Member Reflection

Written by Cynthia Gainer

Filed under: News

This past summer, I entered the doors of the VA Healthcare System in Pittsburgh as a chaplain intern. I had some idea that a chaplain provides a listening ear, hospitality, and prayer. I was curious about what more I had to offer or learn in addition to some of the therapeutic interventions that I had known.  I found CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) to be an intensely rich experience that expanded my understanding.  I recall an encounter when I held a cell phone for a veteran to hear a song that he enjoyed. He was unable to have a conversation but could respond to questions with a yes or no. I was not aware that this simple act carried an emotional punch for me. When the song began to play, the music and the lyrics took me immediately back to a time when I would do this same action for a loved one in the later stages of a terminal disease. I immediately felt a surge of overwhelming sadness and struggled to keep the tears at bay. In the space where there was no verbal exchange, I became aware that this was more than a song being played. The veteran’s loss at his inability to speak or move by any conventional means touched upon my own loss. The moment fueled by shared grief directed my actions to do more than chaplain hospitality. I was moved to listen deeper to the inner workings of the heart. The ordinary moment was as powerful as a reading of formal prayer. I learned that chaplaincy is not just a provision or therapeutic intervention. It is the full expression of myself through my past events which inform the present and wholly engage with another.

Cynthia Gainer is a Postulant for the Diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. She is a Eucharistic minister and the director of the Sunday School program at her parish, The Church of the Advent in Jeannette, PA.