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Chaplain facilitates intentional conversations

As a chaplain appreciating intentional conversations, the Rev. Kirk Ruehl of Kennewick recently convened a group of 14 people at the Lutheran Church of the Master in Pasco to engage in a seven-week curriculum, “Looking Back and Giving Forward.”

He co-led the sessions with the pastor, the Rev. Karen Bates-Olson.

Kirk Ruehl
Kirk Ruehl

“Stories remind us of the deep current of life that runs in our veins.   They tell us that we are more than we think we are, that the power of our lives lies in making choices and taking responsibility for them,” he said.  

He believes that telling stories helps people both “look back and give forward,” as the curriculum title says, sharing what is meaningful in the company of trusted friends and family. 

Kirk, a Presbyterian who attends Lord of Life Lutheran in Kennewick, said his years as a hospice chaplain have taught him the importance of helping people find meaning before they are in crisis.     

“People want some sense of a living legacy,” he said.  

“It need not be grand.   Not everyone can develop the polio vaccine, be the first African-American president, enact a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage or invent the disposable diaper,” he said.

“Some people want to reflect on their life’s work and close relationships to feel satisfied.  Some need to forgive or feel that they have been forgiven.  Most just need a place and a time to tell their story and what I call ‘the privilege to be heard,’ which isn’t all that common,” he explained.

Kirk finds that today’s information-flooded, 24-hour media culture doesn’t tend to validate quiet contemplation and introspection.  

“We are better at offering advice than simply listening, particularly to our elders,” he said.

In the setting of the seven-week program, he said participants became better acquainted and eventually felt safer to take risks to share stories that honored and accepted the contrasts in each person.

“We learned that at times each of us is awful and wonderful, good and bad, peculiar and ordinary,” Kirk said.  “We learned that sometimes we can start over and that at other times a mere shift in orientation can be enough.”

He finds the curriculum one of the many portals to a new way of seeing and living. 

“What matters in the end is not so much the information as the revelation of the self in freedom and safety,” he said.  “Hearing someone’s story is, of course, a way of honoring them.  It can be delightful for the listener as well.”

Kirk said participants found that stories help the head and heart intersect. 

“Our stories remind us that there is intelligence in life, a deeper pattern that carries us along with it,” he said. 

“For many of us, our stories are our legacy, the most meaningful part of what we leave,” he explained.  “As frightening as it might seem to reveal ourselves to others, we must ‘look back’ so we can ‘give forward.’

“Legacy is not just a matter of money or family heirlooms. It is about tasting the fruit and passing it on,” he said.

He seeks more venues for sharing these and other conversations with congregations or community groups, with believers or non-believers.

Recently certified as an advance care planning facilitator, Kirk also hopes that this kind of sharing “may open people to even more courageous sharing, so that family, physicians and hospitals can better respect people’s end-of-life wishes.

For information, call 572-8968. 

Copyright © May 2013 - The Fig Tree