Sundance 2023 – A Still Small Voice

?I have no idea where my prayers are going.?

We enter the world of hospital chaplaincy in A Still Small Voice, a documentary by Luke Lorentzen. Lorentzen was recognized at the Sundance Film Festival with the Directing Award in US Documentary.

Mati Engle is in a one year residency with the Department of Spiritual Care at Mount Sinai Hospital. We watch as she deals with patients, staff, and her cohort in the program. She and her supervisor, Rev. David Fleener, discuss her work and the difficulties she faces with workload.

The film takes us into very intimate and vulnerable situations (with permission of all involved). Mati talks to patients about serious spiritual and life issues. Doctors may not talk about these things. Perhaps they are too personal even for family. But as a chaplain, she is available for whatever issues arise. (She even baptizes a child who died at birth so her family can find some comfort?even though Mati is Jewish.)

A still from A Still Small Voice by Luke Lorentzen, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The film isn?t so much focused on chaplaincy per se as it is on Mati and the strain of the residency. Her supervisor often challenges her about her boundaries and her feeling of being depleted. It is also interesting to listen in on the supervisor?s own struggles with his role when he talks to his own overseer.

It is interesting that there is very little overtly religious or spiritual content to the film, but it is still infused with a spiritual element. That is the nature of chaplaincy and perhaps ministry in general?the most spiritual things are often found in everyday life.

We don?t really hear how those involved in the residency are fulfilling their own spiritual needs?which leads to the quotation at the top of this post. And we see how this work and the demands are especially emotional and spiritual.

As clergy, I wasn?t surprised by how consuming and draining such work can be. Self-care and burnout are topics that many clergy ignore to the detriment of themselves, their families, and their ministries. The concept of self-care is built into the residency program, but often it is hard for those involved to balance self and work.

A Still Small Voice will certainly resonate with those involved in the spiritual care of those who are suffering. It should also give people insight into the lives and struggle such spiritual care givers face?often silently.

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