Authority

I have a subscription to The Sun magazine. (http://www.thesunmagazine.org/) It contains no advertisements and the stories and photography are wonderful. The magazine always contains a section called “Readers Write” where people submit a short writing about a certain topic. Often the stories affect me greatly and this month was no different. I’ve included one by Thom Kilts from the November issue below.

“Growing up in the projects, I saw two kinds of authority in the neighborhood. There was the authority of the gangs maintained through violence and intimidation. And there was the quiet authority of the monks at a little Tibetan Buddhist monastery down the street. The monks lived with the same poverty that I did and (I learned later) had witnessed more violence and experienced more injustice than I could dream of, but they had a stillness, a calm, an inner authority that told you not to mess with them.

Wanting the same authority for myself, I stayed out of gangs and became the first person in my family to attend college. I traveled to India, Nepal, and Tibet and was fortunate enough to have an audience with the Dalai Lama himself. After I returned to the States, I went to graduate school in Buddhist studies and then, through residency programs in clinical pastoral education (CPE), to becoming one of the first Buddhist CPE supervisors. Eventually I landed a job as director of spiritual care at a hospital,but I still felt as though I lacked true authority, the kind I’d seen in the monks in my neighborhood.

One day I began to have severe back trouble. It progressed until my entire body would give out and I was semi-paralyzed. There were times when I would vomit blood or lose the feeling in my feet. I might go from teaching a class to staring up at my students as they stood over me on the floor. I went in for surgery, but it didn’t help. I had to take prescription narcotics for the chronic pain and suffered the indignity of suspicious looks as I filled prescriptions for massive amounts of painkillers. All the while my condition continued to get worse.I descended into depression and hopelessness and was no longer able to work. I went on long-term disability and gave up my job. The insurance company turned my claim into a drawn-out lawsuit.

So here I am, just an unemployed sick person wondering how the bills will get paid, tasting the bitterness of poverty once again. My mind returns to those monks who lived down the street when I was a kid. They had an inner authority that shone through, a dignity that allowed them to face hardship with a smile. I wonder if I will ever find that source of authority myself.”

The issue of authority is a fairly large one in CPE. Chaplains learn about their own authority and what it means to have this authority as a minister. Although I haven’t lost as much as Kilts has, I could relate to his story. What kind of authority do I now have? I can no longer work as hard or remember things as I used to. I want to try and obtain “the inner authority that shone through” the monks as they did their work. This kind of inner authority only comes from above. As I wait this Advent, I will wait for this inner dignity that comes only from God.

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