A Personal Prayer of Hope

Hope for understanding of the love that exists in all relationships with others that I might better understand God’s love for everyone and everything. Hope that “Understanding” will enter my heart to clear the way for me to be more loving and therefore Christ like. Hope that “Understanding” will make me a better servant, counselor and friend. Hope for “Understanding” that will enlighten me to all the knowledge resident in the Scriptures that it is God’s desire that I comprehend.
David R.
Education for Ministry
May 27, 2014

“Be careful what you pray for!” This prayer was offered to my Education for Ministry (EfM) class in May as we finished our second year of study. God, as usual, is answering my prayers in ways I never expected, though in retrospect, I should have anticipated.
God is “Love” and therefore God does love everyone and everything. Understanding how God manifests Himself in relationships is sometimes difficult when I try to analyze that concept and justify my behavior or that of others. Thinking it through can be dangerous for me as I can probably justify almost anything if I think about it long enough. The change in attitude begins when I look into my heart and begin to feel what is right, continues as I share my feelings with those I am in relationship with and then directs how I act on those feelings in a loving and caring way.
“The Hope that ‘Understanding’ will enter my heart to clear the way for me to be more loving and therefore Christ like.” “Clearing the way” has interesting implications in the search for feelings. In order to make room for the understanding of God’s intentions for me, I must search for the defects and shortcomings that reside in my heart and drive “poor” behavior. Driven by fear, anxiety and misdirected innate energies there may be little room for Christ like approaches. I must work hard at replacing the defects with clearly defined positive behaviors that fill the void.
In the quest to become a better servant, counselor and friend, following the Christ like path, I must incorporate the positive behaviors which were undefined above. If I have been dishonest in any of my interaction with others is the new behavior defined as – I will no longer be dishonest? I don’t think it is that easy as I must take on a behavior that reflects honesty. A subtle difference but very important! To make the decision to live honestly implies a complete shift in behavior including a careful review of how I perceive and treat myself. It evolves to this, “I will live truthfully, respecting the needs of others and open to listening to my own needs.” Heavy, yes, but an important step in the process of defining my newly adapted behaviors. In prayer and meditation we can be open to God’s call to listen to His message and attempt to take the steps to become the person He calls us to become.

Defining the new action plan, including behaviors to replace all old defects of character and shortcomings, is a huge challenge but undertaken with God’s help, the rewards are life changing. This “Understanding” of how change will impact my relationship with God and those surrounding me leads to being a true servant, counselor and friend.
The “Understanding” that will enlighten me to knowledge resident in the Scriptures must be sewn into the new behaviors which include God in their development. Study of scripture opens the channel for me to define new behaviors that Christ laid out as the “right path” for us to follow. Following Him results in guiding all relationships within the covenant of “loving our neighbors as ourselves”.
Each day then becomes an opportunity to fulfill the hope that I expressed in prayer at the beginning of my summer. Working with those who are sick or in pain, confused or lost has lead to a deeper connection to the Love that is at the core of faith. That is what I asked for but didn’t realize it and now, in the middle of the journey, the Holy Spirit leads me to greater understanding!
11 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:11-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Spirit Awakened!

“Do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” Mark 11b

What if our mission is to be present to awaken the Spirit in those around us, through prayer, listening and through our actions? What if it is truly God’s wish not that we “introduce” folks to the Holy Spirit, but to arouse the love and joy that resides within them that is their connection with the ever present Holy Spirit?
In my work both as a Hospital Chaplain’s Assistant and as a Spiritual Care Counselor in a Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center it has become very apparent to me that my initial perception of the personal objective in my pastoral care work was a bit off. It was never my understanding that the chaplaincy work would mean evangelizing and I certainly knew that in twelve step work that would not work. This revelation has been the opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit coming alive in the interaction between two “strangers” who in many cases are of different denominations or faiths. Join me as I explore how all this became apparent to one faithful servant in his ministry.
It was mid-morning and I entered Cindy’s room to introduce myself to a young woman who had been admitted over night. I have gotten into the habit of wearing a tie and a dress shirt which to some patients may distinguish me from medical personnel who primarily are dressed in scrubs, many with or without white jackets or doctors in street clothes with starched white coats. My attire often inspires somewhat of a quizzical expression by the patient or family member but as soon as I identify as being from the chaplain’s office I elicit either the smile, the look of fear or indifference. On this particular morning, in Cindy’s case the response was a smile, though hesitant and her significant other who had already started to leave the room continued on his assigned task. As would be typical under these circumstances I engaged in light chatter, welcoming Cindy to the hospital and a polite inquiry into her current faith preferences.
Without hesitation Cindy volunteered that she had grown up in a Baptist family but … really hadn’t been to church in some time. (An all too common response these days, unfortunately.) I assured her that was not a concern and we chatted for another couple of minutes. I then asked if she would like to enter into prayer and as I saw her male friend approaching asked if we should wait for him. Cindy suggested that he would have no interest and asked that I proceed. I offered my hand which she energetically reached for and then opened with a moment of quiet to center and then spent about two or three minutes in spontaneous prayer. I have a strong sense that the Holy Spirit will guide me in selecting the words our patients need to hear and therefore have grown fairly comfortable using spontaneous prayer at the bed side. As I finished up my offering I opened my eyes and realized that Cindy was in tears – tears of joy and acknowledgement not tears of pain. The Holy Spirit had stirred within her and she felt the Presence once again, after a period of losing awareness of His presence. “Just what the doctor ordered!” Cindy was smiling as she thanked me for our visit and expressed eternal gratitude for the prayers.
I wish I could share that this occurs with every visit but, of course it does not! The good news is that it does happen frequently and when it does it is very uplifting and encouraging for the Chaplain and the patient. When the Holy Spirit is awakened the result is evidenced by smiles, tears and in several cases additional prayers for the Chaplain’s assistant, heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving. Witnessing someone respond to the awakening of the presence within that is our source of healing and hope awakens the Spirit within us and then becomes an outward sign of His presence.
As I consider the purpose of my work as a Chaplain’s assistant my initial sense of carrying in the Holy Spirit is replaced by the strong feeling of first acknowledging His presence with me and then allowing Him to control my prayer and actions. It is then in the relational interaction between the patient and me that the awakening occurs for both of us. The mystery of faith reinforced as a mutual, unspoken feeling of His presence.
I find it difficult to write about these phenomena and the mystery of faith at work. Writing about feelings is tough enough but then to attempt to reflect on a Holy Presence is very challenging. I recently came across this quote which alerted me to the fact that I am not alone in this dilemma;
“We shall describe conditions of the soul that words can only hint at. We shall have to use logic to try to corner perspectives that laugh at our attempt.” Huston Smith

