Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tell Me Where To Be Born

September 22, 2009

People of the world,
Tell me where to be born.

If I were born in the land
Of "your interest,"
Would you let me die?

People of the world,
My name is Holocaust and
I'm fifty-some years old.

My name is Sarajevo and
I'm three years old

My name is Bijac and
I'm but a month old.

And I have no name,
I'm yet to be born.

People of the world,
Tell me where to be born
So you will not hurt me one day
So you will not maim me one day
So you will not kill me one day.

People of the world,
Tell me where to be born.
Avideh Shashaani

I have been reflecting a lot about diversity recently. Our didactic on diversity provides a challenging space for reflecting. We share with colleagues about how our learnings on diversity impact our pastoral functioning. (Increased compassion, increased vulnerability, deepened appreciation.) We have even shared, in group work, what makes each of us unique and different from the others. It has been so rich, so vulnerable, so blessed.

And, I have been haunted by this poem by Avideh Shashaani. I first read it in a magazine last May, just prior to my two-week venture to the southwest and on the Mexico-US border. When I was in Juarez, I looked into the eyes of the children living on the landfill, playing with found items and eating watermelon in the shade for their afternoon snack.

Now, I look into the eyes of the babies in the NICU and cry. I pray for their safety, for their courage, and for the light of Love to transform them into a new world that is not marred by pre-formed-racism, sexism, classism, or any other -ism. I pray for the children and I pray that where they are born is transforming and hopeful.

All these children are vulnerable and in our community's care and like them, I feel I am being born, again.

Where are you born, today?

Send Light

September 21, 2009
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. - Morning Prayer Opening Sentence Ps 43:3

I am finding it easier to make my way around the hospital now. I still get lost, down in the catacombs between the buildings, where the 2nd floor looks completely different than the ground floor but provides a route that is half the distance. Oh well, I think, I'll just take "this" elevator "B" (not the B over by the tower or the B near the heart center) and find my way the long way 'round.

I am recognizing some of the doctors, and they are recognizing me. I'm remembering the cafeteria worker's names, the one who puts out the garbanzo beans on the salad bar and the one who serves up scrambled eggs for my on-call breakfasts. I even new the name of the nurse who passed me in the parking garage.

Still, I was surprised when I recognized the patient in a different area of the hospital. It seemed like it was only a day or so earlier when we prayed together and wrestled with some theological issues. We met each other in a completely new context - and I saw her light.

I had an realized that we met on holy ground and that these relationships are precious and life-giving. What a great way to start the morning!

Who lightened up your day today?

Now. Is the time. Now.

September 19, 2009

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way...Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to {Bethel/Jericho/Jordan}. The company of prophets {there} drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent." 2 Kings 2:1-6 (NRSV)

The emergency room Doctor indicated that they were doing everything they could. Yes, she was still alive, but it was touch-n-go. Now is the time for you to go and see her in her final moments.

Will you pray for me, Chaplain? I can't go see her yet. We prayed in sobs and tears and panic and pleading and angst. He felt strong enough to go see her. After a few hours, we still stood in the hallway watching. Her final moments.

Now is the time, I heard myself tell the family. Now is the time, if you have anything you want to tell say. Pour out your love. Ask for forgiveness. Pray for God's comfort and courage. Now is the time.

Do you know that today ... ?

Friday, September 18, 2009


September 18
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ's compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now. - St. Teresa of Avila

For a complete change of pace, I prayed the rosary this morning. Specifically, the rosary celebrating The Holy Names of God.

I had come across this rosary prayer after "googling" the characteristics of one of my colleagues: courage, patience, attention, silence. I surprised myself by following this little bunny trail of inspiration.

The Holy Names of the Divine provided small glimpses of the Eternal. In this prayer, attention is given to some attributes of Love that are suggestive yet obscure of definition. Elusive, this is their power - they suggest "both familiarity and mystery." Here, I found sacred meaning and a fresh space to experience what God can be from the inside out.

I hope that I continue to be mystified by God.

