Thursday, July 30, 2009

Now open for comments

Hey There Blog Readers!

The "comment " section is ready for you, if you wish to answer any of those rhetorical questions.

I recall that a few of the "followers" were nixed a while back when they tried to "comment" but I think that I solved that. If not, just shoot me an email and I'll go back to the drawing board. And thanks for your companionship on this journey!



July 30, 2009
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds all day long, though I cannot know the number of them. Ps 71:15

He was hard to understand. Words kind of slurred together and he spoke just a bit too softly to compete with the airconditioning overhead. His soft demeanor drew me in, however. I wanted to know his story.

Mindful of our class on "listening techniques," I silently vowed not to pepper him with questions. Instead, I would make reflective statements, "you are in pain." or "your neice works tonight." or "you really love church." to affirm that I was listening. The pace of our conversation, and my heart, slowed to HIS pace, not mine.

He began to explain to me his journey, as a black man, in a nearly all-white church. How the folks there welcome him like one of them. How his black son married a white girl and how he affirmed them both, "if it works for you and you love each other, then great!"

I can't wait to get back to him, hear more of his story, allow my inner clock to slow to his pace and hear God's mighty acts and saving deeds.

How are you recounting Spirit's mighty acts and saving deeds, right now?

JESUS t-shirt

July 29, 2009
For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Mark 6:50

A chaplain from another hospital called to request that someone visit this patient. I knew he was very ill, but that was it. The family greeted me as I walked into the ante-room; they were in the midst of telling jokes and poking each other. They even kept smiling as I introduced myself, "The Chaplain" (Usually that brings a pause or a frown or at least a question mark bubble over folks heads.) Not this crowd, they were jovial and welcoming.

We walked into the room where their family member was lying. He looked like a strong man who had just run a race and was catching his breath. He was catching his breath, but he had not just run a race. He was breathing through a mask-with-an-oxygen-pocket. After a time of getting-to-know-you, and my remarking about the one person's "JESUS" t-shirt, I asked, "Y'all want to pray?"

And out came this prayer that was completely without pre-thought. Honestly, I was not speaking. And in the midst of it, I was terrified. I just allowed what fell in my heart to flow out of my mouth. I felt suddenly grounded and connected to these folks, not afraid anymore. I believe that JESUS was with us in that room.

I said "Amen" and they all un-clutched their held hands, grabbing for kleenex. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Well, it wasn't me at all. It was God.

How are you taking heart today?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baa Ram Ewe

July 28, 2009
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and... - Mark 6:34 (and referenced in Num 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17 and Ezek 34:5)

Like sheep without a shepherd am I today. My insides are tore up - so many sheep clamoring for attention.

* Sheep of pain from losses I have experienced that increased my compassion for the protagonist of today's verbatim. She has been dealing with a chronic illness for 10 years and has many losses but a really cool hat.

* Sheep of sensitive responses to collegial invitations for dialogue around patient situations.

* Sheep of fatigue from working five days in a row followed by a sixth day "on-call," which included five deaths.

The sheep are without a shepherd. But in my supervision today, I gained valuable insight to God's presence and compassion. Back to the moment. Right now, I offer my inner sheep to Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

How are you shepherding your inner sheep, right now?

Wake Up, My Spirit!

July 27, 2009
Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp; I myself will waken the dawn. - Psalm 57:8

I love to wake up early and join the dawn in bringing in the day. With my porch windows wide open, I breath deeply in the cool mountain air and fill my ears with birdsong of lute and harp.

John O'Donohue reminded me, in a recent podcast, to hold images of beauty in my mind for whenever I must be present to suffering. This morning's beauty will remain in my heart all week as I face untold suffering in the hospital.

How are you awakening your spirit, this morning?

Wiped Out

July 26, 2009
How does God do this?

One page per waking hour, it averaged. Yesterday's "on call" was a record for me. What was the hardest part? Leaving the hospital in the morning.

As I attended to the family of the fifth death that shift, my colleague who was "up next" joined me in conversation with the oldest son of the deceased. I was relieved that he could take over, even though I had befriended the family members. I had "kept it together" since early morning the previous day and as I walked out of the hospital, that final good bye to my colleague brought me to tears.

I was wiped out and cried for the next hour. So much pain. So many deaths. So many lamentations.

How does God do this? I asked myself rhetorically.

I think God weeps with me. In every moment.

