50 Study. Obey. Teach.

Learning to go past medicine to spiritual care

Study. Obey. Teach.[1] Those are the three words Ezra, the Old Testament person, formed his life by. He studied the Law. He obeyed the Law. He taught the Law.

But what did he actually do? What did a commitment to the Law look like in practice?

To study is to learn a path, a way of thinking and acting. To obey is to put into practice what you have learned or have been told. To teach is to help others in learning and living that path.

So, for example, I’m a chaplain. But once I wasn’t. And when I started training, I was exposed to the things a chaplain does. Which made me aware of my fears and my inadequacies. I was taken through a training process. I studied a path. And I worked hard on the study.

  • I was told, “Here are the places we go.” And I got maps.
  • I was told, “Here are the things we do.” And I got standard operating procedures.
  • I was told, “Here are the forms we complete.” And I created samples to carry with me.
  • I was told, “Here are the roles.” And I listened closely to the ways that people in each role acted.

And then I put them into practice. First watching, then being watched, then doing.

My fears about some things pushed me toward creating my own lists and statements. Because I was afraid of forgetting the 23rd Psalm as I was standing by a deathbed, I put it on a form I carry around. Because some phone numbers are called more often than others, I put them on my form.

And then I shared my form with others who were starting.

But even as I was sharing what I had learned so far, I was building out my own knowledge. I asked a colleague about some of the heart emergencies we see. Post-arrest, aortic dissection. STEMI, AMI. I read more about advanced directives. And then I worked some of it into mental scripts.

I was moving from apprentice to journeyman.

The process highlights my own inadequacies which can be addressed.

For example, I mentioned hearts. Right after I started learning about the heart issues from my colleague, I was able to understand what was happening. I could listen when the doctor was explaining it to the family. And I could start to think about how to explain it better. But I realized quickly that I didn’t understand what was happening in their hearts–their emotional and spiritual core–as the doctor was talking.

How does the awareness that a family member is about to have surgery for an aortic dissection create its own separation between the layers of the heart and soul? How will that create separation between the loved ones who are here? How will the heart issue exacerbate the family fears and tensions? How will the history of heart issues, relational issues, be attacked, need resuscitation. And while the medical staff are doing compressions, what are the emergency procedures that I need to do?

Even as I am obeying and teaching, I am back to learning.


  1. Ezra 7:10.

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Before You Walk In Copyright © 2019 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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