Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fell Off The Wagon

The blog wagon, that is. Not sure why - could it be that I've been just plain tired?

I'm learning about balancing demands of sleeping in three different beds each week, diasporic access to the internet to get into blogspot, being a patient myself (twice!) over the last two weeks and perhaps hitting the "over 50" number of deaths to which I have attended.

In spite of that, my faith is deepening, my love for my colleagues is expansive and my sense of call is clarifying. And, I'd love to blog about it all.

Thanks for journeying with me as I seek for this Advent season to blog when Ms. Muse shows up and technological moons align.

I'm going to just keep showing up in the moment!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I recently heard about a new book called "The Meaning is in the Waiting," by Paula Gooder. In this run-up to Advent season, it offers ways of learning to love waiting.

I am learning about waiting; we do so much of it in chaplain work. My own tolerance for waiting has grown immensely, mostly by denying that I am waiting and instead accepting that I am present for the other person. I'm not waiting at all. By being present, I remove my expectation from the room and can accept what each moment brings.

This book offers more depth to waiting that I had not yet considered. The summary indicates that in the company of the biblical characters we "discover very different kinds of waiting..."

* Abraham and Sarah -- who waited a lifetime for the fulfillment of God's promises.
* The Hebrew prophets -- who waited for God's intervention, both longed for and feared.
* John the Baptist -- whose ministry marked the end of one era and anticipated the new.
* Mary -- whose life was shaped by waiting and by events beyond her control.

These are different kinds of waiting. I still dance with that tension between waiting and being present. "To be 'expectant' rather than urgent, yet focused on God's presence rather than on some future." It's subtle, I think, this delicate difference.

Usually, the family member or patient helps discern it for me. Sometimes, it is too traumatic to ask where God is in the moment. Sometimes, asking that question is the only way to tolerate the waiting. If I name that we are waiting, and that I am present with them, I find that somehow a mutuality arises about what kind of waiting we are both experiencing.

I ask, how does waiting affect my abililty to show up to the moment?

Mark 15.43: Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

How does waiting affect you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time. Out.

This week I am taking a time out.

The image uploaded shows the morning sunrise from our window of this worn-out but beach-side apartment we rented for the week. I love the way the sun poked through the clouds and highlighted the waves that come crashing into the beach.

Long beach walks. Sandy yoga by the pool. Beach scum on my sunglasses. Sweaty runs along the water. Canceled surf lessons ("too windy") and lazy afternoons reading a very long book that I have (603 pages).

I recall one of my priest friends telling me that part of his job description includes "not going crazy." I think that taking a time out falls in that category.

Just rest, the meditation tape says.


Compassionate Companion

A colleague loaned me three CD's of concepts used at Zen Hospice in San Francisco, called "Being a Compassionate Companion:Teachings, stories and practical wisdom for those accompanying someone who is dying - An intimate conversation with Frank Ostaseski".

The series, dedicated to compassionate companionship, comes into play, for me, particularly during death events. The practices, reminders, and stories originate from ZHP's founder's Frank Ostaseski's 20 years of experience being with death and dying. The topics offer support in preparing for death, serving the dying, and grieving.

I love that their stated core activity is "bearing witness," as expressed in their slogan, "Stay close, do nothing."

The approach at ZHP is a process that Ostaseki describes as, "a mutually beneficial relationship between caregivers and people who are dying." Both parties listen to death, and learn together. A notion that has deeply impacted my pastoral care is the mutuality aspect of service, which differs from usual notions of charity and help.

I quote Ostaseki here:

"Service-a very different experience than charity-recognizes wholeness: there is no 'helper' and no 'helped.' Something bigger is happening in service than the two individuals involved. Mindfulness practice helps to transform generosity from a charitable 'I and other' expression to one of service, where we recognize that we're both in the soup together. I understand that in order to work with someone else who is dying, I have to do a kind of individual exploration. I have to look at my own relationship to sickness, old age and death. While I'm working with someone, I'm also investigating my own fear, my own grief. In Buddhism, we recognize that someone else's suffering is also my suffering. So when I take care of myself, I care for others; and when I care for others, I am taking care of myself."

The 18-minute meditation at the end of the first CD ("Preparation") allows a contemplative reflection of the five precepts of a compassionate companion. I have found it so meaningful that I carry around the short list of precepts to which I refer during my visits.

1. Welcome everything; push away nothing. No clinging, no aversion.
2. Bring your whole self to the experience. Moments of sensation: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, thinking.
3. Don't wait. Be present for this moment, letting go of any expectation.
4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things, cultivating kindness and ease. No need to interfere with what's arising.
5. Cultivate a "don't know" mind, opening moment to moment, without preconception or resistance, letting the mind and the body be open and receptive.

At four minutes remaining, he whispers very intimately, "just rest."