Jesus, My Brother

July 25, 2009
Jesus, my brother, come heal my heart...
sung by Fran McKendree on the album Listening for The Heart

I've begun to appreciate how many people see Jesus as their sibling, their sister or brother. This song resonates in my head as I pray for healing, guidance, calmness in the pounding waves and answers to rhetorical questions. Jesus is as close as my siblings - no, closer. Jesus knows my heart, feels my pain, rejoices in my wonder and expresses renewal and transformation like no other.

Sometimes, for me, God is "out there" but Jesus can heal my heart.

What healing does your heart seek right now, in this moment?


Jesus, my brother, come heal my heart.
There’s a piece missing; I need help to find,
‘cause my life’s leaking out through the hole left behind,
Leaving me empty, helpless and blind.
While I am empty, Lord, fill me;
While I am blind, teach me to see,
While I am helpless, come take my part.
Jesus, my brother, heal my heart.
There’s a sea of emotion, I’m caught in a storm,
Churning with feelings, tangled and torn.
My love built a ship, it was swept off and lost,
Now it lies broken, twisted and tossed.
I am an ocean. Lord, walk on the sea.
Calm all the waves, pounding in me.
As the sun rises, take me back to the start.
Jesus, my brother, heal my heart.
Jesus, my brother, come heal my heart.
My bandages hide it, then fall apart.
The covering’s gone, the wound opens again.
Illusions will tear before feelings can mend.
Breathe on me, Jesus, the fresh air will heal it.
If pain is my teacher, just let me feel it.
Make of my pieces a work of your art.
Jesus, my brother, heal my heart.

Made Well

July 24, 2009
He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well." Mark 5:34

According to the commentary, "made well" is the same term as "saved." For the author of the Gospel of Mark, faith is the pre-requisite for healing.

Today, I saw how faith can make someone well.

She's the matriarch of a large clan of family and her in God's presence is strong. Her diagnosis is terminal. Her family knows that and she does too, although she has not spoken of it. In the midst of her illness, the family surrounds her in prayer, in compassion, in supportive comfort care, in saving grace. She will die soon, but she'll be made well.

I admit to not really understand *how* this works. It's a mystery into which I live every day.

How does your faith make you well?


July 23, 2009
I will bless God at all times, and praise shall ever by in my mouth. Ps 34:1

I'm learning a lot about spontaneous prayer. In my Episcopalian tradition, I lean on the pre-scripted phrases, pericopes, antiphons or choral refrains that I've memorized. Yet these seem not to reach the patients and families sometimes. In fact, no matter what I say, they chime on in even while I'm praying.

And I like that!

I'll be praying something and I'll hear in the background "Yes, Jesus" and then "Praise Jesus" and then "Oh yes, amen amen amen." At first it surprised me, but then I found that it gives rhythm to the prayer. Texture. Life.

And isn't that what prayer is all about?

How are you praising God at all times, even now in this moment?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gathering the Lame and the Outcasts

July 22, 2009
...and I will save the lame and gather the outcast and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. Zephania 3:19

My supervisor reminded us today that just because we come across a specific disease over and over and over in one day, doesn't necessarily mean that there is an epidemic going on. It means that in any hospital there is a gathering of the lame, the outcasts, the shamed - and all their families.

I may *feel* like there is an abundance of certain diseases showing up and so the question shifts. For what reason are we all (there are 9 of us in the program) wanting to talk about this particular disease? What about our inner world reflects dis-ease in this similar way?

I reflect how I have this dis-ease, metaphorically. It affects how I authentically connect with patients, families, staff, - oh, and with my colleagues. I offer it to my community for transformation.

And am grateful for grace. That's something to praise!

How are you feeling changed, right now?

Peace Offering

July 21, 2009
Thus you shall salute him, "Peace be to you, and Peace be to your house and peace be all that you have!" - 1 Samuel 25:6

I often wish that I could remember this simple introduction. But it just doesn't sound the same in contemporary language. "Peace be to you," is just, well, not said anymore. Likely to conjure up the response, "y'all not from these parts, are you?"

I want to say that I think about it before I visit, that I silently consider it in my heart. Honestly,it's usually after a visit with a patient or family when I offer peace. Why don't I think of it *before* I go in? Perhaps it's my anxiety, perhaps my curiosity, perhaps my anticipation, perhaps... my humanness.

Even when I do offer peace in such a way, leaving the room, the look on folks' faces is still "y'all not from these parts, are you?" Perhaps I can simply wish it in my heart.

How do you offer peace in your life, right now?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dust Shaking

July 20, 2009
So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. Acts 13:51

Several times during my visits in the hospital, patients or families refuse a chaplain visit. It's really not uncommon. I don't mind. They might rather sleep. They might rather finish their dinner. They might rather just keep trying to breathe, let alone talk. It's okay to say no, I say. I am one of the few service providers in a hospital to which the patient can say "No." As I leave, I wish them peace and go on my way.

