It’s rare I come across a Chaplain who appears to understand Chaplaincy. Karen Kaplan’s new book, Encountering the Edge, is a welcome breath of fresh air and a genuine pleasure to read.
After my own quarter-century as an Interfaith Chaplain it’s a relief to discover this little book sprinkled with honest, practical and playful stories of real people near the end of life. Rabbi Karen reveals a reasonable, sensitive intent in her role as a story-listener and a story-teller. Faith or no faith, we are brought up close and personal to life issues we all will eventually face.
Karen gives me hope that the wilderness of Chaplaincy has not been completely clearcut and paved over by missionary preachers (the “faux chaplains” as she calls them) with their cheap and often cruel message of self-serving sectarian salvation. I find her “protest” at the shameless “promotion of religion. . .when people are hurting” indicative not only of a caring protectiveness but of an essential wisdom gained from seven years among Hospice patients. The writer engages precisely what lies at the heart of relevant Chaplaincy, as I see it: a profound practice of a listening presence with no particular agenda but to “be of service”; a willingness to adapt and grow in serious times of crisis; lightening up the mood in the midst of the natural process of death and people’s diverse beliefs of the afterlife, all with humility, humanness, humor and music (for nearly 25 years I found music could create inclusive circles just about anywhere).
Karen’s openness and even encouragement to ask the most difficult (often un-answerable) questions while sharing vulnerability was simple and simply stunning. That a small book relating to death and dying could be so life-affirming without the usual platitudes of shallow spirituality is remarkable.
There is little in this book that disturbs my reason as a non-theist. If anything this could well serve to encourage (alongside my own book, My Address is a River) new models of cooperative, collaborative Chaplaincies across all imagined boundaries between “sacreds and seculars.”
In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend Encountering the Edge.
The next time I teach a Master’s course on Chaplaincy I will definitely include this book as a required text.