Monday, June 1, 2009

Well, it's been a month. A few thing have happened: Finals, two deaths, end of the first year of seminary, start of my summer-long chaplaincy.

Instead of a blow by blow, I'm just going to pick up where I am, "to begin in the middle of things" to quote the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I started my Clinical Pastoral Education last week, CPE for short. I am a chaplain at the local hospital and the nursing facility down the road. I was lead to believe that the nursing home was for old folks but it's actually a facility for people with dementia and other mental issues i.e schizophrenia, bipolar, etc.

I've had some amazing and frightening experiences already, just in the first week. But the real take home for me initially is the closeness of these pocket worlds of pain and suffering. I live on a mountain, The Mountain. This place is a paradise. Sometimes I feel like Samwise Gamgee waking up in verdent Middle Earth, all is well. But a three minute walk from my front door leads me to the hospital. In that hospital there is a woman who screams alot, nothing can be done for her. There is a lot of pain, frustration, and forgetting there. There are many of caring souls too, families gathering, and I think God is there too.

But simply saying God is there is such a bromide, so pat an answer that I feel sad saying it. I do believe God is there, but couldn't he make himself known? Platitudes help no one, especially the speaker. Actually, I think formulaic speaking is a defense mechanism that protects the speaker from engaging in real life.

Entering into pain with people is an honor and a challenge. When the people I speak with share their story with me and reveal themselves a sacred space is created; all the alarms and blaring t.v.s fade into a cloud of forgetting as a human connection is formed. The challenge comes with me when I enter the room. What will I witness? Are they friendly, hostile? Oh God give me words! Being a chaplain is a master class in mindfullness of speech. How easy it is to fall into the old patterns of talking. Just think how hard it is to start a conversation when you take out, "How are you?"

So, back to my original thought, the closeness of these places, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, to "regular life" is strange. These places to me are like people, we go by them everyday never knowing what goes on inside, or if we do we avoid them. About 10 years ago I got my first hard lesson on not knowing what is going on inside a person when my friend Marcus died. Oddly enough, it was his funeral which led me to the Episcopal Church, it was an Easter Liturgy, these people had the right idea. Anyway, we can never know what another person is thinking or living through. It is the mystery of not knowing that is humbling and a sure cure for complacency.

I guess this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus says, "Trust me, the knowing is going to be complete someday, death and suffering are not the final words..." This is what I believe and it is a mystery too. The mystery is hard to live with, and as Flannery O'Connor says, "the mystery is an embarrassment to the modern mind."

God grow my capacity for your mystery, grant me ambiguouity, so that I may walk in your many ways.


Trish in Sewanee said...

Thanks for sharing your early cpe thoughts. Wayne has shared similar concerns. I'm thinking living alone in Naples (most of the time) is probably a good thing. I would probably get overwhelmed quickly by his experiences. Take care good man.

soozinsta said...

I didn't know that Marcus' funeral lead you to the Episcopal Church. You just blew my mind.


Unknown said...

Strange but true. In fact talking to Marcus' dad, a similar thing happened to him too. You probably know he's now a priest in Atlanta.

Dianna Woolley said...

Memories of CPE talk when my spouse was a seminary student at General Theological Seminary in NY.....frightening, enlightening, where was God in this sterile, non-human places? Well, God was there with my spouse, otherwise it would be just downright overwhelming to see the suffering. He had some pretty amazing experiences during that time. Fastforward 13-15 yrs, now retired priest and Volunteer Chaplain for the EMS department here in a small town. God still rides regularly in my spouse's "hip pocket" so to speak, that's where his pager sits - he's always called when families are grieving over a sudden death and they have no faith or pastor or God of their own - CPE is dull compared to what you're dished up with no expectations. Sounds like it's serving you well also and the folks, young and old in that "old folks home" ? I'll bet they know somehow that God is there when you are.

Jon said...

Hey man, you need to update this bad boy! So now that you're near the end of CPE, has your take on it changed at all? Have you found out where God was in all those visits? I know he's been speaking through you each time you've shared your stories with the rest of us here on the Mountain... he used your voice to tell all of us newbies (a year away from our CPEs) that we'll be ok and we'll get through it and that occasionally we might actually be useful to someone, if only for a few minutes.