What is your mysterious name for the Holy, just in this moment?


September 14, 2009
Have mercy on me, O God, for my enemies are hounding me; all day long they assault and oppress me. Ps 56:1

My enemies are all those busy inner voices who critique me to the point of paralysis. I pray that God will silence them. I pray that I will have the courage, some day, to turn around and say "back in the box with you!" I am learning how to do that.

One way to keep these enemies at bay is to pay attention to self-care. Today we spent three hours exploring self-care for pastoral ministers. We shared some practical techniques. Mindfully, we examined a piece of fruit, and tried chewing it for as long as possible before swallowing it. One grape filled my mouth completely!

Our dessert was five minutes of continuous breathing.

If I continue to honor self-care, I will have a greater capacity for creativity and for silencing my enemies, with God's help. And with the accountability of my colleagues, I'll keep it up! Thanks, buddies!

How are you experiencing God's mercy today?

Lie Down with Photo :)

September 11, 2009
He makes me lie down in green pastures...

We met for a hike, but it was more like a 'walk n talk' in the woods just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yakity yak yak yak. Along the river, through the fields, down by the stream. Sack lunch. Meander up the hill over the exposed roots and through the mossy brooks. We shared our trials and tribulations, our gratitudes and blessings, and caught up on each others' lives.

At around 3:30pm, we reached the crest of the hill, and he said to me, "here's where we lie down in green pastures." The sun was just right. The breeze blew softly. The cows were munching just over the next hill.

We lay down in that green pasture, and for some time, just listened. To God.

He restored my soul, since I had been walking in the shadow of death all week. I felt God with me, shepherding me - God's rod and God's staff. God comforted me, through my buddy.

I'm filled up with gratitude! Hooray for contemplative friends-in-Christ!

Who has restored you, today?


September 10, 2009
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Matt 2:19

Ponder: to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate (often fol. by over or upon). to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully. The word originates from around 1300, and the root of the word is pend─ôre to be suspended, to hang.

On this particular Thursday, it was my rotation to present a verbatim. Then we shared some deeply personal insights at the IPR (interpersonal relations group) session. I reflected further with supervision in the afternoon. Oh, and then, to top it off, I met my parish lay discernment committee and was held in their loving arms as we shared our contemplative discernment process.

All pondering activities. All held in my heart with deep gratitude. And, all add up to a very tiring day!

What are you pondering in your heart today?

Roll Away

September 8, 2009
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they wen tot the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" Mark 16:2-3

I printed out the census listing for the units I would visit, making small talk with my colleague. "Well, where shall I start today?"

It's often a question - where to start? The sickest ones? the youngest ones? the newest ones? the long-term ones? the birthday ones? I consider the many dimensions and realize that I like to vary my "staring point" each day.

Today's gospel reading speaks to me about their courage that they had - someone would be there to roll away the stone, they just didn't know who. Details, details. Someone would create the opening, so that Christ's resurrection could be known. Somehow, the solution would appear.

It's that way with chaplaincy. I never really know who is behind door #1, or door #2, or door #3. I never know who will roll away the "stone" for me from the entrance to my heart. Each day, each unit, each visit - it's different. Will it be the anxious grandmother? The worried wife? The delirious man with a detached "sitter" by his side? the young adult who just had a stroke? The self-identified crack addict who now prays in tongues?

That uncertainty, that promise of joy, that sense of keeping on going to each room, invigorates me. It's behind every door that my stone is rolled away.

How do you go anyway, not sure who will roll away your stone?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baa Raaam Ewe

September 10, 2009
For you are our God, and we are the people of your pasture and the sheep of your hand. Oh that today we would hearken to your voice! ~ Venite (Ps.95:7)

Today in seminar we considered Seward Hiltner's image of the Solicitous Shepherd. What did we think of this image, our teacher asked. How did it resonate?

