluate chaplaincy interactions, maintain personal accountability, quality assurance, and establish the role and purpose of the chaplain. But whichever spiritual assessment model that is used by a chaplain, these objectives should be foundational to the model’s overall purpose.

Through Fitchett’s research and personal experience, he developed his own spiritual assessment model called the 7 x 7 Model. This model is conceptual, functional, holistic, and provides a great framework for chaplains in any setting for spiritually assessments. In brief, he states that holistic wellness is built around seven dimensions:

  1. Medical
  2. Psychological
  3. Psychosocial
  4. Family systems
  5. Ethnic and cultural
  6. Societal issues
  7. Spiritual dimensions

One can easily see the influence which each of these seven dimensions has upon an individual’s life and perceptions of holistic wellness.

Within the Spiritual dimension, Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model describes seven smaller categories which give the broader perspective and complex intricacies for an individual’s overall spirituality:

  1. Beliefs and meaning
  2. Vocation and consequences
  3. Experience and emotion
  4. Courage and growth
  5. Ritual and practice
  6. Community
  7. Authority and guidance

In Douglas Edward Robinson’s doctoral work on spiritual assessment and his evaluation of Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model, he states,

For review, the two hemispheres of assessment are the Holistic and Spiritual…It is likely that you will not gain all the information you seek in the first visit, or during all of your visits. Time does not always permit this thorough an assessment. Remember that hospital patient needs and challenges can rapidly change. Hospitalized patients may present with multiple issues. When this is the case, you may first need to address the most crucial issue, before tending to the others. The important thing to remember is that spiritual care in the hospital is need-based and fluid. Let the patient direct you to the areas in greatest need of intervention. Spiritual welfare and appropriate intervention is always more important than getting all the information. Promoting such integration requires an appropriate assessment of patient spirituality, and definition of conditions for spiritual interventions, that improve patient care (Robinson, 2012).

Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model seems daunting at first glance, but it actually is a common-sense and thorough approach. It hits upon all aspects of life. If a chaplain, or any person ministering to another, can remember to utilize just a few of these sections, they will more than likely have a meaningful encounter. Of course, the inclusion of all seven areas of the spiritual dimension remains the objective goal.

The next chapter will review a few of the more common spiritual assessments which are in the literature and being practically used in different clinical and public ministry settings. But first, let’s hear about some of the benefits of a chaplain using spiritual assessments.

The Practical Benefits of the Spiritual Assessment

Performing a spiritual assessment should not be about imposing a set of rigid questions on an individual. It should be an interactive conversation between individuals. This discussion will center on healthcare settings, but the spiritual assessment can be administered in any setting with individuals who may be hurting spiritually.

Buhuro: Upon admission to the hospital, patients may undergo a spiritual screening, which is generally very short in nature. The spiritual screening simply asks questions such as, “Do you have spiritual beliefs? Do you have a faith or church preference? Do you want a local minister or church to visit you while you are admitted?”

However, as the patients stay for one or more days, there is a need for a professional chaplain to do the spiritual assessment. A spiritual assessment helps to address the patient’s needs in a more holistic way and also to engage the patients on the meaning of their life as they are dealing with an illness.

One may not claim to belong to any organized religion or may even claim that they are “atheists.” What is important to know is that the spiritual assessment taps into the core of what and who the person is, in terms of meaning making of what is happening in their life.

What does it mean, for example, for a mother that is accustomed to waking up every morning, going to work, taking care of her family and so on…but now she is in the hospital facing a serious illness? What does she make of news about a new diagnosis that may interfere with her daily life? How does she cope with that? Who supports her? How can others be of support to her?

The spiritual assessment deals with the ultimate meaning of life regardless of the person’s religiosity. In my work with hospice patients, one of the dominant issue which often needed to be addressed was their pain. The pain here is not only physical, but emotional, psychological and spiritual pain…..


Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Signature Edition 4.0. Salt Lake City: FranklinCovey, date not listed.

Fitchett, George. Assessing Spiritual Needs: A Guide for Caregivers. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993.

Puchalski, Christina M., Robert Vitillo, Sharon K. Hull and Nancy Reller. “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus.” Journal of Palliative Medicine 17, no. 6, 2014: 642.

