Something You Said

When I left you, I thought to myself that patient rooms are the best classrooms.

Better than graduate seminars and intensives. Better than syllabi with supplemental reading lists so long they make your eyes hurt.

The simple wisdom coming from the lives of pained people is exquisite, expensive truth that I get for showing up as a chaplain. I didn’t have to pay tuition or get reimbursed for my travel. I didn’t have to buy a book or copy an article. I, simply, answered a page.

You told me something I’ve heard in different ways by other people. You said, my words not yours, that our conceptions of God are ours, that they are personal, and that they can be taken only so far. You used the image of the stars and suggested that we ought to be humble as humans because we “perhaps just stumbled upon the ability to think.”

You said that our ways of understanding God should be humbled by such things. And I’m considering the depth of your words. We ought to be humbled by such things.

Isolating Root Causes

I was reading materials in preparation for a class on safety and quality improvement. It’s a multiple months-long course with a lot of physicians and statistics. It’s not material I’m naturally good at. I have a part to play as a spiritual caregiver in what we’re planning. I am useful even if I’m not a nurse or respiratory tech or, certainly, not a doctor.

I’m learning interesting things. I’m hearing even more interesting things about our hospital and about hospital systems in general. I’m learning more than I thought I would when I joined the team to work on our project.

In the pre-course work for our session on analyzing data, the final sentence on the slide was this: Please create two to three visualizations in an effort to isolate root causes / key drivers. This was a sentence about measures and hypotheses and graphs and tools.

As I think of it now, this sentence can go in many directions. What would it look like if you prepared a visual to capture the things that were causing you trouble? What would the visual addressing those causes and drivers include?

Listening Is

Listening is a mind-set. Active listening, effective listening, compassionate listening, and in-depth listening involve respect and appreciation for the person who is talking. Such listening suggests that what the other person has to say is important and deserves validation. Listening is a decision to engage in another’s life story and discern how you can be of help in the shaping of his or her story. Listening does not require us as caregivers to have great answers or be experts in the subject areas. Listening is a commitment to respect you enough to give you my full attention and give you clues and follow-up questions that ensure I received your messages as intended.

(From Professional Spiritual & Pastoral Care, pg 127)

Advent Post #20

“…for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:49)

I stood and listened to a patient who told me how remarkable God had been in his healing process. And like other times, I received a gift in that man’s retelling. He spoke to me about how from start-to-finish God had been present.

That doesn’t happen every day in the hospital. There are people who struggle to locate the Presence as they fight disease. There are relatives who want nothing to do with a chaplain or the God she or he may bring. God and God’s things are toxic to some when their bodies are sick. God and God’s things do not bring healing to them. Of course, as a pastor and chaplain I find those to be reasons to keep praying, even if quietly for my patients and their families.

On occasion, though, and the occasion is often I’m happy to say, a patient will be quite clear that “God has done this.” One man told me for 30 minutes the story of God’s company in his healing. Since my units at Northwestern Memorial are the general surgery and medical intensive care units, I tend to see some of our hospital’s sickest patients. I tend to see people just before or just after a surgery. I see people when they feel very close or very distant from God.

This gentleman, a man afraid of needles and things, talked to me about how God had changed him. God turned him toward healing by doing the plain, almost unremarkable act of having him go to the doctor, obey the doctor, and keep obeying the doctor. He followed his wife’s instruction and kept following it. And God kept working through each act of surrender. Eventually–and I am using Mary’s song to summarize my patient’s experience–the Mighty One did something great.

I don’t know that I’ve always seen God’s acts in unremarkable acts. I’ve certainly developed that appreciation to spot God in the ordinary. I want to raise that as an ideal. Looking for God in the mundane expands our potential for finding God. If we seek, whether at this liturgical moment or another, to find God in the spectacular, we’ll usually be let down.

“God will heal me from this despite the doctor’s report,” just may be one such moment. It’s a spectacular prayer and hope, and I find myself supporting many who say and hold such statements in their hearts. But it takes as much (perhaps it takes more or frankly less) faith to state that God will be with me through the long course of some thing, that God will walk with me through a pregnancy (like Mary) or a cancer treatment (like a friend, Grace) or a job search or a move to a new city. God who does things in spectacular ways also does things in ways we hardly notice.

Of course, any time God does something, anything, it’s worth our calling it “great.” Does it have to be a mountain that is moved for us to call it amazing? Or does it only have to be something an amazing One did?