"It was flat and uninteresting," one colleague said.
"For me, too!" I replied
"While I appreciated this image, I found the last article, on The Self-Differentiated Samaritan worked better for me. Here's why..." said another colleague.
"I found this image deeply meaningful and inspiring. 'What was needed at this time (for the Samaritan found on the side of the road) was oil, wine, bandage and an inn. This was the sole relevant testimony for this occasion.' This struck me as doing what one can to be a solicitous shepherd," added the other colleague.

And so it goes in our seminar. We all have differing opinions and in our sharing we challenge each other to see parts we had not previously recognized. I realize that I struggle with me as a shepherd because I've never met a shepherd, well, personally. In my rounds at the hospital, I don't particularly feel like I'm herding sheep. I think sheep are cute and cudly and I appreciate that in ancient times shepherding was one of the lowliest and most humble career paths that one could choose. Scriptures are filled with imagery of shepherding.

I'm going to pray about the solicitous (anxious or concerned, eager, careful or particular) shepherd for a while and see how my heart softens towards this image.

Maybe I'll start by relating to *being* one of God's sheep. Perhaps today I will hearken to Your voice.

How does the image of shepherd work for you in this moment?

Monday, September 7, 2009


September 7, 2009
Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. Mark 15:47

I realized today about a simple mind game that I have been playing. I think it's working for me, too. I recently heard a buddhist hospice chaplain recommend that caregivers "find a place of rest in the middle of things" and I took it to heart. I'm learning that when I have an emotional exchange with a patient or family, it's perfectly okay to walk out of the room and lean against the wall - for a pause.

So what if the nurses are watching me. On the ICU floors, they probably are not watching me at all - they have enough to do. It's the gigantic cubicle-set of stations in major care of the emergency room where the unit secretary is usually panning the rooms for who needs something. She's usually busy talking with the several other nurses and in her expertise at multi-tasking can see that I'm pausing. (I think it unnerves her.)

For me, today's text is about finding a place of rest in the middle of things, like the two Mary's. They saw, it says. They witnessed. They paused.

How are you 'seeing' today?

Happy Birth Day

September 6, 2009
Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Mom, Happy Birthday to you!

If she were still alive, she'd be 83 today.

She was the MOM that brought us WOW (upside down). She was the famous cow-pitcher collector. She was the ancklung player at our family musical gatherings (click here to hear the sound). She made a mean martini.

She was the trickster who planted the dummy in the closet to scare the guests of her murder-mystery dinner party. She was the hostess who invited every friend, boyfriend, and friend of friend to our house to stay as long as they liked. She never met a crossword puzzle that she didn't finish. She won the liquor store naming contest that brought us the wallaby - and 15 minutes of fame on the evening news.

She was a storyteller extraordinaire and always hummed a tune under her breath.

Happy Birthday Mom! Thanks for chosing me to be one of yours!

Whose birthday do YOU celebrate in this moment?

Joy in the Morning

September 5, 2009
Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. Ps 30:6

There were tears shed by the man who immediately shut off the TV and asked for prayer when I came into the room. He felt he needed to be right with God at this tender time, this night.

There were tears shed by the woman who didn't want to be a burden to her children and sought a "DNR" (do not resuscitate) order, this night, prior to her simple lung procedure the next day.

There were tears shed by the mother of a trauma patient whose emergency admission to the chest pain center was dire and drastic. Not another loss! Not another of my children suffering! Not this night!

There were tears shed by the patient in the emergency center whose mid-street fight over whose "it" was meant certain scarring on her face.

All this night.

At some point, I knew it was the last page. I put my head on the pillow and fell like a brick in water to the depths of sleep.

The next day, after a mid-day nap, I joyfully roamed the other world of normalcy: the apple festival of tacky crafts, sweet-smelling waffle cones, live bluegrass music and hot sun. And at that point, I knew that joy did come in the morning! All in 24 hours - some sense of harmony in the world.

How did you find joy in this morning, despite the weeping at night?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nothin' but Love

September 4, 2009
"With life as short as a half-taken breath, don't plan anything but Love." Rumi

My friend wrote to tell about her friend's death. My friend was sad. Her friend had battled cancer for a long time and now she had passed on. My friend reminds me about Love.

