News & Events

Cairns for the Journey: ESR Hosts "A Spirituality of Caring in the Midst of Suffering"

The month of February came to a close at ESR with an inspiring and spirit-filled day as we hosted the 10th annual Spirituality Gathering; A Spirituality of Caring in the midst of Suffering.”

A Celtic Christian theme provided the focus for gathering worship to start the day. Weaving together a fabric of sermon and poetic verse, Amy Gall Ritchie led participants in considering a life of prayer closely connected to creation, as well as to life’s joys and pains. She named "cairns" on the Celtic landscapes, those stones set in configurations as sacred symbols to others who might traverse those same spots years later. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Dominic Vachon, Director of Behavioral Medicine and Caring Science Training for St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, would serendipitously return to that theme in his reflection on the caregivers' need to find cairns of hope, inspiratio n, and meaning in the journey of supporting persons who are suffering.

Dr. Dominic Vachon delivers his keynote presentation to attendees

Bringing a living wisdom to his presentation, Dr. Vachon identified the beauty and difficulty of being present to someone who is suffering, challenges for a caregiver that can include compassion fatigue and ongoing grief. He shared stories from his own long-time ministry of offering care. He also pointed out how “care” has been overused in advertising, but the deeper meaning is profound. True caring is not only an intention, but also a set of attitudes and actions emanating from our concern for another. Among the many insights he offered, Dr. Vachon talked about the life of caring as a series of psychological and spiritual awakenings. He stressed the importance, too, of identifying a personal spirituality of caring, as well as deepening our awareness of the mutuality and divinely-led moments to be found in ministry.

Workshops on topics such as grief, forgiveness, living with cancer, dealing with secondary trauma, and contemplative practices for times of suffering enriched the day-long experience. Some participants also chose to walk a "healing labyrinth" as a spiritual practice, and a selection of related books was available for sale in ESR’s Resource Room. Conversations over lunch and time together in community engendered a feeling of hope that was palpable. Nearly 90 participants left encouraged for their own journey of care-giving in the midst of suffering.

-- Stephanie Ford