This past week in my Clinical Pastoral Care didactic session I was introduced to Palliative Care by a compassionate chaplain who pours his heart and soul into supporting those whose end of life has a certain time frame. The definition we were working with is Quality of Life care: A collaborative effort to relieve the pain and suffering which results from serious illness and/or treatment. Palliative Care aligns the plan of care with the patient’s values and goals. Although I’ve only been exposed to the veneer of the type of care, it’s clear to me that knowing and acting upon one’s values and goals is clearly a central theme.
I was wondering what it would be like if people who are healthy started thinking about living a life that would relieve pain and suffering; their own and others. I hate to turn on the news and hear about the numerous killings, not to mention the patients I have been told I will encounter in the hospital.
I believe a value to hold close in life is abundance not scarcity. If there is assurance of sufficient food, money for daily needs, love and time, then there is no need for competition with others. Jesus tells us in the twelfth chapter of Luke:
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
If faith is at the heart of the values that lead us to relieving suffering and pain then it’s time to start drawing closer to God.
Of one thing I’m certain as I start Clinical Pastoral Education is that I am present to comfort the patient. It’s all about the patient. Not what I might think about how and why they are in the hospital or what their faith tradition might be; or whether or not they have a tradition. There is something quite freeing about not judging people or making assumptions and yet so very hard to do.
This reminder of how to live life is on the bookcase of the Clinical Pastoral Education library.
It brought to mind the self-reflective work I’ve been doing a round John 3:30, “He [God] must become greater; I must become less.” I notice the tension between more and less are great examples of how I can portray God’s love in my everyday life. It’s hard to remember these suggestions, because as with all things “God” we are asked to do the opposite of what comes naturally. I feel as though I should have these thoughts tattooed on the inside of my eyelids so I’m reminded of them every time I blink! So I’ve decided that I wander the halls of the hospital this summer this reminder will become my summer mantra as I share more of God and less of me.
Tomorrow (Monday) I will begin CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), hospital training to become a health care chaplain. People’s reactions to my journey have been interesting. Many have said, “This is exciting and sounds like a perfect fit for you!” While others believe they are supporting me sounding alarms about difficulties that lie ahead. One person said, “Be careful what you wish for!” Another, “I don’t know why you would want to do such depressing work!” I believe these less than positive statements reflect the author’s feelings about facing personal challenges and tragedies on a daily basis, rather than my ability to respond. I also remember the words of a dear friend who stated that after a summer of CPE her husband became a better person, more in tune with himself and his emotions. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing firsthand acts of healing, moments of courage and instances of delight in a hospital setting. I suspect I will encounter a wide spectrum of experiences during my internship; I will be challenged by life and I will tune into a cornucopia of my emotions.
In an email exchange with Father Michael Phalger, a Roman Catholic priest on the south side of Chicago, who works with those impacted by gun violence, I asked how he responses to these situations. He said, “I let the spirit guide me.” This advice is a perfect reminder as I start CPE the day after Pentecost that I don’t need to be in control or try to fix the conditions I will encounter. I just need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s response to each situation.
So my prayer for these summer months will be:
Come Holy Spirit and dwell in me as I journey with humanity in these twist and turns of life. Enter each room ahead of me and show me how to use the gifts you’ve given me for each hour. Fill the space with comfort for those who grieve, grace for those in despair and joy for new and renewed lives. I make this prayer in the name of the triune God, Amen.
There are times when my faith is not as strong than others, and I require spiritual encouragement. I’ve read through the scriptures and looked up a lot of prayers on line, and of course the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer for support. These prayers reveal God’s love for me and assurance of life in God’s Kingdom. To be honest, sometimes I feel like a princess (child of God) in the kingdom remembering whose I am and who I am; and other times like a foster child living in the kingdom but not adopted. I’m sure there are theologians that disagree with being a “princess,” but these are my thoughts and feelings.
While studying last semester I learned that the best way for me to remember something is to write it down. So in order to align my feelings with the reality of God’s love, I’ve decided I need to practice writing my own prayers that are inspired by other prayers, scripture and the Holy Spirit. As short as they may be, these prayers will remind me that I’m a full fledged member of the body of Christ, a child of the living God and yes, a princess in the kingdom. I’m clear that these prayers don’t need to be eloquent, just heartfelt.
O God, I come to you with shaking knees and a quivering faith about the uncertainties of life. Create in me a heart filled with the assurance of your love and renew a spirit of hope within me. Give me the peace and patience that surpasses all understanding as I seek your timing and direction for my life. Thank you for being a bottomless well from which I can take a sip or dive into, refreshing my strength for each journey.
I’m thrilled to have received so many announcements about young people completing high school and college; ready to take on life and new beginnings. There are four graduates in my family and I’m excited to attend at least one of the ceremonies. I’m encouraged about the years to come when I see young people embracing their present and eager to encounter the future.
