Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spirituality and Healing ~ 2

We don't all have the same spiritual needs in a hospital setting.

I have parishoners who have related with delight stories of doctors who pray with them.

I know a lot of other folks, religious and otherwise, who would consider a doctor's or nurse's offer to pray with them as a major step beyond appropriate boundaries.

And the reality is that few of us know much about the religious beliefs and practices of others ~ even of others who self-identify as we do ~ and and if we do seek to offer spiritual friendship to others, we may find ourselves offering well-intended prayers that baffle at best and alienate and anger at worst.

This morning, I'm thinking about those moments in my own experience, this fall and in years previous, in which fragile doorways opened briefly, and closed silently, before any light was captured.  

I have stories, not answers.

This is one of them:

Somewhere in the registration process for my September procedure, I was asked a fill-in-the-blank question: Religious preference?  

Official answer: Presbyterian.  

Real answer? A wondrous thing is about to happen to me.  I'm about to be ordained to ministry.  After years of prayer and study and preparation, I'm about to raise a plate of bread and a cup and offer them to others as the body and blood of Jesus.  

But here's the thing:  in the middle of all that prayer and study and preparation, God departed.  Vanished.  I had to learn to see and hear all over again, in the dark and in absolute silence, before I could dream about that bread and cup again.  

My real religion is Psalm 139, except for when it's Psalm 88. And so I am not a little apprehensive about what lies ahead. In a spiritual sense.  A friend told me that after her 28-year-old husband died and then her kitchen burned down, another friend said to her "God drinks."  She told me this when I called to tell her that I had been approved for ordination  and diagnosed with breast cancer in the same week.  Yet another friend for whom cancer has been part of life sent me several books of poetry by a Benedictine monk as ordination gifts.  One of them is entitled God Drops and Loses Things.  

I don't know what the hospital registration people think that the religious preference question is about; probably they imagine that it is simply about what clergy to call if things don't work out.  I think it's a bigger question than that. I for instance, want to discuss the drinking and dropping and losing. 

But I answered: Presbyterian.


  1. "God drinks." Interesting answer to a lot of mysterious questions. I think I like it.

  2. How would it be for you if the chaplain who stopped in (assuming such an event took place), used the question as a starting place? (I ask that recognizing that there are a number of people for whom a denominational name might be the full extent of their religious preference.)

    When my best friend's father died of cancer a couple of years ago, she came away from it saying that what she most wanted from a chaplain was for them to shut up and just be there. There was nothing someone outside the situation could say to her, and there were no questions she wanted to be asked.

    Your post says to me, "Be open to the likelihood that the patient already has a rich spiritual life." But this goes back to what we've both said before-- "Ask me what my experience of God is, don't tell me which theology to accept."

  3. Just catching up here after a couple of days... One of the hats I wear at the hospital these days is that of a registrar, and I ask that very question about religious preference as I click through my screens to gather demographic, guarantor, insurance subscriber, etc information. I have a HUGE drop down list from which to select the patient's response to the religious preference question. The majority answer "none". I have to say after my recent experiences with the Catholic church, sadly I would be inclined to answer the same way, although due to habit the word Catholic would pop from my mouth.

    As I sit behind my desk today and ask that question, I will think about drinking, dropping and losing as it applies to my own life, and I will stifle the urge to engage the patients in a conversation about the matter!

    In spite of some funky dreams, the narcotics certainly aren't affecting your ability to communicate this experience to us in such a thought-provoking way.

    Blessings to you and yours, tomorrow and always.