Love in mind, body and spirit.
Love in compassion.
Love between the words and at paragraph ends.
Love between the sand pebbles on the shore.

I'm planning on loving today.

Are you?

PTSD (post traumatic supervision discussion)

September 3, 2009
Be still before God; for God wait patiently. Ps 37:7

For supervision today, I did a case study on myself. (What a geek!)

I wanted to explore my emotions that arose when (last week) I transformed from being the On-Call-Chaplain-Attending-A-Trauma-Alert to being the Code-RA-Patient-in-room-42. I wanted to deal with the shame of humbly calling my supervisor to come and "bail me out" of the hospital. I wanted to understand better why I felt nervous, fearful, and uneasy as we waited for the doctor to pronounce me "okay to return to work."

I've gained deep empathy for what it must be like for patients who are simply going about their day and *poof* suddenly and without warning they are in the hospital. These patients turn to their family and humbly have someone call their supervisor to say that they won't be in to work the next day. These patients feel nervous, fearful, and uneasy as they wait for the doctor to pronounce their prognosis.

What I found in today's Psalm are words that it's okay that it took me an entire week to reflect on this. By being still with this subject, I found God's presence alive in me and the inner-courage to name with my supervisor some deeply held feelings. With God's help, I'll pass this in-courage on in my pastoral care.

Or at least I'll not be afraid of the Trauma Bay. I'm on call again tomorrow.

How are you showing up in the moment, still before God?


September 1, 2009
"Despair is presumptuous," said a colleague, "that we know what is best."

I have been pondering this idea since yesterday.

We were discussing, in our Interdisciplinary Journal Club an article on physician-assisted-suicide (PAS). The article used antagonistic language to ruffle readers' feathers with slippery-slope statements. "Soon, the medical and insurance institutions will have a killing machine to treat expensive patients" or "State health plans that cannot afford to pay for a patient's medical treatment will begin recommending this procedure as an alternative." We collectively ignored the author's not-so-hidden agenda. The point of the language and of the article's presentation to our little weekly reading club was TALK ABOUT PAS.

So we did. We talked about why Oregon is the only state, so far, to legally allow PAS, that Washington state may begin legalizing it, and implications for patient populations as well as medical caregivers. We talked about what it would be like as a physician presenting this option to a patient, or being asked by a patient. One person said that they would not want to be anywhere near a serious discussion with a patient about this. We talked about when this may be an option - causing one person to remark that possibly under certain circumstances of medical need and family support limitations. One or more persons indicated that PAS should never be considered.

I thought about the number of patients who are in the hospital because of attempted or ideated suicide. I thought about the number of families I meet who have lost a daughter, son, uncle, mother, teenager, ... loved-one to suicide and the tragic impact that has had on their lives. I thought about the despair that can drive anyone to consider that suicide an option.

Then, the question "What does our theology say about this?" landed in the center of the table.

That's when one of my interdisciplinary journal club colleagues mentioned the opening quote to this days's blog. I thought about my own despair. How in that state of being, I presumptuously believe or feel that God is not there, that I know best, that my feelings are the center of the universe. Something clicked for me in that moment, that my faith really is the response with which I am called to respond, and I felt relief - and some inclination of my heart toward Love.

In this moment, what does your theology say about despair?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Bit Loony

August 31, 2009
Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears be attentive to prayer from this place. 2 Chron 6:40

I love this idea of asking God to open Love's eyes and ears... as if the Holy One is not already attentive to prayer... that's my humanity. I find myself hoping and wishing and praying that the Divine hears the prayers that rise from this place, even while I have faith that I don't need to remind God. I sound a bit loony.

Every morning when we do "Morning Report," the one who was on call the previous night says a brief meditation and follows it with a prayer. It's a wonderful way to start the day - in community, in prayer, bowing our heads in common voice and similar stance towards God. This morning's prayer, offered up by my colleague, spoke in my heart about asking for God's attention to our place.

