by Jérôme Grandet
translation Louise Thunin
Within the framework of laity, a spiritual counselor might take a path different from the present one, a path organized by different spiritualities. This is what the author, Jérôme Grandet, proposes. He is a « lay counselor » in the canton of Neuchâtel.
To limit the spiritual to the Christian faith alone, or to religion alone, would be, to my mind, an offense for some, insofar as it would mean that we do not recognize a spiritual dimension to every individual : what about atheists, agnostics, anti-theists and people of other religions ? Spirituality covers several major aspects, such as a balanced life, the meaning one assigns to events, psycho-social identity, and self-transcendence. Thus considered, spirituality is seen as a dimension of each human being and not only of believers. It takes into account the religion of the patient, if he has one, without the two necessarily being synonomous, thus allowing us to consider the usefulness of a bio-psycho-social, lay accompaniment. People who find transcendence in faith or in religion would thus be as highly considered as those who transcend themselves thanks to art, love, science or whatever else. By taking into account the spiritual part of every individual, the complexity of life is entirely respected and lets us best summon the inner resources of the person being accompanied.
Laity is often misunderstood. Certain believers, feeling threatened, perceive it wrongly as a pure and simple rejection of religion. But there is a subtle nuance : religion is relegated to the private life of each person, leaving, at the same time, a freedom of expression of each one’s faith, insofar as it respects the fundamental liberties of others. A secular state, defending each citizen impartially with regard to his inalienable rights, insures, at the same time, a diversity of beliefs and plurality within society. Thus, laity is an ode to fellowship. A spiritual conselor desirous of centering his attention on his patient can very well put a hold on his own spirituality in order to respond to the person in need of bieng heard and accompanied. If some declare that this is one compromise too many in the abandonment of Christian faith in a more and more secular society, I think, on the contrary, that it is tangible proof of love for one’s neighbor : giving up one’s own place in order to make room for the other person and for his or her emotions and needs.
Religions have no Monopoly on Spirituality
Moreover there’s this : such a model strongly engages and can be emulated. Spiritual accompaniment would no longer be reserved for religious institutions alone and the chaplains who represent them. Another institution might question the place of a chaplain and offer the competencies of one of its employees. This is exactly what is happening at present in the institution that employs me as a spiritual counselor. This new form of practice echoes the evolution of patient care, which recognizes more and more the benefits of attention to spirituality, coupled with the loss of influence that church institutions are presently experiencing (I make a difference between church instituions and Christian faith), with reference to the old model of accompaniment. In Switzerland, for example, 24 per cent of the population declared itself without any religion in 2016, compared to less than five per cent in 1970, when 90 per cent declared itself protestant or catholic. This is a paradigm change which must be taken into consideration both by state institutions, in their patient care plans, and by religious institutions, so that they may be pertinent in the mission they claim as theirs.
This opens the door to new forms of collaboration and, I hope, fertile ones between health professionals and religious representatives as well as to a new breath of life in the mission of Christian institutions.