I had several visits in a row in which the patient said "no." This week. After the fourth "no," I can tell you that I was amused. I thought, okay, bring it on! Then the fifth visit turned into an amazing discussion. Who knew?

Where are you allowing others to say no, in this moment?

Aunt Josie

July 18, 2009
Into your hands, I commend my spirit... Ps 31:5

My oldest aunt died this week. The oldest of my sister's six siblings, she was the caregiver for much of my mother's growing up life. She was a real spirit! Here's her obituary.

Today, we travelled to one of my first cousins to visit the family and make contact. After a long drive, we arrived at their home and re-acquainted ourselves. We told stories about the family, the aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, grandkids, and got caught up on all kinds of news.

My aunt's memory lives on in all of us. Rest in peace, Aunt Josie

Who do you remember today?

Shining Face

July 17, 2009
Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness, save me. Ps 31:16

I enjoyed visiting a college campus today with my sister and nephew. Nephew is looking for a college with an outdoor recreational degree. Since our family grew up in the Church of the Outdoor Sports, I can see in him a common spirituality.

College tours provide such an insight into what it's like to be 18 or 19 or 20 these days. The tour-guides and presenters were quite enthusiastic, showing off the various non-academic parts of the college - which is good, because that's what Nephew is really checking out.

The day-off-from-hospital-work provided me with a respite from the intensity of pastoral care. With Sister keeping me laughing and Nephew competing with me by jumping steps, we found Spirit shining in every face that we encountered.

Whose face shines through for you, today?


July 16, 2009
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath." Mark 2:27

Today was our mid-unit evaluation day. Are you kidding? Already? Yep - well, we have four units and today was the mid-mark. Mid-unit evaluations involve eight fairly detailed reflection questions - how was the beginning of this journey? what personal/professional/theological questions are we wrestling with? how do we relate to our peers? how is supervision going?... and others.

Basically, it's a half-day session in which we reflect on how our reflection is coming along. Phew. Time to take a day off to reflect about it.

How are you enjoying Sabbath these days?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


July 15, 2009
Observing (these men) thus in repose, in the act of reflection, Father Latour was thinking how each of these men not only had a story, but seemed to have become his story. Willa Cather, Death Comes For The Archbishop (p.182)

In our morning meeting, whoever was on call the previous night shares what happened. Number of pages (10), types of situations (2 deaths, 3 social ministries, 2 nurse questions, 3 traumas), varieties of responses (pastoral support, presence and/or prayer) and sharing of how the on-call-one is feeling (tired, exuberant, grieved or all of the above). The on-call-one makes referrals to the team (follow up on Ms. Smith in 6-Tower). We share a meditation and pray together.

The moment of the meeting, the sharing of the night, and the kind and patient lens through which I experience each of my peers when I have been awake for 24+ hours, makes them all part of my story. All the stories of suffering in the previous day has transformed me and become my story. My team graciously allows that.

How does your day become your story?


July 14, 2009
I will wash my hands in innocence, O God, that I may go in procession round your altar. Ps. 26

I don't have to be reminded that, as the poster in the elevator claims, "...the 10 most infectious places in a hospital..." (insert picture of two hands.) I see charts on the walls of staff lounges which display compliance statistics of how often hands are washed or sanitized both before and after each patient visit. (Who's tracking these things?)

All over the hospital today, workers switched out the sanitizer dispenser from the press-here-for-gel- to hands-free-foam- based method. It's upset my routine! I make a bit of a game out of getting a "drive-by" gel blessing from the dispenser in the long hallway to Oncology/Heart Center. But now, I have to place my hands under the sensor and wait (wait!) for the foam dollop. Hey, every job has its pluses and minuses.

The best part of hand washing is the ritual aspect of cleansing my heart before and after each moment with patients. By the tenth or so visit, my hands are pretty gunked up and this reminds me to take a break. Breathe. Go for a walk. Process round the altar.

When do you wash your hands?


July 13, 2009
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

I love the mornings. I'm not so keen on getting up while it is still dark - I love praying with the sun just rising and the light slowing increasing. For me, this is sacred time and I guard it pretty closely (as my intimates will tell you).

Sometimes it is dark but it is not morning. It's the phone call that causes the sun to go behind a cloud. It's the self-anger that causes me to lash out, unprovoked, at my close ones. It's the reminder that living also means dying.

Whether it's morning or whether it's dark, I don't think that I am alone when I pray.