The journey continues and the door is opened to many more prayers and group grief work and I continue to ask if I am worthy and prepared. I am however encouraged on by words from Mark 11, though under somewhat different circumstances – motivating, “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

EOL Takes on New Meaning!

 

It is a busy week and I am trying unsuccessfully to control not only my part but how others interact with me. As I planned the remainder of my day on Wednesday at noon I received a text that alerted me to an “End of Life” situation that I would be asked to address when I arrived at my second “job”. Life support was to be removed late morning and I was asked to visit with the family as soon as practical. Confident that I would find a peer, Chaplain’s assistant, I entered the hospital confident that I would receive counsel when I arrived at the Chaplain’s office. Chaplain Craig was on vacation and as it turned out, I was it! Armed with the strong belief that God never gives us anything we can’t handle together I headed out into the miles of corridors that make up Eisenhower Medical Center.

Not far from our office and halfway to the chapel I was met by the Director of Volunteer Services and a volunteer who was clearly distressed. Thankful to have caught me they explained that there was a family in the chapel who were in a great deal of distress over the anticipated loss of a member of their family. Well, that’s convenient I thought, it saves me from a visit to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). ( I usually stop at the chapel on my way out to the floors to enter into prayer for all those in the hospital and especially for those whom I will meet on that particular day.) As I entered the chapel it was clear that the two adults were the most traumatized, one in tears is Hispanic and trying to comfort the second young female who is very distressed, wailing and also trying to comfort an infant in a portable car seat. There were two young children, clearly members of the family who were entertaining themselves on an I Pad or similar device. It became rather clear that all I could do was to pray for this family and their loved one as they were incapable of entering into prayer with me. God understands!

It was going to be a difficult day.

I then ventured out doing my best to be confident the Holy Spirit would help me through whatever He had in mind for the remainder of my visits. After visiting with several patients with varying faith backgrounds and somewhat up lifted by relative acceptance for the most part I arrived at the ICU and realized I should stop by to see how the “End of Life” (EOL) patient was faring. The nurse in ICU greeted me and expressed appreciation for the fact that I had come by and after a brief pass down it became apparent there were actually two EOL patients in ICU. The original patient that I had received a request to see was still awaiting my visit or at least his family was waiting patiently. Life support had been discontinued and death was imminent according to the nurse who also asked that I gown up and take precautions as the patient was in limited isolation.

I entered the patient’s room and immediately put on gown and gloves. (It is so hard to feel the power of personal contact when those gloves interfere.) I introduced myself to the family and expressed my condolences for the situation. We chatted briefly and the wife identified as being Baptist along with her husband and their daughter was Methodist. I offered prayer and they immediately offered me their gloved hands as we entered into silence and then spontaneous prayer as the Spirit moved me. I felt blessed to be allowed to be with them at that moment and to pray and they were clearly appreciative. We concluded our prayers and I excused myself to leave them for their vigil.

As I exited ICU I suddenly realized that in my anxiety over the situation I had lost an important opportunity during prayer. I had prayed for the patient, the family, the doctors and nurses. I had asked God to prepare a place for the patient … but I never prayed with the patient! Initially I was devastated that I had not really engaged the patient in prayer. Yes, he was comatose but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t hear or feel our prayers, spoken and silent! The Holy Spirit was right there and lifted me up to realize I had just learned a very important Pastoral Lesson – one I shall never forget.