Robinson, Douglas Edward. “Pastoral Care: A New Model For Assessing the Spiritual Needs of Hospitalized Patients.” D.Min. dissertation. Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, August 2012: 111-112. http://www.digitalcommons.liberty.edu


excerpt, Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions

[This excerpt is from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 2: Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions. It is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. ]

Chapter One: The Need

Rev. Keith A Evans D.C., D.Min.

I am a clinical hospital chaplain. You might also consider me a workplace (or marketplace/corporate) chaplain. I say that because I not only work with patients and families but I also spend a great deal of time in building relationships with the organization’s employees in order to minister to them as needs arise. My doctoral work centered on a ministry development project evaluating a specific workplace spirituality environment. The objective was to discover if there were new initiatives which could be implemented which could improve the workplace spirituality perception as well as the practical application of spirituality with employees. (I discuss the spiritual assessment of individuals and organizations in volume three of The Chaplain Skillset Series.)

It did not take long into my literature review and research endeavor to realize that I did not have enough experience with diverse world faiths. I did not truly understand how each faith and belief system expressed themselves (verbally and non-verbally) or how different beliefs guide daily decision making and a person’s perspective of hope, inner peace and life satisfaction. I needed to brush up on my understanding of spirituality expressions, and I needed to do it quickly. I asked myself, “How can a chaplain serving any workplace function to their greatest potential? How can chaplains achieve the best outcomes for their organization? Can this occur if the chaplain does not understand the spirituality and faith demographics of those he or she ministers?” This was where I found myself. Responsible, but not being held accountable. So I began an intensive self-study.

Most chaplains operate on the assumption that spirituality exists and every person possesses a spirituality, whether they fully recognize it or not (Marques, Dhiman and King, pp. 6-7). But one’s spirituality is not by nature or by definition solely about religion or religiosity. This principle has become a foundational pillar for my chaplaincy. Judith A. Neal states that most management authors and consultants in the field of workplace spirituality,

Define the human being as consisting of four parts or four types of energy: (1) Physical: Our ability to take good care of our bodies and physical well-being; (2) Mental: Our ability to think clearly, learn, and make good decisions; (3) Emotional: Our ability to create positive relationships and to handle difficult situations; (4) Spiritual: Our ability to connect to something greater than ourselves and to be of service in the world (Judith Neal, 2014).

Adding to Neal’s definition, Gilbert Fairholm explains,

One’s spirituality is the essence of who he or she is. It defines the inner self, separate from the body, but including the physical and intellectual self […] Spirituality also is the quality of being spiritual, of recognizing the intangible, life-affirming force in self and all human beings. It is a state of intimate relationship with the inner self of higher values and morality. It is recognition of the truth of the inner nature of people (Gilbert Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership, p. 29).

For scholars, it has taken many years to arrive at a consensus on how to define spirituality, as spirituality can be viewed from many perspectives. Christina Puchalski MD serves as the Director of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health. In 2009 and 2014, Puchalski moderated a healthcare panel for spirituality and palliative care and assisted in producing a consensus definition for spirituality. The panel concluded, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred” (Puchalski et al, 2014, p. 642).

Others perceive that spirituality stems from one’s inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices (Guillory, p. xi). Religion is more strictly defined as how one’s spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context. In a White Paper on professional chaplaincy, spirituality is explained as,

An awareness of relationships with all creation, an appreciation of presence and purpose that includes a sense of meaning. Though not true generations ago, a distinction is frequently made today between spirituality and religion, the latter focusing on defined structures, rituals and doctrines. While religion and medicine were virtually inseparable for thousands of years, the advent of science created a chasm between the two. The term spirituality is a contemporary bridge that renews this relationship (VandeCreek and Burton, 2001, p. 82).

Studies of the spiritual paradigm repeatedly reveal that “people not only work with their hands, but also their hearts and spirit” (Petchsawanga and Duchon, p. 190). Louis Fry’s research of spiritual business leadership observed that when a worker’s inner life is able to consistently fuel their hope and faith into a more transcendent vision of service in all parts of their life, they will begin to live life as it was created, as a precious gift (Fry and Nisiewicz, 2013). A problem which many chaplains possess is understanding the myriad of ways spirituality and diverse faith traditions are personally expressed and how it is later manifested in many ways throughout the individual’s life, including their work life.

