“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.”