Month: June 2015

And God came so close…

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Noah's Ark
The beautiful Ark Mike makes!

This week I became friends with a patient who was in for about a week due to a chronic condition.  His Mom came at night to be with him, but during the day she had to work so he was on his own for several hours.  Nurses and staff did their best to check in on him, and Child Life workers brought him art projects and games to occupy him.  The hospital has its own “TV Station” that broadcasts different shows, many of which are interactive.  The kids stuck in their rooms can call in an participate.  If they win something, one of the volunteers runs upstairs with their prize.  All this is to say he kept busy, but it also became a chance for me to spend some time with him talking and sharing Godly Play stories.

I shared the Good Shepherd first, and he helped move the figures and afterwards played out several different scenarios.  He was especially struck by the dangerous places and shared with me some stories about his school that would make your hair stand on end.  His condition is serious, so he spoke about worrying about death a good bit.

Later in the week I checked back in on him and discovered he was feeling much better.  He had been out and about during the day, visiting the play room and more.  He had been given a game system to play with and had some new games he was excited to show me.  They thought he might go home the next day.

This time I had the Ark and Flood with me in my “chaplain bag” and I asked him if he would like me to tell it to him.  We cleared a space on his bed and I laid out the big brown underlay and began.  He helped move the figures again, and when I skipped the part about the raven and said, “Wait, wasn’t there a raven?”  This boy knows his Bible stories.  At the end we wondered about the story.  He loved the end when everything was ready for a new start, but he thought the flood was the most important part….or maybe when God came close to Noah.  That is after all how Noah knew he should build the ark in the first place.  I said, “I wonder if you have ever felt God come close?”  He said, “When you come to visit.”

At the end when I was putting things back in my bag he picked up the ark.  He really loved how smooth it is and commented on how heavy it is.  I said, “You know, I know the guy who makes those.  His name is Mike.  He would love to see you playing with it.”  He asked about Mike – where he makes the arks and where he lives.  Then he said, “You know this ark is such a safe boat…its too bad Jesus didn’t have it.”  I said, “What would Jesus do with it?”  He said, “He could have hid in it when they were looking for him to kill him.  It would have been perfect.”    I said, “It is a very safe boat.”  He then reluctantly handed it to me so I could put it back in the bag.

I left him with some paper and crayons and suggested he might like to make something about how the story felt to him.  I think he probably just fired up the Xbox and began to explore his new games.    However, I know that for a little while God came so close to both of us, and we came so close to God…it was a holy time and place.  Thank you Mike for your beautiful boat!

I wonder if you have ever been in a dark or dangerous place?

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palmThis week I stood face to face with death several times at the hospital both close up, and from a distance.  Sometimes it was an accident that claimed a child, other times illness, and worse abuse.  All of that was juxtaposed with the terrible news from Charleston.  As I wandered about yesterday doing errands, I kept seeing the children out riding bikes, having lunch with family, riding in the grocery cart, and I couldn’t help but think about how very fragile their little lives are- really how fragile life is period- that in a blink of an eye they could be lying in one of those beds at the hospital dying.

“Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures” (Job 3:20-21)? Through this prayer, Job expressed that his anguish was so severe that he no longer wanted to live. Yet he put his trust in God, in whose “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10), by saying with confidence and hope: “I know that you can do all things…” (Job 42:2).

Where can we turn for comfort in the face of all this suffering?  As I searched for a word of hope I came upon the following from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal who wrote:

Jesus, who is divine life and who is the reason for our participation in divine life, partakes in our humanity; he exposes himself to fragility, suffering, and death. He embraced our fragility; he did not run from it. He embraced the cross…. there is no situation of despair where Jesus is not present. By dying with love on the cross, he bore all of our sins, all of our suffering, all of our anguish, and all of our deaths.

This week I also brought some stories to the children I visited.  It was a particular pleasure to share the Good Shepherd with one child, who proceeded to talk at length about the dark places.  For those of you unfamiliar with the way we present the Good Shepherd in Godly Play let me explain.  The Good Shepherd in the story leads the sheep out of the sheepfold to the good green grass, to the clear, still water, and then through the places of danger.  And when he gets back to the sheepfold with them he discovers that one is missing so he has to go looking, and eventually finds the little sheep stuck behind one of the dark and dangerous spots.

