Candle in the Window
By Marie Doty
This Edition: Pat O'Laughlin, Prayer Chaplain
“The thing is,” Pat O’Laughlin begins, “I grew up Catholic. My idea of prayer was begging God for favors. So when I first came here, there were some things I liked about Unity of Madison.
“However, when it came to prayer, I thought it pretty dumb to still be asking God as though He were a big dumb kid with a magic wand who needed to be told where to point it.”
He pauses a moment before continuing. “I had some interaction with Carrie Cameron, a prayer chaplain, about social justice. Then I got her aside to ask why she was a prayer chaplain, and I also asked if it wasn’t pretty dumb to be begging God for favors.”
“Carrie replied that the Unity view of prayer was more about changing ourselves rather than changing God. She said it was more about our willingness to be aligned with God.”
Pat now says reflectively, “It gave me a whole different perspective on God than I had when I was growing up Catholic.”
During this period he also met and grew to like several other prayer chaplains. “This seemed like a way of getting to know these people deeper.” Pat joined the Prayer Chaplain Ministry.
He grins now, shaking his head. “So one of the people I was most attracted to dropped out before the training was over. Another chaplain didn’t make it through my first year – but, by that time, I realized it wasn’t about personalities. I really felt blessed by the whole circle of chaplains and the chance to serve the church community – to pause and align ourselves with trusting life. That’s powerful.”
Pat’s initial challenge was in getting past the fact that the individuals he had liked and admired were leaving the group of chaplains. “However, I began to realize how rich the entire experience was without needing those personalities. Those remaining all seemed to be a dynamic people who are really living their faith.”
His second challenge is an ongoing one. “Each chaplain has a list of people to call every month. One of the people I call is in a nursing home. As their health is failing, my ability to understand what they are saying is slipping month by month. My challenge is remembering that being present with this person is what is important – not making out every word.
“Great Spirit knows what we need. The words aren’t that important. It’s aligning ourselves with the Great Divine.”
Pat adds that there are personal benefits in being a chaplain. “The monthly meetings and yearly trainings are a great source of brother/sisterhood among the chaplains who love and care about each other and who support each other in our spiritual growth.
“It’s also an incredible privilege to share in the joys and sorrow of the congregants that I pray with. If I ever doubt whether I’m making a difference in the world, I just remember the feedback I’ve received from time to time – that my prayers have really helped someone. That’s hugely rewarding.”
Pat is quiet a moment, reflecting, “It has been learning that being in the present moment in life is a blessing – even when it takes twists and turns I didn’t see coming and would never have asked for. I guess, in short it’s just being grateful for being alive.
“My vision of what prayer is now? When two people pray together, it’s a way to share our own intention to be aligned with God. In a world where it seems so many people are making themselves busy with things that aren’t really important, praying together is a great way to affirm what is important – and to make our lives matter to each other.”