Rabbi Lynn Liberman: "Holy Work"

"The joke in Minnesota is that any religion you're likely to run into will be Lutheran . . . But in my resident group, we have myself as a rabbi, we have a Baptist, we have a Presbyterian and a Buddhist monk. Not a Lutheran amongst us, which is always my tagline."
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

Rabbi Lynn Liberman

Rabbi Lynn Liberman, a former chaplain resident at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

At Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Rabbi Lynn Liberman was immediately recognizable in the sea of bright scrubs. Her ID badge identified her as a chaplain, and her white kippah embroidered with a blue Star of David was a marker of her Jewish faith. Rabbi Liberman was a chaplain resident at Abbott Northwestern Hospital from 2013 to 2014; her status as a resident meant that she had already completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), the intensive training required to become a hospital chaplain. As one of four residents, Rabbi Liberman's group was among the most diverse in history of Abbott Northwestern's CPE program. She discussed the importance of religious diversity in hospital chaplaincy, especially in Minnesota, and also reflected on the community of faith more generally.

This is a very interesting year, I don’t know if they've had a year of residents like we are, but the joke in Minnesota is that you're likely to run into, any religion you're likely to run into it will be Lutheran, because you've got so many here. But in my resident group, we have myself as a rabbi, we have a Baptist, we have a Presbyterian, and a Buddhist monk. And not a Lutheran amongst us, which is always my tagline. Even our supervisor is Presbyterian, so it's really a very diverse group and a very special group of people. We talk about often the fact that the vast number of people that any of us meet are not our religious tradition. Like there's no, very seldom are there, there's no Catholic amongst us and [there are] a lot of Catholics in the hospital. I think we're all trying to say that faith in the world is the important issue and we're people of faith. We bring our particularity but my particularity in any moment with a patient is not as relevant as what is their need in the moment. So what we talk about and the issues that we are concerned with, I think when we're meeting with patients, are the large issues of life. And most of the time even a patient will say, 'Gee, it just doesn't really matter that I call God "Jesus" and you call God "God." We're on the same path.'
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

Rabbi Liberman describes her work as "holy."

Show Transcription

From a Jewish point of view, I would say this comfortably, and even probably my colleagues as well, is that it's holy work. So it's really very, in that way, similar to being a clergy person in general. [baby noises and shushing] The amount of stuff that a clergy person—and I can speak from 20 years of that, or you know 19 years, well actually 20 years of congregational life—is there are so many things in the day that you kinda just wonder, 'Why am I doing this?' but then you sit back and you say, 'Because it's holy work.' Because you're touching a soul, you're reaching out to somebody who’s in distress or disorientation, in joy, in need of connection, and it all goes back to me being present to another.

In the context of her story, it might seem that Rabbi Liberman's work is best characterized as interfaith, or even non-religious. However, when asked why she chose to train as a hospital chaplain, Rabbi Liberman described her work as "holy."

From a Jewish point of view, I would say this comfortably, and even probably my colleagues [would say this] as well, is that [what we do as chaplains is] holy work. So it's really very similar in that way to being a clergy person in general. The amount of stuff that a clergy person . . . there are so many things in the day that you kinda just wonder, 'Why am I doing this?' but then you sit back and you say, 'Because it's holy work.' Because you're touching a soul, you're reaching out to somebody who's in distress or disorientation, in joy, or in need of connection, and it all goes back to me being present to another.
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

Rabbi Liberman further explained that at its core, the work of a chaplain is deeply religious because religion plays a crucial role in enabling her to face the challenges of working in a hospital and being present with patients in the most dire situations.

I have no doubt it's by virtue of faith that I have the capacity to stand in these moments. If I did not have confirmed belief in God, as I understand it and in the depths of my tradition, I would really be flat on my face in confronting and being present [for patients]. But that's [my faith], I don't necessarily give that over to anybody else. I think that the presence that I provide and support I can give over to somebody else. But it's not about saying you ought to be Jewish because then I could explain this to you. It's not about that at all.
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

Rabbi Liberman's faith is what calls her to care for patients, even those from very different faith traditions. By identifying her work as "holy," Rabbi Liberman suggested that caring for patients is not an entirely secular or interfaith act. Rather, such work is often inspired by religion.