To begin to understand this more fully, the remaining chapters of this volume will outline the general faith doctrine and the spirituality expressions of humanism, Buddhist spirituality, Hindu spirituality, Islam spirituality, Jewish Spirituality and Christian spirituality. This volume will provide a solid comparison of the primary world faiths. Each chapter will review the core beliefs of each belief system.

An individual’s spirituality shapes their perspective of life and level of future hope. This is key to possessing realistic optimism and governs their daily resiliency when they are distressed or in the midst of crisis. Due to this principle, I will address whether or not each faith believes in a spiritual afterlife and what the path of salvation for each demands.

The reader is encouraged to delve deeper into each, as well as the hundreds and hundreds of ‘minor’ religions and faiths which are present in our diverse world. As previously mentioned, Volume Three of this Chaplain Skillset Series will discuss how to conduct individual spiritual assessments as well as to evaluate and organization or group’s spirituality.


Fairholm, Gilbert. Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1997. Accessed July 29, 2014.  http://books.google.com.

Fry, Louis W., and Melissa Sadler Nisiewicz. Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line through Spiritual Leadership. Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2013. Kindle eBook Location 1096-1116.

Guillory, William A.  Spirituality in the Workplace: A Guide for Adapting to the Chaotically Changing Workplace. Salt Lake City: Innovations International, 2000.

Marques, Joan, Satinder Dhiman and Richard King. Spirituality in the Workplace: What It Is, Why It Matters, How To Make It Work For You. Fawnskin: Personhood Press, 2007.

Neal, Judith A. “Spirituality in the Workplace.” accessed May 22, 2014, http://judineal.com/pages/pubs/academic1.htm#spirit.

Petchsawanga, Pawinee, and and Dennis Duchon. “Workplace Spirituality, Meditation, and Work Performance.” Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion 9, no. 2 (June 2012): 190.

Puchalski, Christina M., Robert Vitillo, Sharon K. Hull and Nancy Reller. “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus.” Journal of Palliative Medicine 17, no. 6, 2014: 642.

VandeCreek, Larry, and Laurel Burton, eds. “Professional Chaplaincy: Its Role and Importance in Healthcare.” The Journal of Pastoral Care 55, no.1 (Spring 2001): 82.

excerpt The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1

[This excerpt is from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1: The Fundamentals: The Why, What, Who and How of Chaplaincy.  The full e-book is available on Amazon.com]

The Chaplain Skillset Series emerged from the vast amount of resources that I have gathered throughout my own quest to become the best minister and professional chaplain that I can eventually be. The goal for this project is simply to share well-respected resources and learned lessons which any chaplain of any faith background and any ministry setting can utilize quickly and effectively. I will speak from my own experiences and from time to time lean heavily upon my own Christian theology to support various chaplain theories, functions and skillsets. Please understand that it is not my aim to offend any reader from other spirituality or religious doctrines. It is the responsibility of every chaplain to develop their own pastoral identity based upon how their life experiences and their own faith informs them. The contributors of this Series will share their perspectives.

The Series will touch upon the primary points which any minister should consider to become a highly skilled and competent chaplain. I am aware that this series may not be exhaustive for all the nuances of chaplaincy, but I will strive for it to be as comprehensive as possible in forming an effective foundation. The Series has a three-fold purpose. It is designed for: 1) individuals who are unfamiliar with the unique field of chaplaincy, 2) for laity or clergy who are discerning whether or not to go into chaplain ministry, and 3) for seasoned clergy and chaplains who simply want to revisit the tried and true skillsets which produce an excellence in chaplaincy. I will always attempt to give credit where credit is due as well as share the many resources which have been helpful in my own chaplain formation.

The Series begins with this initial volume on The Fundamentals. This first volume will attempt to succinctly answer four basic questions: “Why the need for Chaplains?” “What is Chaplaincy?” “Who can be a Chaplain?” and the most practical question for you, the reader, “How is chaplaincy administered? How does it work?” The last chapter will attempt to succeed in “Bringing the Pieces Together” for you through the presentation of three clinical verbatims.

Future volumes in the series will delve deeper into the challenging topics of Developing Skillsets for Handling Trauma and Crisis Situations, Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions, Understanding the Spiritual Assessment, and a volume of essays on the topic on Religious Perspectives of Suffering. Other volumes will review the unique skillsets needed for various forms of chaplaincy such as law enforcement, EMS/fire, workplace, and hospice, as well as look into emerging chaplain specialties such as the new integrative chaplain.

