THE HEART OF THINGS

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‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free, ’tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in that place just right, we will be in the valley of love and delight. (Quaker song)

‘The experience [death of the family goldfish] got me thinking about children and spirituality, and about how magically immediate their sense of soul is. Children know, instinctively, that every living thing is infused with the spirit of life.’ (Kathryn Holmquist, Irish Times, 4 November 2000)

The simplicity of children and of many older people with learning disabilities takes us straight to the heart of things. At a sombre or grand occasion, their stark questions can rock us back on our heels, wondering too: ‘Is Nanna really in that box?’ ‘What does he mean, “eat my body?”‘ ‘Why has the king got no clothes on?’ We often undervalue the innate spirituality of those whose directness can highlight the essence of things more clearly than elaborate or sophisticated expressions.

I hold two especially memorable images of liturgical occasions–the mimed Lord’s Prayer of a group of adults from Dunmore House in Dublin, and the chant of seminarians in a Mexican santuario. The mime was majestically simple and powerfully moving. The other was a sensuous feast of flowers, candle wax, swirling incense and voices swelling to the gilt Baroque ceiling. Human spirituality is expressed in a myriad of ways, some lavish and electric, some meditative and still. There is a continual challenge to find new ways to celebrate the human experience in meaningful rituals and symbols of all sorts.

Speaking with me about our proposed ‘current issue’, Claude Madec commented that pastoral care tries to pick up on those areas that may otherwise be missed in service programmes; like that old Heineken advertisement. The phrase ‘I’m here for you’ may cloy just a bit, but it sums up the essence of good pastoral care–a reliable, genuine listening presence. Pastoral team members in the St John of God Services carry the title companions on the journey’. With a glimmer of Latin, companion is about sharing bread. And the compañeros in the Westerns shared even more than their tortillas or hard-tack; they were real buddies as they thundered across the badlands! Vamonos, compañeros!

Not all of this issue is about pastoral care–or is it? Genetic counselling, sibling groups, reflective teaching–maybe it’s all part of the same picture as we try to meet the needs and expand the horizons of service users, carers and frontline staff.

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