The other day I was in the grocery store waiting in line at the deli counter with a man who was my senior and was walking on a cane. The server was slow so we had time to strike up a conversation. He commented on how he hadn’t expected to live to be seventy and what a chore it was to take care of himself. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me! If 50 is the new 30, then 70 is the new 50!” But I’ve learned to sparingly share my comments on life as people are sometimes not ready to receive my enthusiasm. So I simply listened to him, and when he said, “I’m sorry the server is spending so much time with my order and making you wait. But I’m hungry!” I responded, “Yes, I resemble that remark!” He laughed and invited me to have a good day.
It’s interesting to me that as we age we often forget that every day is a new beginning. One of the great things about not being so young is that we can stand on the history of our lives and hopefully some wisdom, as a foundation for engaging each day. We are aware of the wonders and challenges of nature and the joys and concerns shared with our fellow homo sapiens. And we know that we don’t know what lies ahead, and yet move forward with the knowledge that faith is an important aspect of living a full life. Somehow it’s easy to focus on the disappointments in life rather than the blessings. Unfortunately we often focus on what we didn’t do or don’t have as opposed to celebrating what we have done and possess.
A good friend of mine always says to me, “Remember what you know!” I know life is a sequence of unexpected twist and turns. I know God is always beside me through every challenge and rejoicing with me in every celebration. To quote a song, “You [God] are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you. Amen.” I choose to remember that God is my strength, that I’ve done a lot in life and I’m blessed with friends, family, an exciting future and good health.
Life just doesn’t get any better than that as I embrace the journey between the new definitions of age.
On the first day of my Introduction to Theology course the professor said we were all theologians and the purpose of the course was to raise up a life time of our embedded theologies to meet traditional theologies, and discover where the two found commonalities and where the two found tensions; this is called deliberative theology. So I compared the theology of the songs that formed me, What a friend we have in Jesus, Great is thy faithfulness, and All creatures of our God and King, with the doctrines of creation, the trinity and Christology – I found no contradictions. But I did find that I’m more conscious of theology occurring around me. For instance the holy scriptures reveal who God is; creator, redeemer, sustainer and most importantly, lover of all creation. God enjoys being in relationship with humans and non-humans alike.
I’ve been reflecting on God’s desire to be in relationship with all creation, humans and non-humans, this past week as I had the privilege of introducing my love for Lake Michigan and Chicago’s luscious landscapes; a sample of God’s masterpieces, to a cherished friend of 30+ years and her daughter. I was not only thrilled about seeing my friends but with sharing the sights and sounds of the city. When we visited the Art Institute and I gave serious thought as to how a sculptor can visualize what stone to remove in creating a statue out of a lump of marble (humm, God created humankind out of a lump of clay); heard high school students participating in the Ravina Jazz Mentoring program raising the roof with performances of works by Thelonious Monk and Miles Davies (I believe King David played a harp); meandered through the Lincoln Park Zoo and watched the animals bathe in the warmth of the spring sun as did we; strolled through the Lincoln Park botanical gardens and learned there are between 25 – 30,000 species of orchards (sounds like the Garden of Eden to me); and experienced the shimmer of Disney in the Broadway show Aladdin.
Just as God seeks to be in relationship with all creation, so I now too seek to breathe in the fragrance of fresh mown grass of the garden, let my eyes dance across a Monet painting, feel the texture of fledgling jazz, and let my imagination flow in a Broadway show. I find that being in relationship with all creation is bringing me into a fuller understanding of who I am as a creature made in God’s image.
Studying theology has added an exclamation point to my experience of life! I encourage you to find your own punctuation.
Chicago is a city whose national press and lead stories on the local nightly news is mostly negative. Yes, Chi-town has a serious problem with gun violence, however per capita Chicago comes in seventh behind St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Newark and Memphis.* But our highly publicized status sometime overwhelms the greatness of this city. Let me tell you about the Chicagoland I’m learning to love.
Last week I finished my final paper for the semester, and before I embark on a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education, I’m taking time to drink in this magnificent metropolis. I’ve witnessed its uniqueness through: the hallmark of the spring transitioning to summer, the opening of the Buckingham Fountain triumphantly cascading tons of water (even though the temperature is still in the 60’s) and providing fabulous photo ops for brides and grooms; followed by the most colorful harbinger of springtime, the annual Kite Festival which I am blessed to view through my living room window; an amazing jazz concert at Symphony Hall with the violinist Regina Carter (if you aren’t familiar with her, here’s a taste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nXruQXWx50); concluding Sunday night with a fundraiser at the architecturally renowned Chicago Cultural Center (see picture of the dome below) for the Bishop Anderson House fundraiser (an affiliate of the Episcopal Church and Rush Hospital) whose purpose it is to promote the work of chaplains. The honorees at the gala were two amazing women serving at Cook County’s Stroger Hospital, Dr. Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon and burn specialist and the Rev. Carol Reese, an Episcopal priest and Clinical Social Worker. These two women have brought together on a daily basis the trauma of the body and the soul to carry out “The Art of Healing,” the theme for the evening.