I hope you enjoy The Chaplain Skillset Series. If you sift through and dig out just a few pearls of wisdom from each volume which you can readily use in your own chaplain ministry, then I will consider my efforts to have been worthwhile. May God’s peace be upon you as well as upon your specific ministry.

Chaplain Keith Evans, Editor

Chapter One: Why the Need for Chaplains?

Do you believe there really is a need or place for chaplaincy or chaplains? If there is a need, then is the need only a perceived need for religious people or is chaplaincy supported by solid anecdotal or qualitative evidence? If there is good information supporting chaplains, what makes chaplains needed? I hope to succinctly answer those questions plus many more in this first volume of The Chaplain Skillset Series.

The Widening Gap from Organized Faith

Have you truly considered, “Why the need for Chaplains?” The most current research compiled by the Barna Group (www.barna.org) reveals that 59% of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background have dropped out of attending a church regularly. In 2015, Barna discovered that 25% of unchurched adults are skeptics of God’s existence, labeling themselves as either agnostics or atheists. This trend is more predominant in younger adults who are more educated, racially and ethnically diverse. Across gender lines, females are noted as more religiously skeptical than males. Barna states, “the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence [by Skeptics] are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) the cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.” This information led the Barna Group to develop a “post-Christian metric” which looks at multi-dimensional factors to describe “the rich and variegated experience of spirituality and faith.” Spirituality is indeed diverse and is being defined and expressed in many ways. Anecdotal evidence will also reveal that this trend is also occurring throughout all the primary organized faiths: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.

For ministers and chaplains, this data does not come as a surprise, but as a validation of the changing expressions of faith and spirituality in America as well as across the globe. With this trend, I have found that the topic of spirituality may be the best place to begin any faith conversation. In fact, it might even prove to be quite difficult to find anyone who would not accept the statement that “all humans are spiritual and possess a spirituality, whether they recognize it or not.” If you look around and observe your friends, neighbors and co-workers, you will see individuals who are constantly in search for meaning and purpose in their lives and about situations they experience. With so many of the population not active in a local church or organized faith community, there is a great need for effective soul care to be brought to them in their respective places of work, by their co-workers, friends, and even by professional, workplace chaplains. Chaplains are uniquely qualified to bridge this growing gap in our society which has pushed back against organized religion yet still strives to find meaning and relevancy in their spiritual selves.

More Evidence for the Need of Chaplains

With more and more emphasis on spirituality, spirituality at work, and other faith and spirituality movements, there are less and less individuals sitting in church pews on the Sabbath. This has left a void on who or what becomes a person’s spiritual director, pastor or mentor. It also has left a misunderstanding of what soul care is and what soul care is not.

A definition of spirituality that I espouse and one that has also been widely received and accepted by most in healthcare chaplaincy was proposed by Dr. Christina Puchalski of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Heath. She states that, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” (Puchalski, 2014) Others perceive that spirituality stems from one’s inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices. (Guillory, xi) Religion is more strictly defined as how one’s spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context.

In David G. Benner’s text, “Care of Souls,” Benner states, “The soul is the meeting point of the psychological and spiritual. Its care must, by necessity, include both spiritual and psychological aspects.” In the past century there have been great strides in understanding the human psyche. But at the same time, the ‘experts’ have tended to dissect the immaterial self of individuals and divide it up into distinct components (psychological-spiritual-emotional), with each one standing separate and without connection to another. However, there is a growing understanding that this may not be the case. In fact, a dichotomist view of man may have more merit in this context of soul care when you assess how individuals cope with crises in their lives. Benner states that we should “understand soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing. Care of souls can thus be understood as the care of persons in their totality.” (Benner, 22) If the public at large are not engaged in a local church or faith/spirituality community, then who assists them in their journey? Most often, probably no one.

The work of psychologist Kenneth Pargament has been especially well-received within the medical field over the past several decades. Pargament has written extensively on the psychology of an individual’s resiliency based upon religion and spirituality as positive coping skills. Pargament’s behavioral theories and review of literature studies can easily be extrapolated to include individuals under any stress. If you have a scientific lilt to your thinking, then Pargament’s The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice (1997) will be a great resource for you.