In later consultation with the Chaplain he recommended always taking a prayer book of some kind along as a guide especially for those “special” opportunities. Using a liturgy that has been well thought through in advance will make the experience much more Pastoral directed. Spontaneous prayer can be used to supplement whatever accepted liturgy we may use. I now carry Ministry with the Sick (Church Publishing Incorporated) with me all day to be prepared. It is a great resource for those who visit the sick in any capacity.

This work is so fulfilling and uplifting and yet I am still only a rookie at being a Chaplain’s Assistant. I have never failed to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit at some point(s) during my days at the hospital. What a marvelous gift – even at a bedside in an End of Life ( as we know it ) situation!

Weary feet from delivering The Spirit

The desert winds blew hard, unfurling the huge flag at the entrance to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage and as I walked through the main entrance for the first time on Wednesday, May 14th with my new badge identifying me as “Chaplain’s Assistant” I was struck immediately by the sense of anxiety surrounding a new challenge that was heightened by the size and reputation of this particular institution. Not only does it bear the name of an important American hero and president, it has also served many famous individuals. The anxiety over the undertaking as a volunteer Chaplain’s Assistant was real and fed in part by the fear of meeting many folks for the first time who already dedicate many hours to serving as spiritual “messengers” to those who are in pain and going through a difficult time. This was brought home when the Director of the Volunteers informed a group of new folks that they were joining a hospital volunteer corps that had served over five million hours since the hospital opened in 1971.

Eisenhower Medical Center is a large and daunting facility with over 475 beds with a well-regarded Emergency Department, separate cancer treatment facility and medical offices located on the same campus. It is the stated objective of the Chaplaincy Services Department that every patient will be visited at least once by a member of our volunteer staff to affirm religious affiliation, if any, and attempt to determine the spiritual needs of those patients. There are about 12 volunteers working out of the Chaplain’s office during the Monday to Friday weekday visitation schedule. The Chaplain is Fr. Donald Craig, a Roman Catholic priest with excellent pastoral care skills and a determination to maintain a highly regarded Chaplaincy Department.

Anxiety and the resultant fear I was soon to learn were unfounded. Meetings with the chaplain and over eight hours of bedside visits with other chaplain’s assistants gave me a sense of confidence that the ministry of pastoral care, though challenging, is simple as long as we invite the Holy Spirit into the process. As a diaconal postulant should I find this all that surprising? Absolutely not, but occasionally I still allow anxiety surrounding the unknown to open the door to the fear that becomes a challenge to my faith.

Two particular thoughts come to mind after over 30 hours of visiting with patients and sharing the incredible experience of realizing the truth in the words, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) The acknowledgment of a patient of their joy in seeing you as evidenced by a smile when you identify as being part of the chaplain’s staff or the uplifting experience of seeing tears following prayer, tears of comfort not of pain. The first thought is to acknowledge the value of initial prayer with other chaplain’s assistants before starting out on our rounds and the powerful reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room with the patient as I hesitate for a brief moment to allow the Holy Spirit enters the room before I do. This is a technique that I find very helpful not only in the hospital setting but I have found it also reinforcing at any time that I may been entering someone else’s space. Preparation, preparation, preparation! In that moment of hesitation I feel uplifted and sense that it changes my attitude even to the extent of putting a smile on my face. (I acknowledge my belief that the Spirit is present even before I arrive at the hospital that day.)

The second thought has to deal with active listening, a topic we studied this year in the School for Ministry. The role of the chaplain’s assistant though not one of a counselor but as a provider of pastoral care requires fine-tuning active listening skills. The patient who is clearly uncomfortable due to pain or the patient struggling with anxiety over a pending diagnosis creating their discomfort quite often is anxious to share some element of their personal life that may or may not be related directly to their medical condition and may in fact reflect important information about where they are in their spiritual journey. It is suggested that as an active listener we focus on content and feelings as we listen to the patient’s “story” and when we respond that we do so in such a way that it reflects on that content and their feelings. The challenge at this point is to not attempt to weave in your own content or your own personal feelings!

A particular personal experience has reinforced my decision not only to do this particular summer education project but also my response to the call to become a Deacon. John had been a patient in the hospital for five days but for numerous reasons no one from the chaplain’s office and had the opportunity to meet with him one-on-one. I was met with a smile on his face I entered his room and introduced myself as a chaplain’s assistant and realized that I was meeting with someone who was close in age to me and someone who is truly happy to see me. The early part of our conversation included a chat regarding the weather, Memorial Day and the beautiful American flag being displayed in full thanks to the wind.

John had identified as Christian upon admission and he volunteered that he was a Veteran of the war in Vietnam. I then identified as a Vietnam Veteran as well. I then offered to pray with John as I do with any patient who is interested. John and I prayed prayers of gratitude, petitions for healing and prayers for the doctors and nurses. Yes, John prayed including a prayer of gratitude for my service as a chaplain. Afterward John shared with me that he was a retired pastor and Navy chaplain who had served as a hospital chaplain during his career. As he shared this tears came to his eyes as he expressed additional gratitude for my service as a chaplain and in the church.

For some this may seem just another brief moment in time where two men made a connection and shared just as Jesus would have us share acknowledging his presence and his love. For John and me this was something greater and a moment that we shall both cherish.