Chicago like any great city has its challenges as well as its glorious moments. I’m learning to drink in its shining moments and work with others to address its wounds in the hope of participating in “The Art of Healing” this great city.
Visit this amazing city – hold us in your hearts and prayers.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of witnessing the ordination and consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, 111th bishop of the Episcopal Church, first black female diocesan bishop, and first female bishop to succeed a female bishop. I’ve witnessed many consecrations, three which were met with descending voices. But this beloved friend was welcomed only with joy, hope and enthusiasm for the ministry to which she has been called. But I must admit I found myself in an unusual spiritual state as I worshiped through the music, the prayers and the solemnity of the service. I wasn’t sure if the feeling was because this was a dear friend or because I’ve been recently introduced to theology. I couldn’t quite articulate the it until the sermon started and the preacher named it; I was witnessing a sacrament.
The preacher, the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Lee, Bishop of Chicago, asked us to verbally recall the definition of a sacrament from the catechism of the Episcopal Church. He explained that ordination/consecration of a bishop is a sacrament and since confirmation was many years in the past for most of the congregation, he guided us as we recited, “A sacrament is an outward sign, of an inward and spiritual grace.” I was asked the same question on my Introduction to Theology final exam. I used the Augustine response (the same result), “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” I looked deeper into the meaning of “grace.” The Greek translation is, “a mystery.” The Book of Common Prayer states, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and underserved.” I say, “Grace is God’s unconditional, undeserving and unearned love for us.”
The consecration occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit. And as the choir beckoned the Spirit by chatting, Veni Santcte Spiritus (come Holy Spirit), beginning with the bass voices leaving a path for the tenors, altos and sopranos to follow, I was overwhelmed. The attending bishops gathered around and laid their hands on her in apostolic session (uninterrupted passing of authority traced back two thousand years to Christ laying hands on the disciples) consecrating her a bishop. The room was filled with this mysterious unmerited love. I was witness to and spiritually aware of God’s grace in action.
I encourage you to open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit for the mysterious occurrences of “grace” in your life.
If you’ve followed my blog over the past couple of weeks then you know I’ve had a few recent disappointments. And while working though them one of my “prayer warriors” helped me articulate my place in the gospel story; I’ve been sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane. She reminded me there was a place for my discouragement by referring me to the most telling lyric from the song “Gethsemane” from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, “I’m not as sure as when we started.” Listen to Jesus’ lament. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=youtube+tim+neally+gethsemane It’s great to have friends to show you where you stand alongside Jesus.
This past week was the last meeting of my theology class. I have to say I was amazed that I enjoyed studying how our Christian doctrines and thinking have evolved through the centuries. It was not just the subject matter but how it was presented by a young enthusiastic professor at Loyola, Peter Jones. A small example of the depth of my professor was his last lecture on “hope.” He asked us to list adjectives which defined “hope” and then adjectives that described “hopelessness.” The “hopelessness” list was much longer, revealing our collective familiarity. At the end of his lecture I left the session with two of his thoughts: 1) “Always follow your hope.” 2) When you feel down, find a friend and feed on their hope.” Wow, I really needed to hear those words. God sent my “prayer warrior” to share the lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar, and let me feed on her hope.
This is why Christian community is important. “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and sings it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.”
The Lord has risen indeed; Alleluia!
This year I felt as though I really lived Holy Week and not just memorialized it. Several disappointments, followed a friend receiving an unexpected diagnosis and numerous choir rehearsals for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and of course the Day of Resurrection, have left me exhausted. Not to mention four papers to write for school. But it’s a good kind of exhaustion because I know what Jesus endured was infinitely more taxing, and my week was only a glimmer of what Jesus suffered. But then this life is only a glimmer of the life to come.
I’ve done a lot of reflection about God’s gift of love, compassion and grace to us in the person of Jesus and his death and resurrection. I certainly don’t understand it all, nor will I ever wrap my mind around God. And I’m not sure I can articulate what is developing in my soul, but the feeling is complete peace, followed by utter exhaustion. Everything about Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. It takes a lot of energy to ‘love my neighbor as myself,’ be a ‘Good Samaritan,’ or ‘seek the Kingdom of God.’ It’s not easy to constantly push against the status quo. But then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
My theology class has introduced me to theological reflection which has taken me to a deeper understanding of my embedded faith. So I’m not only trying to live as a Christian, but also reflect, read and write about it on a daily basis. As we would say in the Episcopal Church, we “learn, mark and inwardly digest” the scriptures.
It’s a good kind of exhaustion. Have a blessed Eastertide.