The same can be said of the enormous work of medical physician and researcher Harold Koenig. Koenig’s extensive work Spirituality and Health Research: Methods, Measurements, Statistics and Resources (2011) and Handbook of Spirituality and Health, 2nd edition (2012). These more academic tests are replete with many categories of scientific data reviews which support the role and impact of spirituality upon specific physical conditions and mental health issues.

Spirituality has been shown to help a person’s overall resiliency after crisis and stress. The 2011 Balboni Study noted that individuals who have spiritual and religious resources available to them during a time of crisis, such as critical life situations and nearing death itself, these patient’s actually incur less overall medical costs. (Balboni, 2011) I infer from this study that it suggests the individuals became less anxious and more emotional and psychologically relaxed, when they felt more supported and less vulnerable. As this occurred, there was less need for anxiety or pain  medications, which led to the patient’s better comfort and rest, and even increased healing rates because their immune systems improved. When this occurs, the patient will often have a shorter length of stay and better satisfaction with their overall care!

A survey of the American Hospital Association’s database noted a “significantly lower rates of hospital deaths (β=0.4, p<.05) and higher rates of hospice enrollment (β =.06, p<.001) for patients cared for in hospitals that provided chaplaincy services compared to hospitals that did not.”(Flannelly, 2012) The study noted that the results “may be attributable to chaplain’s assistance to patients and families in making decisions about care at the end-of-life, perhaps by aligning their values and wishes with actual treatment plans.” (Flannelly, p. 6)

Spirituality is vastly important to the resiliency and maintenance of emotional well-being and wholeness for individuals while organized religion is being more and more opposed. If this is true, then what or who is the best possible facilitator to assist those in need? From my perspective, the chaplain is the most reasonable bridge builder and available public clergy when much of the population does not belong or attend a church on a regular basis. For the multitude of people with spiritual needs who are also in quest for their own deeper meaning and purpose of life, the well-equipped and skilled chaplain may well prove to be their best spiritual mentor.

Understanding and Developing Your Emotional & Spiritual Health

(These are similar, yet very different dimensions of your total “Self”)

Experiencing a great quality of life involves a balance between your physical, your emotional and your spiritual selves. The well-used analogy of a “‘three-legged stool” can be used as a visual image of what happens when one or two legs of your physical-emotional-spiritual selves are not in balance, or maybe not even present. Many people usually give their physical self the majority of attention and the emotional self receives a very small minority of attention. Leaving, more often than not, the spiritual self totally abandoned and without any intentional nurturing.

As this triad of total holistic health becomes more balanced, each leg’s strength or sphere of influence begins to overlap the others. The greater the overlap, the stronger the triad and a person’s resilience to crisis and daily cumulative stress. 

For the remainder of this discussion, let’s assume your physical self is well established and is the strongest leg of the “three-legged stool” of holistic wellness.

Emotional Health is internally managed and directed. This area involves your ability to process and work through experiences and stress. Your emotional health also refers to your ability to recover (your level of resiliency) from draining and overwhelming experiences in order to be able to respond to stressful situations later in a more appropriate manner. Emotional health is your ability to handle emotional baggage that you pick up while doing your job and living life. When you don’t possess good emotional health, you are more apt to become trapped, helplessly, in dark emotional states. Developing good positive ways to cope is crucial.

Employee Holistic Wellness

Spiritual Health is externally directed or influenced. This is your big picture perspective of life and how you connect to nature, the divine, crisis and even your own meaning and purpose. Spiritual health gives purpose to your human existence, while guiding and developing your character, morals, integrity and values of life. This area primarily involves how you interact with an external value system. Your spiritual and religious values shape your decision-making (ethics) and how you decide what ‘right or wrong’ to be.

Do you act and look at yourself and your work from an external perspective? It is from this external vantage point of higher, absolute values (may be religious or not) which shape your decisions of life, relationships, work integrity, and even the value or sanctity of life itself. Your spiritual health informs and guides the reasons and considerations that go into your daily decisions. People who state that they have a ‘calling’ to do certain type of work have a spiritual perspective for what they do. In fact, they realize that even if they made much more money doing a different job, they wouldn’t be truly happy not doing what they were divinely “called” to do for humanity.

Both emotional and spiritual stressors can create deep scars which, when not appropriately addressed, may even kill (through addictions and suicide). Both law enforcement and healthcare workers have a substantially higher risk for addictions and suicide. How is your emotional self? Your spiritual self?