And even when we are not in formal, on-purpose prayer, I find myself asking for Emmanuel's guidance and attention to prayer that rises from this place. In our class on Pastoral Images, we spoke at length about ways that Chaplains "do" and "be" pastoral ministers. About how we must be a bit loony to do this work, how we sometimes can't really define what it is we "do," and about how sacred this work is when we simply name what is happening in 'this place.'

How about you - right now: How are you attentive to prayer rising from "this place"?


August 30, 2009
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16

Today we chaplains held a memorial service for the over 150 patients of the hospital who have moved from death into new life over the summer. Their loved ones came and participated together in this service - a time to remember together, share together, be together, cry together, heal together.

I found myself quite awake to the grief work that was happening. From the early arrivals to the final handshake, the auditorium held more than 60 loved ones who needed to actively grieve their loss in community. They returned to the hospital and mustered up the courage to face this, together.

As I met the families, I, too, remembered their losses. I recalled holding them, praying with them, witnessing their pains and being with them in those early mornings when their loved one passed on.

Today we held a memorial service ... it was not just for "them" - it was for everyone affected by their lost loves - including us chaplains. It was healing for me, too. Living the loss - together - saves us all.

Right in this moment, how are you paying close attention to yourself and your teaching?

Talking About Cloud

August 29, 2009
...and when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:10

It happens over and over, for me. I enter a patient's room, introduce myself, and begin to enter their story. Their stories are so unique, so precious, so individual, that they lose their meaning when I even try to describe them. It's like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon with one image. It requires a "landscape" set of pictures that can be "stitched" together. Part of my role, then, is to help the patient do the stitching, even if I don't see the full image.

And, what happens over and over is that the patient will eventually get around to saying something about how God is in the picture, too. God's will is here... God's love is there... and in that little crack? there's God's fingerprint... this smudge? that's where God reconciled a relationship...

Over and over, I sense a cloud in the room, like the priests, because of the glory of the Lord who "fills the house" for this patient. I'm learning how to ask the patients about this cloud - it's taking time. Sometimes we simply walk around the cloud, but the cloud is there!

Since you showed up to this moment, how is the cloud of the glory of the Lord filling your house?

Take Courage

August 28, 2009
On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. Acts 28:15b

Yesterday I was "on call." A typical day of responding to pages to assist with healthcare-power-of-attorney, to tend to a tearful patient and pharmacy funding. The evening involved a cafe dinner of mac-n-cheese and other "Southern" foods and going to be early awaiting mid-night pages.

There were a few, but the one that really got me was at 4:30am. I responded to a trauma page and while there, got a bit light headed. As I walked down the hallway near the "Chest Pain" center to get some fresh air, I hit the floor. Literally.

"Are you okay?" the nurse said to me as I came-to. Well, I guess not if I am on the floor! I thanked the nurse as she got me into a near-by room, got me set up with an EKG test and when the doctor arrived, he asked, "when did you have dinner?" Oh, that was earlier today. WAY earlier. I forgot it was like 10 hours earlier.

He gave me a bit of juice, a nutrigrain bar and once my supervisor arrived to cover the on-call pager, I was feeling ready to go. I was cleared for take off. I thanked my supervisor, my teammates, my nurse, my doctor, and all the people who prayed for me! How can I be anything but grateful for being surrounded by trauma team and cardiac nurses and doctors when I fainted? I thanked God and took courage. I'll be on call again next Tuesday.

"Back on the horse," so to speak.

How are you thankful in this moment?

Be. Present.

August 26, 2009
She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for it's burial. Mark 14:8

Sometimes that's all I can do - be present. My supervisor is helping me to learn that this has nothing to DO with DO-ing.

But... but... but... I argue. I can bring water. I can bring tissue. I can bring coffee. I can say a prayer. I can laugh at jokes. I can ... do do do. I can do-do.

Less is more. And it's what I can do.

You showed up to this moment. How did you simply do what you could do?