When or where do you pray?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Language Matters

July 12, 2009
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. Romans 10:8

I have been thinking about a critique of one of my prayers in my chaplaincy group. After sharing my "verbatim" (a detailed account patient interaction including the dialogue and the prayer used) my colleague told me to consider thoughtfully (read: RE-consider) use of the word "servant" in my prayers - particularly with African-American patients or families. My colleague,
herself an African-American, gently reminded me of the recall to slavery that this language brings.

Honestly, I admitted, it never crossed my mind that the language of "servant" (so near to me - on my lips and in my heart) could be offensive. Several morning prayer canticles use the language of "servant," as in: 'Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord...' from A Song of Creation. Or 'He has come to the help of his servant Israel' from The Song of Zechariah. Or 'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord... for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant' from The Magnificat. Or 'Lord, you now have set your servant free' from The Song of Simeon.

Her comment stopped me short. And I have changed my prayers for "Your servant, O God..." to "Your sister, dear Jesus..." It's still awkward for me, so I keep practicing and becoming aware of how the term Servant or Sister changes how I think about God. I hope to remain aware of this subtle shift in language.

And, I believe that language matters.

What words are near to you, on your lips and in your heart, right now?

Renewal by Berry

July 11, 2009
Those who hope in God shall renew their strength; they will soar as with eagle's wings. Isaiah 40:31

Down the gravel lane, past the "Welcome to Happy Berry" sign, and around the shade tree, we saw the orchard. Rows and rows - far as the eye could see - of berry bushes! Blueberries and blackberries galore.

"Y'all can pick row 126 and 127, down in the holler," the owner directed us. And under the hot, high-cloud sky with a slight breeze, we picked blueberries for two solid hours. We filled up two boxes - 14 1/2 pounds worth.

Amazing how such as simple act of repetitively, meditatively, sweatingly, prayerfully picking berries can be so renewing.

What renews your strength in this moment?

Friday, July 10, 2009


July 10, 2009
Only that day dawns to which we are awake. Henry David Thoreau

On my drive to work today, I listened to Krista Tippett's interview with author John Kabat-Zinn in the show Speaking of Faith. Tippett explores with the author how mindfulness is a way of life. He shares how it is immediately relevant for the "ordinary and extreme stresses of our time - from economic peril, to parenting, to life in a digital age."

The author summarizes his perspective in the quote from Thoreau at the end of his book "Coming to our Senses."

Today's conference on listening skills for pastoral care givers awakened me to my own pre-suppositions and pre-judices. How can I engage without simply affirming their positions as "right" (Hey, I think that, too!) or dismissing their way of thinking about God as "universal" (Oh, everyone thinks that) - but more. Each individual has a uniqueness that form an "embedded" theology that will be drawn upon in a health crisis.

This afternoon, I realized in a one-on-one with a patient facing a health care crisis that his "theology" was uniquely formed by his race, gender, and social context. With heightened sensitivity to NOT allowing my embedded theology drive the conversation, I found myself paralyzed and without speech. I don't think that was the expected result for the conference, but I was awake to the day!

To what are you awake in this moment?


July 9, 2009
... your merciful promise is beyond all measure; it surpasses all that our minds can fathom. Prayer of Manasseh

I had one of those experiences where I re-realized that whenever "two or three are gathered," well, yes, God is in the midst of them. Several times today, I sat in circle with a group of thoughtful, funny, surprising, gracious, hospitable, patient, challenging, breathing human beings. What joy! What mystery!

Each circle held sacred conversation that filled the room and oozed into our hearts. Each circle allowed for our souls to show up and be. Each circle... was beyond all measure and surpassed all that my mind could fathom.

When was the last time that happened for you?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Make Clean

July 8, 2009
What God has made clean, you must not call profane. Acts 10:15b

Today's class was on Theological Reflection. That's a fancy way of saying, "Think About God." I interpretted an experience with a patient from a "thinking about God" perspective - that is, how images or stories of my Christian tradition give insight to what happened. I found that when I set the traditional story of Jonah and the Whale next to my experience of this patient's struggle, my compassion increased - for me, for the patient, and for God.

Our "homework" was to practice reflecting theologically not as an exercise, but with patients, or families, or staff - in our work-a-place. It's due next week, so I put off thinking about it.

My first visit this afternoon included a conversation with another cancer patient. "I'm asking why me? and I'm asking why not me?" she explained. She hooked me! "What answer did you come up with?" "Well, God doesn't make no crap - so He must have something else in mind for me!" She's doing theological reflection!