If emotional health were the only consideration, then most first responders and healthcare providers would probably leave the field. Developing good emotional health is not enough for the fast-paced, cumulative stress. Your level of emotional health is how you react, manage and decide to cope (positively or negatively) to stress. You might be able to manage for a while, but eventually the stress will overwhelm you. In order to not become chronically overwhelmed, you must nurture your spirituality. Spiritual health is what inspires you and informs you of why you do what you do for others. The oft ignored spiritual component is the missing link to truly living life to the fullest.

It is when first responders (law enforcement/fire/ems) and healthcare providers go into their respected fields and develop a deep inner, spiritual connection to their job (and realize how they dramatically influence and impact society) that this spiritual awareness, energy, and inspiration keeps them healthy through a long career of helping others. But without good spiritual health, even when you have strong emotional coping strategies, you might easily burn-out and even consider harming yourself, others and even suicide. It is the spiritual component that generally is the weak area and serves as the tipping point in the three-legged stool analogy.

Just as physical health is of critical importance for you to do your job well, completing a healthy triad by developing and maintaining a good balance in your physical, emotional and spiritual health is of paramount importance. Don’t become a physical marvel who only possesses an empty, barren soul.  Become physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced.

Chaplain Keith


Kevin Gilmartin PhD, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, 2002.

Rabbi Carey Friedman, Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement, 2015.

Of Chaplains and Samaritans

(This is the manuscript of a recent message I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Casper, Wyoming)

I believe each of us present today were divinely meant to be here. And I also believe each of us possess a spirituality which allows us to connect to others, to meaning and purpose in life, to crisis situations, to nature, and even to the Sacred or Divine. Dr. Christina Puchalski is the medical director of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health. She has led large research and panel discussions on spirituality and its effect upon a person’s, (mine and yours) health and well being. Spirituality can be a difficult topic for many, yet so easy for others…but its definition to concisely and succinctly describe what this vast topic is, has been very difficult. Why? Because each of us will bring to the discussion our own cultural, as well as our faith, religious and theological perspectives to how we describe it. A few years ago, Dr. Puchalski and a large biomedical field of experts, finally agreed upon a definition that would lead their research and expand the perception and understanding of spirituality to the watching and eager world of healthcare. Their definition reads, (and maybe you will agree with it):

“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”

To me this definition states that spirituality is at the core, the very foundational level of every person’s existence. In my theological perspective, this is how God created life and is the foundational basis which causes each of us to innately search for meaning and purpose.

For me, this is where the journey begins to find ultimate meaning and worth—but through God. It is what allows me to connect to individuals of all walks and situations of life, as I simply respect and honor them as another created being from God. This is what helps guide me as a Chaplain and gives me the ability to be with people who many times are experiencing the worst possible moments of their lives. I’m not sure if I could work as a trauma chaplain if I did not have this connection and personal experience with my Lord.

As a hospital chaplain, I am around and observe the many medical specialties. As you might imagine, the medical pathology field is complex and highly important. But it allows a treating physician to discern what treatment approach may be the most appropriate and with the highest level of success for a patient. Yet for the patient, this requires some trust, it requires sacrifice and discomfort, because it almost always requires a tissue biopsy. Once a biopsy is taken from the human body, that tissue sample is taken to the pathology department and prepared. Often this complex preparation requires an instrument like a micro-dissector. The micro-dissector could be described as a double-edged, laser sharp, computer assisted photon energy knife which makes ultra-thin slices of the tissue. Anything thinner than a piece of paper seems radically precise to me. But often the thickness, or better word, thinness of the tissue sample is only a single cell layer. This is then placed under a microscope where a medical pathologist critically examines the cells and tissue and renders a diagnosis. In this context, it could be said that the success of modern medicine rests upon the ability of this precise micro-dissection to effectively slice and lay open the tissue in order for the physicians to assist in the proper healing and wellbeing of the patient. A large part of my well-being involves my spirituality, my psyche, and my emotions. What can serve as a micro-dissector for my soul? Your soul?

