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Nurturing Spirituality in a Challenging World

May 3, 2016

by Reverend Sharon Dunbar-Link, M. Div.

“Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the value of my life? What constitutes a life worth living?” Many of us have pondered these questions at some time in our lives.

These questions, which have a spiritual nature to them, may occur to us while we wander the beach or when we contemplate a rainy, moody day. But most often we’re prompted by life events to take a step back from our day-to-day existence and ask these questions. A diagnosis of a serious illness, a job layoff, loss of a relationship or the death of someone we care about can cause us to look for something to help us cope and find meaning in life. That’s when we draw upon our spiritual foundation. And if we don’t feel we have a spiritual foundation or spiritual resources available to us, we may feel there’s something missing in our lives and wonder how to find it.

As a hospice chaplain with Care Dimensions, I work with patients who have six months or less to live, if their disease runs its normal progression.  In the course of my work with patients, I’ve witnessed the indomitable nature of the human spirit. If we enter into our last days with the expectation that we can continue to learn and to grow, deep spiritual awakening and even healing can occur.  The blessings of tending to our spiritual selves as we are dying can be especially abundant and profound.

At the root of everything that chaplains do is helping people to explore their own spirituality.  Mostly we listen intently, ask questions and try to help people to find their own best answer.  In our presence we support patients through their fears, sorrows and successes and help to honor the loveliness that is in them.  Sometimes we teach people how to pray or meditate.

The chaplains at Care Dimensions come from many faith backgrounds. We counsel patients of all faiths and those who don’t follow a formal religious faith. We also work with an extensive network of colleagues from many different faiths, cultures and languages who are pleased to be called to meet the particular religious needs of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Roman Catholic patients. Spiritual care for those whose spirits find their greatest expression outside of religion is equally important. Many people cannot articulate their spiritual resources; others know exactly what feeds their spirits and how to engage and feed their own spirituality. 

What can help us discover or grow into a spiritual way of life?

Many times spirituality is discovered and developed within particular religious practices and traditions. People of a particular faith find their religious teachings, practices and beliefs give them a spiritual base for understanding the world around them. At the same time, religious traditions can create a community of individuals with a common understanding of the world, which helps them relate to one another. Yet for others, established traditions and rituals simply do not seem valuable or meaningful. They find spirituality in other ways.

One of the first steps to nurturing spirituality is allowing ourselves to ask questions and have patience in exploring our questions, rather than grasping immediately for answers. That’s how we open ourselves to deeper and wider truths and experiences.

Here are a few ideas that we talk about with patients, but that also might help you develop your own spirituality:

  • Use encounters with the natural world to observe and relate to the world in its most grand and minute forms. Gaze across a valley from a hilltop, examine the intricacies of a butterfly’s wing, listen to the tide enfold the rocks at the shore’s edge. They all help us feel connected to creation. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
  • Read the thoughts and ideas of wise people from a variety of traditions – poets, novelists, songwriters. They help us find words to express what we feel or wonder about.
  • Become comfortable with quiet and silence, be aware of your breathing or focus on a candle flame. Give yourself the opportunity to get to know your whole self--body, mind and spirit.
  • Make use of practices that integrate the body, mind and spirit, such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation.

The challenging world in which we live heightens the value of spirituality, giving us a context for understanding our experience. When we ask ourselves these questions – ‘Where have I come from and where am I going?’, we may be surprised that the answers can be discovered by each of us whether we consider ourselves to be experts or not. And, we may find ourselves feeling more fulfilled and connected within the world.

Reverend Sharon Dunbar-Link is a chaplain for Care Dimensions. For more information, visit



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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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