We hope that you are safe and well.
Today is the 53rd Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. In today's Meditation, I share with you some of my reflections on those years of ministry.
We invite you to join us as we commit ourselves to working tirelessly to end systemic and structural racism in our society, in the church, in healthcare, in the workplace--wherever it shows up so that everyone may come to have more abundant life. May this meditation nourish our contemplative-active hearts and sustain all of us in action.
In the spirit of our philosophy of co-creating community and our awareness that the Spirit speaks through each of us, we invite you to share your meditations with us as well. We truly believe that it is God's economy of abundance: when we share our blessings, our thoughts, our feelings, we are all made richer.
We hope and pray that you find peace, healing, hope and the infusion of joy in your life!
With our love and care,
Ron and Jean
On the occasion of my retirement from Brigham and Women's Hospital, I was given an elegant rocking chair with the hospital's emblem on it. At our cottage on the ocean, we have a rocking chair with many memories. I would like to choose these two rocking chairs as a vehicle for sharing with you some of my reflections on priestly ministry on this 53rd Anniversary of my ordination.
Even though most of my ministry was not conducted from a rocking chair, the rocking chair communicates to me hospitality. I saw my role as creating a place of hospitality where people could enter in and feel confident sharing their stories and their concerns and their feelings. I came to capsulate my mission as whetting people's appetite for God, for meaning making.
I had asked to go to Rome to study theology because I envisioned teaching theology or being a college chaplain. When I was ordained, they asked me to spend the summer at Massachusetts General Hospital where our community had three chaplains so that each of them could take their vacation and do their retreat. I remember one woman asking me how long I had been ordained. When I responded, "Two weeks." She exclaimed with excitement, "Oh, a baby priest!" I was just beginning.
Everyone was a teacher for me. When I first visited patients who were unresponsive, I did not know what to do. Then I saw the nurse talking to the patient as if they were wide awake: "Mr. Smith, I am going to turn you now on to your left side and move your pillow to make you comfortable. It may hurt for a minute." That gave me the courage to talk to unresponsive patients and pray with them. And later, when ICU nurses sometimes said to me, "they won't even know you are there," I would go in anyway and tell people who I was and say something that I hoped would be comforting. I came to believe that even when patients cannot hear with their ears, that their bodily and spiritual being picks up caring energy from someone who approaches them with compassion. I was reminded of this by a chaplain colleague who reported visiting a woman in a coma for months and praying the Lord's Prayer with her everytime. When she came out of the coma, she said to the nurse, "get that chaplain who visited me and prayed the Lord's Prayer with me." When he came, she said to him, "You had no way of knowing and I had no way of letting you know, but your praying the Lord's Prayer with me every time you came is what kept me going."
When I first started visiting patients, I thought I should be able to answer any question they brought up. I came to realize that I couldn't and that was OK. One woman who had cancer, as soon as I identified myself as the chaplain, said why is this happening to me--I always ate the right food, never smoked or drank--why is this happening to me?" When I said, "I don't know." She smiled and said, "It is so good to hear you say 'I don't know.' I thought I was the only one who didn't know." I joined her in her not knowing and that solidarity was a comfort to her. This visiting patients was sacred ground as they told me their stories and their deepest feelings.
I do not know how many patients I helped cross the threshold between life in this world and life after death. However, those were precious often painful moments. I often did not know what to say or to do, but trusted that God would give me the words and the silences of caring presence. Whenever it is my turn to die, I anticipate that they will be there as angels helping me cross to the next life, too.
I came to let everyone be the expert in their own experience and invite them to tell me what it was like for them. That was surely more honoring of who they were than my initial weighty expectation of myself to have all the answers. It also certainly freed me up to be more peaceful and less anxious myself which went a long way to helping me create the hospitality to welcome them and their stories.
Though I could tell you more stories about those ministry experiences, I should move on to the other rocking chair at our oceanfront cottage. Jean was sitting in one rocking chair and our grandson Alex, who was three or four at the time, sitting in the other rocking chair said "Memere, we're making memories here aren't we." One of those memories was Jean's Father with his great-grandson, this same Alex at about the same age, holding miniature American flags looking with eyes of wonder at each other. I recount this story because one of the things I have been coming to learn these last few years is how important the intergenerational connections are. We are so connected to the people who have come before us and those who will come after us. One of my rabbi collleagues says, looking at the starlit sky, "Do you realize that every human being who has ever lived on this earth sees these same stars." The new cosmology tells us that this universe is 13.5 billion years old. We are part of a long history. My 81 years are a small, small part of that history. Teilhard reminds us that we are not human besings having a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Even after death our spiritual journey and mission will continue: we are part of a much bigger history than we know.
One more rocking chair story: I was sitting in the rocking chair looking at the ocean and a dragonfly came and alighted on the arm of the rocking chair right next to my hand. I said. "Hello, little dragonfly, welcome." And the dragonfly hopped onto my hand and we continued our conversation for a few seconds before it flew away. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about interbeing and African culture talks about Ubuntu: I am because you are. I have come to the conclusion, in the spirit of Anne Lamott's meditation from yesterday, that I need to rebuild umbilical cords back to God, to all humans, to Mother Earth and all creatures.
I am filled with joyful gratitude with all the blessings that have come my way.
Thank you for being a blessing to me and for letting me be a blessing to you.