In the Ancient writings of scripture, there is a passage that states that the inspired, divine and most wise words of God are also like a micro-dissector for each of our souls. The passage infers that simply reading, hearing and listening to the active and living word of God can open up and lay bear our souls for the careful examination of Our Great Physician, the Jehovah Rapha. In doing so, the divine Great Physician can miraculously heal and transform us with unlimited peace, inner joy and well-being. This has been true for me. For me, God has not been a distant and non-caring God. For me, God has been very active, engaging and the ultimate enlightenment.  From the Book of Hebrews, the ancient words state,

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

It is from this perspective which I have had to learn, but also to willfully choose to filter all of my life. It has been said that the Word of god, the Holy Bible can be used in 3 different ways: 1) you can be above and superior to it, using God’s Word to complement your own worldview, 2) you can be beside it, using the ancient Scriptures as support your thoughts as appropriate, or 3) you can be below and reverently respectful to it allowing the passages and principles to guide you in life.

I have chosen #3. I confess. I do not fully understand the great mysteries of God. And I do not understand the fullness of God’s deity. But I have decided to choose to keep learning about God, but also to let God be God and to use His Word to filter my thoughts, desires, and viewpoints…so that I may be closer to that of my Creator.

An ancient story is often told about a traveler on a deserted and barren road. This traveler was walking the twenty or so miles, the twenty or so hard and difficult miles from one town to the next.  As the landscape of this story is normally described, it seems to me that it would be like spending the day walking through Hell’s Half Acre where the movie Starship Troopers was filmed.  Arid, craggy, unknowns behind every shadow and curve. As this man made his way along the road, he was eventually stopped and threatened by a gang of thugs at their proverbial “Hole in the Wall” hangout, and they robbed him of all his possessions which he was carrying with him. The gang then beat him to an inch of his life, punching him, kicking him, spitting on him, and left him for dead in a ditch. A few hours go by, the hot sun is beating down on him as he continued to lay there not moving. I can imagine the ancient listeners of this story much have been thinking “Has he died? Has he suffered traumatic head injury? If he is still alive, what will his outcome be? Will he have long term physical or even cognitive impairments from his injuries?”   Yet, the Man in the Ditch still laid there motionless.  

A well-known Priest walks by. He sees the unconscious fellow in the ditch – and without breaking stride or even checking on the man – kept walking by. Maybe this religious leader was late for a meeting or afraid to begin caring for him and not have time allotted to finish what he started? We do not know his true reasoning, we only know that the religious giant kept on walking.

An hour or so later, A second passer by approaches. This second individual is well-respected business man and a regular church attender. He even is a respected elder in his church fellowship. This gentleman sees the unconscious man in the ditch, walks over to him, stops and pokes him with his walking stick to see if the man’s even alive. The church man observes that the man in the ditch is at least breathing, but is in a dire physical condition. The church man cautiously looks around to see if he himself is in danger from attack and then decides to keep walking along the lonely and barren road, deciding to quickly leave the dangerous area and to get to his next appointment at well. Hmmm.  Why do you suspect he went on his way? Maybe the business man would contact a local agency to come give aid to the man in the ditch, bring him some clean clothes and spot of coffee?  We do not know why he left or why there wasn’t any follow-up to his partial concern.

The sun continues to beat down on the unconscious man in the ditch. If you’re like me, in my own mind, I believe I just heard a Western Movie’s theme song (whistle the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). A sage grouse sneaks by. Time passes. The shadows slide by. Tumbleweeds do what tumbleweeds so, they tumble by. And on the horizon a third passer is seen approaching.

Who do you think the next character in our story will be? Maybe you think it will be good ole’ average Joe-citizen? The people who originally heard this ancient story thought so. But it’s not. In fact, the third character approaching was their most vile, despicable enemy. Who would that be to you? Is it a terrorist? Is it an abusive family member or ex-spouse? Is it a business partner who has made poor decisions and led you to financial ruin? Is it a former religious leader who you have lost trust and faith in? Maybe it’s a fourth cousin to one of the Hatfields and McCoys which your family has longed had hatred against…so long ago that you’ve actually forgotten why you detest them so much!    For those who heard this story first, two thousand years ago, this third passer-by was an ethnically and racially mixed individual whose ancestors had defiled and desecrated their religious temples and most sacred or sacred objects. This third character represented everything evil the listeners could imagine. It was their most vile enemy that they would probably rather kill then to ever help out – .  As this person who the story calls a Samaritan sees the robbed, beaten, unconscious, helpless man in the ditch, the Samaritan stops. Gets down in to the ditch, renders first aid, cleanse his wounds and then places the man on his own horse or donkey that he had with him… and backtracks back to the town he came from and takes the wounded stranger to a local inn. The Samaritan couldn’t attend to all the wounded man’s needs, but he did arrange for his care, personally sacrificed and paid for several days and nights lodging as well as his hospitalization if need be and then personally stated that if more money was needed, that he would be back in a few days to settle any remaining expenses. This Samaritan showed compassion and empathy to a complete stranger in desperate need.