What has God made clean, in this moment, for you?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


July 7, 2009
What is your point of view of death? - Prof. Larry Kent Graham, 2004

For the last 24 hours, I have been reflecting on that question. Not because I was on call. Not because any of my patients died. Not because of Michael Jackson's funeral today.

It's because something shifted for me. In a recent conversation with a patient, I realized that *my understanding* of God's presence in life and in death, well, didn't hold water. I was humbled to be faced with the reality that nothing that I can say to someone with stage 4 lung and liver cancer about theology is sufficient. Nothing I can say.

I can only be. there. in. the. moment.

I'm dancing with that very question right now. And, I do believe that God's grace is enough.

What's your point of view of death?

Monday, July 6, 2009


July 6, 2009
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
Lk 23:46

The commentary intimated that Jesus knew his death was approaching and so quoted part of Psalm 31, "Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O God of truth." For me, this is a very powerful moment in scripture and in the Christian tradition. Whole books have been written on this topic.

I consider this verse a reminder to continually commend my spirit into God's hands. I am aware that I often place my spirit into the hands of the patients who chose not to be visited by a chaplain today, or into the hands of my relatives who might be in a bad mood, or even into the hands of the driver who cuts me off on the freeway.

I don't have to wait for my funeral to commend my spirit into God's hands. I can do that right now, in this moment.

Into whose hands do you commend your spirit, in this moment?

Saturday, July 4, 2009


July 4, 2009
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you, O Zion. Ps 137:1

Violent deaths just do not make sense. Always in the midst of it and often for a long time after. Something like this affects those directly impacted and those of us on the periphery. I hope that it will make sense, some day, some how. I find myself not wanting to show up in this moment. I want to be in the past (why?) or in the future (what's next?).

Jesus says before he dies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23:43) The commentary reminds me that this promise intimates that God's sovereign power is a present reality, not merely for the future.

When I cannot be present or "make sense" of it, perhaps all I can do is sit down and weep.

What keeps you from being present in the moment?


July 3, 2009
I know that God will maintain the cause of the poor and render justice to the needy. Ps 140:12

I thought about all the poor with whom I interact at the hospital. Poor in health, poor in economics, poor in familial relationships, or poor in luck. This morning I read a reflection of what poor might mean, and it has awakened a new frame of thinking for me.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..." (Matt 5:3) Or from the New English Bible, "how blest are those who know their need of God." Simon Weil reflects, "we are in danger of spiritual starvation, not because there is no bread, but because we have persuaded ourselves that we are not hungry."

I thought about all the poor with whom I work and yet, there is no poverty of hope. Nearly everyone I meet knows their need of God, particularly in illness, stressed insurance claims and familial relationships strained in health crises. It reminds me to acknowledge more honestly my own poverty - my bone-deep need of God.

How are you poor today?

Friday, July 3, 2009


July 2, 2009
But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother's breast; my soul is quieted within me. Ps 131:3

This verse reminds me about my own self-care. I am learning how I can be so busy that I disconnect from my soul. Particularly in these early days of learning about the systems, the people, the procedures and the schedule, I can become cognitive very quickly. This coping mechanism works pretty well for survival, but it does not a pastoral care giver make.

How can I re-connect to my soul, I wonder?

On Tuesday, I only had a few more paragraphs to finish before my next meeting appointment with the cafeteria...lunch time! I was very harried when I arrived at the lunch table. My colleagues were already deep into their meal, so I slipped into the chair saved for me. Unconsciously, I took a deep sigh as I placed my tray on the table and sat down. One of my colleagues remarked about my sigh, and I became aware of the weight of my breath as it fell onto my salad.

Actually, it was a good thing for her to make that remark. I realize now that my body really needed to get reconnected to my soul, and breathing is a way to do that. I hope to become more conscious of this each day.

How do you still your soul?


July 1, 2009
"...{miracles} seem to me to rest not so much upon the faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
- Excerpt ~"Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather

I often ask people what it is they pray for. Top three responses: Strength, God's will be done, and miracles. That the "miracle" to which they refer is usually a cure for their cancer, or for their loved one to wake up out of coma, or for the test results to come back in their favor. Generally, the miracle is some "outside" chance that things will go their way.

Okay, I'll bite. I will wonder, What is a miracle? "...a miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love," Father Latour, the protagonist states in the dialogue excerpted here. (p.50). And further refining this definition, the character of Father Valliant shares his view of how miracles happen in a moment.

It's the moment where I can see and hear with fine perception what is always there. How simple - and how hard!

How have you experienced miracles - in the moment?