That's all. Just rest.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

For whom are you a compassionate companion in this moment?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

God as More

For our Pastoral Theology course, we are watching a series called Living The Questions. One of the recent chapters challenged us to consider God as more than a supernatural "being" that is "out there." One of the speakers suggests that we might find a more satisfying understanding of God to be in the relationship with the sacred reality right here. His emphasis is on leading a Christian life that is in a relationship with God as known in Jesus Christ - this is the God who is out there but also right here.

It's a bit of a challenge for me, since this resonated deeply for me. Here in the hospital, in my pastoral functioning, I hear myself refer to this "being" God. And I hear it from patients, families, staff, and colleagues - even though I tend to believe in a God as more than a being but as everything all around us and that we are within God. Perhaps God is both/and?

Recently I re-listened to an interview by the late Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue. He spoke about poetry as always having had a vital role in Celtic and Irish culture, history, and spirituality. He offered up a beautiful, ancient, archetypal poem, the "Song of Amergin." These are some of Ireland's oldest known verses illustrating the Celtic sense of a symbiotic and seamless relationship between the natural and the divine.

I found that it speaks of God as More.

I am the wind on the sea.
I am the ocean wave.
I am the sound of the billows.
I am the seven-horned stag.
I am the hawk on the cliff.
I am the dewdrop in sunlight.
I am the fairest of flowers.
I am the raging boar.
I am the salmon in the deep pool.
I am the lake on the plain.
I am the meaning of the poem.
I am the point of the spear.
I am the god that makes fire in the head.
Who levels the mountain?
Who speaks the age of the moon?
Who has been where the sun sleeps?
Who, if not I?

How do you experience God as More in this moment?

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

There is a strange time vortex that happens with "On Calls." They start on one day, finish the next morning, and conclude around noon that day, after our classes, group work and lunch. Time flies!

It's not uncommon for me to start charting a call that occurred at 5am the following day of starting "On-Call" and forgetting that it's actually another day gone by - it happened today, not yesterday, which was of course tomorrow when this shift started.

Confused? Try staying up for 30 hours and then having a case study due. That will clear it up.

Fortunately, God is there in the midst of each On Call. God was there, is there and will be there.

...And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b

Which moment are you in at this time?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cell Phones

Cell phones. What a unique and creative way to make a statement; to personalize one's life. Especially with ringtones, the latest fad in personalization.

I'm in the trauma bay conference room, with a mother whose son had a mishap on the football field. Her phone rings.

"Ma? Mom? Mommy? MMMMMMMMOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMYYY?!! Ma? Mom? Mommy?..."

"Oh, my son recorded that so when he calls, I know that it's him. His sister must have his phone!" It felt silly laughing, given the tenuousness of the situation, but this mother welcomed the break from the heavy air and explained her latest ringtone.

Cell phones. Everyone has them.

I'm attending to a motor vehicle accident family in the large family waiting room. Great-Grandma (92), Grandpa (70), Mom (45), sister (20) and a cousin (23) all have cell phones. Each one is talking on their phone, calling the neighbors, the pastor, the extended family, the cat sitter, the piano teacher... all delivering the news about how their family member is doing and what the next steps are. One turns to me, "Do you have the yellow pages?" They understand - they are on a family plan with free minutes, but with extra charge for "information." They won't use the landline in the waiting room ("Dial 9 for an outside line) but they want the yellow pages. Gratefully, they all had their phones on "silent" or "vibrate." Except Great-Grandma whose phone rang Born in the USA, or some other rock song, when the pastor called back.

I think about how God is calling me and what ringtone God uses. What kind of "family" plan do we have with God's calling service? What tone does God use when I call? Or is God listening all the time?

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. Isa 65:24

What ringtone resonates in your heart, right now?

Silent Scream

"What you are saying speaks so loudly that I cannot hear a word you are saying," my mentor told me many years ago. I took it to mean that my body language, tone and volume of voice, cadence, facial expressions, eye movement, and countenance delivered the message. No words necessary.

I visited a very troubled patient the other day. (Actually it was weeks ago, so troubling that I needed some time to reflect on it.) Her contorted face and deep-set, shifty eyes let me know there was more at stake in her overall health than her physical condition. I'm sure her altered mental condition (mental illness, psychosis or dementia, I do not know) influenced her message delivery. What she was saying spoke so loudly that I didn't need her to speak. She didn't say a word, but her message was loud and clear.

Very, very, very loud. I couldn't think. I found myself checking the time on my watch. I looked into her eyes. I touched her shoulder. I asked her if she would like a prayer? I closed my eyes and prayed out loud with her. When I opened my eyes she was still watching something floating around the airspace, seemingly gagging on something.

In my clinical charting, I used little tick marks to indicate my assessment: distraught, in pain, suspicious, angry. My pastoral care left me feeling very impotent. I charted: presence, no change. *sigh*

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

What message are you loudly speaking, in this moment?