Did the Samaritan preach at the wounded man, scolding him to not travel alone on unfamiliar roads? No. Did the Samaritan leave a card of a rescue agency that the wounded man could go and get help? No. The Samaritan was neighborly and assisted the man to the fullest extent of his abilities and then arranged for other resources that he might need.

This ancient story was told by Jesus the Christ, as a responsive answer to a question by an expert in the Jewish law. It is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verses 25-37. The Jewish lawyer wanted to trick Jesus and had asked what he must do to have eternal life?

Jesus answered the sneaky lawyer’s question with a question. Jesus simply asked him what The Jewish Law stated. The Lawyer quoted the Jewish Shema, the foundational precept of their spiritual faith. From the Word of God in the Book of Deuteronomy, the lawyer expertly quotes “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” He even added another passage from the Torah, “And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus probably nodded, and affirmed him as being correct and then said, “Do this and you shall live.”

But the Jewish lawyer wanted to know actually what to DO rather than what to BE or BECOME. This is when the ancient story of The Good Samaritan was told. At the end of the story, Jesus asked the attorney who he thought was the best neighbor for the man in the ditch. The attorney replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

I’d like to believe Jesus also mean for him, for us to “Go and BE likewise”

This story is what I believe and what I hold dear as one of the theological precepts for what I do on a daily basis in chaplaincy ministry. Chaplaincy for me, is Being a neighbor to those in true need.  In this story, I have been every character. Maybe you see yourself as one or more as well?

I have been the busy Priest not wanting to stop and help.

I have been the curious but cautious church member and business man who really wasn’t quite willing to sacrifice or take on the responsibility and accountability of helping the man in the ditch.

I have probably also been the gang of thugs, who has robbed people of their joy, happiness or dreams due to my own selfishness or insensitivities.

But most of all, I’ve been the Man-in-the-Ditch. When I look back in my life, I see that I’ve been in great need of a Rescuer. I’ve been in great need of a Protector. I’ve been in great need of an Advocate. I’ve been in great need of a Caring Healer. I’ve been in great need of a true Peace Giver who can provide me with deep inner peace and inner well-being.

As being the Man-in-the Ditch, the Great Neighbor (point up) has rescued me from myself, the Great Neighbor has transformed me from the inside out out of my own selfishness to a possess a heart for others.

As being the Man-in-the-Ditch, the Great Neighbor has been a micro-dissector for my life. Through my scripture readings, my self-reflection, my meditations and prayer, God has been the ultimate spiritual micro-dissector helping me to identify and remove the ugly pathologies from my own life.

But as a Chaplain, I’m honored to serve as the third Passer-by and be that Neighbor in need to Others who have needs, To serve them in their emotional needs, as well as with their spiritual needs.

God was, is and will be my source for strength as I am drawn to people to assist.  As a chaplain I have been a front-row witness to glorious miracles and have personally experienced God’s presence and power in so many patient encounters. I have witnessed a catholic seminarian student essentially left for dead with skull fractures and brain fluid seeping out his ears, only to arise and speak to me without any deficits just 48 hours later, without surgery. I have witnessed the Breath of God come into a new born infant’s lungs and heart after an hour of no pulse. The power and presence of Our Almighty Creator should never be diminished or dismissed.  

Personally I do not believe we each can ever achieve and accomplish our own true self-awareness, humbleness and good neighborly qualities on our own without the intervening Hand of God. We each need an intervener, a spiritual micro-dissector, someone who can dispense a never ending amount of grace as well as a limitless level of internal peace that we have never felt before.

As a minister I hope that I never get calloused to the fact that I am privileged to represent the Divine. But everyone here can do this as well, through your own spirituality and through your growing faith in the Divine God who is our truly Great Neighbor and friend.

May God’s peace and love be felt within you,

Thank you.