Friday, September 16, 2005

The Fight

I think few would argue with me when I say that the job of a chaplain is not necessarily a physical job. Oh, sure we have our occasional display of superhumanity such as when my heart continues beating even after running a few miles trying to keep up with the much younger and obviously better fit soldiers that surround me. But overall, I think, being a chaplain is not unlike being an armchair when it comes to actual motion in the performance of the job. But that’s not to say it is an easy job. The difficulty of being a military chaplain during war comes not from the exertion of muscle and sinew, but from an altogether different kind of exercise. One that is unique to the chaplain, I believe. One that I have not seen explicitly addressed before.

In order to gain a clear understanding of the world of a chaplain you must understand that the chaplain is more than just a pastor in a pickle suit. The chaplain differs from the civilian clergyman in that he wears two primary hats; that of the pastor and spiritual guide and that of the staff officer and advisor to the commander. These two functions work in tandem with each other, the one making the other possible in a military setting. As a staff officer, the chaplain is part of the mission planning process. He speaks with and advises the commander, prior to most missions, of the moral, ethical, and religious aspects of a given mission. As a spiritual leader, the chaplain reaches out to those men and women who will actually be conducting the planned missions to offer them a spiritual foundation upon which to build their actions during the mission.

One of the things I do, and enjoy very much, is to muster with the soldiers as they gather in preparation of an evening of fighting, patrolling, flying, etc. In a word, I see them off. However, this is not the “seeing off” of the movies. This is not the mother, with her hair in a bun and her ankle length dust covered skirt standing on the wrap around porch waving her hanky as her boys head off to war. I’m not there as an observer. I’m not there as a bystander. I’m there as a participant. Instead of a weapon and body armor, I carry a small bottle of oil. As my soldiers prepare for their mission, without interfering with their activities, I walk around and pray for them and with them. It is something spectacular to see an American Soldier, armed to the gills with pistols and rifles and all manner of explosive accoutrements, covered head to toe with Kevlar, and watch him bow to pray as I dab oil on his forehead and pray the protection and blessing of God on his life and his mission. Then to hear that same battle hardened warrior, in a voice shaky from anticipation, adrenaline, and appreciation say, “Amen” and “Thank you, chaplain.” I then move from vehicle to vehicle, aircraft to aircraft, weapon system to weapon system, and like a cammie clad prophet of old, pray for the success of the mission and the safe return of the soldiers. The sounds of clinking armors and snorting horses can be heard as the entire entourage loads up and moves out to the objective, by air, by land, by foot. If you’ve never seen bravado or courage, you’re missing something. I see it before every mission.

Then comes the difficult part of being a chaplain in war. As the sounds of marching armies fades into the distance, the night closes in like a body bag and I’m left with the struggle that few others will ever experience. It is a fight with me and my theology. It is an individual free-for-all of the heart and soul. Alone in the dark, I hope and pray that my part was sufficient. I pray my life was what it needed to be for my prayers to be heard so that my boys would come home safely. Will someone die tonight because I didn’t pray hard enough, or long enough, or sincere enough? Did I use the right words or make the right motions? What in my life might cost someone theirs? This is the battle for the chaplain’s heart. It is an almost nightly occurrence. And I believe it could crush Atlas himself.

It is here, in the middle of questions and questioning, under the weight of the burden of lives not my own, that out of the darkness comes a single simple idea straight from the Throne of Grace. I did my part, now relax and let God do His. I’m the chaplain not the Lord. And until they return, I monitor the radio and continue to pray believing that God can do incredible things in the lives and spirits of my soldiers.

So I may not have the most difficult job, but it is a struggle nonetheless. I may not fight with my men, but I certainly fight for them. And we will continue to fight, physically and spiritually, until the struggle is ended, the war is won, and we can return home to the smiles of our families or the judgment of our God.

9 comments:

sparkles said...

Chaplain,

I had no idea of the staff-officer side of your job; I always thought chaplains were just pastors to the military, and didn't know that they did advising. I gained many new insights into your responsibilities and your experiences, and now I can appreciate your work much more.

Thank you and all the soldiers and staff for everything you are doing, and don't forget that we support you and are praying for you. As you noted in your post, the thing is to do your best and let God do the rest. God bless. :)

Papa Dave said...

An old church song says "He gives more strength as the burdon grows weary...and he gives and gives and gives again.

Steve Davis said...

Chaplain Brad Lewis,

You Sir are in my prayers and I thank God for every rememberance of you and your family. Stay strong my brother, rememeber that it is not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord!!
We love you man! Take care and God bless You Brad Lewis.
---Steve Davis

One Big Orange Trader said...

I am proud of you Brad Lewis. Before you were a chaplain, you were a my inspiration. You always will be. I Love You.

Some Soldier's Mom said...

I am overwhelmed by the weight of your job... a physician of the soul -- trying to keep it whole and well before the battle and trying to heal these souls after... Bless you, padre.

Jihadgene said...

Press on! Drive on! God bless you and your family! Satan's biggest weapon is discouragement....SCREW SATAN AND DRIVE ON!!!

Tink said...

Chaplain Lewis,

One of the most difficult lessons I had to learn during my husbands'deployment was that the only power that I had was the power to give it to God.

Thank you Sir for for the job that you do and the comfort you give.

Desultory Girl said...

Wow...What an incredible and powerful post! I'm in such awe.

Your description brought me right there; watching you pray and offer blessings in what must be an intense atmosphere. I can only imagine how stressful it is to be a Chaplain, but it is certainly a necessary role.

It's unfortunate that we struggle at times with such heavy hearts. I wish you peace within, Chaplain.

It's an honor to have read your account.

Chelle said...

Chaplain,

thank you for all that you do for our men and women. your prayers are most appreciated not only by the warriors themselves, but their spouses, and families as well. thank you for calling upon God on their behalf and safety. We will call upon Him for yours'.

God bless you and yours'.