I said to the child, “I wonder if you have ever been in a place like this?” – pointing to the dark and dangerous places.  The child had many stories about getting into difficult places with his friends and how they all got through.  As he told me his stories he would act it all out with the sheep and the Good Shepherd coming to help them over and over again. As the Archbishop said, “There is no situation of despair where Jesus is not present.”

Yes, life is indeed a fragile.  At any moment we may find ourselves in one of those dark and dangerous places.  But even as we go there, we can be confident that we will not be alone in any of it.  As a chaplain at the hospital, and as a parish priest, I pray I can be a symbol of that presence for all.

“Please pray for the sick, and the sad, and the Good Samaritans.”

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GP Good Samaritan
The Godly Play Material for the Good Samaritan

Its Sunday morning here in Dallas and I’m nursing my sore back, and feet after my second week as a chaplain at Children’s Medical Center.  I spent over 60 hours at the hospital this week, clocking in a couple of fifteen hour days, visited many patients, got to know staff, had the opportunity to share seven Godly Play stories with seven different patients, led a chapel service, got to know my colleagues in the Pastoral Care Department better, and somehow I’m still standing.  Well actually I’m collapsed on the couch, but you know what I mean.

As I sipped my coffee this morning I found myself mostly reflecting on what some might call the art of pastoral hospitality. In 1 Timothy, Chapter 3 there is a list of requirements for a leader in any Christian community.  It includes things like respectability, and the ability to teach.  But among the things listed is hospitality.  The word used here for “hospitality” comes from two different Greek words.  The two words are “love,” and “strangers.”  It means literally to “love strangers.”   Hospitality is true Christian love toward other people, regardless of the person or of the circumstances.  

The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, signifying a stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Another noun derived from this, hospitium came to signify hospitality, that is the relation between guest and shelterer, hospitality, friendliness, and hospitable reception.  So what does this all look like at the hospital?  In what ways was I able to practice pastoral hospitality this past week?  It included several things that didn’t look much like the work of a chaplain:

  • I was able to help a Mom get comfortable as she comforted her son – getting her some water, and retrieving her phone from her bag so she didn’t have to leave her son’s side.
  • I came upon a woman who needed help getting out to her car.
  • I helped an anxious Dad find his way to the emergency room to find his son.
  • I brought a little boy to to the bathroom whose brother was being treated in the Emergency Room, and then fixed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • I found a Dad wandering the back halls near the Emergency Room looking for a vending machine.  I didn’t know where a vending machine might be, but together we found it.

As I did all these rather mundane tasks, I was wearing my collar – a kind of symbol of my vocation.  I wonder if that changed how people experienced these acts of pastoral hospitality?

One little girl I met told me she wanted to pray for “the sick, and the sad, and the Good Samaritans.”  I pray I was one of those Good Samaritans for her and all the others I encounter at Children’s.

Why are they leaving their home?

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Hospital badgeI just completed my first week at the hospital.  It was filled with orientation – tours of the hospital, training on the computers and more.  We received our official hospital badges, found the parking garage, and the all important cafeteria.  The hospital’s mission is to make children’s lives better, and from my so far limited view of the place they are working to do that in every corner of the place.

All of the orientation is completely necessary, but I was “champing at the bit” to get up on the floors and visit children and families.  Towards the end of the week I was invited to “shadow” a couple of chaplains as they visited patients and was not disappointed.  Those moments in the rooms were sacred as we interacted with both the children and parents.    Imagine my excitement when one Mom asked about Godly Play.  She had seen the Godly Play Room on her way to the cafeteria and wondered what that was all about.  The chaplain offered to stop by the next day with a story.

I went with the chaplain the next day and was thrilled to watch the Parable of the Good Shepherd come out of the box and get spread out on the child’s bed.  I watched as she was slowly drawn into the story.  “Why are they leaving their home?” she said.  “Why are they in the dangerous place?”  But then she watched with peace on her face as the Good Shepherd came and made sure they all got safely back home.

We wondered with her about the story, and then gave here a “paper version” of the Good Shepherd to keep.  Her eyes began to shine as she opened it up (just a green file folder, with the sheepfold, the water, and dangerous places glued on the appropriate spots – and an envelope with all the figures needed to tell the story).  She said, “I have sheep!”  I wonder who she will share the story with next?  She didn’t pull out the wolf while we were there, but this child knows about the wolf.  I mean she really knows.  I wonder how she might play with the wolf?

It was hard to walk away from her.  As a Mom I felt my maternal instinct kick in powerfully, not just with her but with the others we met.  I even found it hard to leave at the end of the day, fighting the urge to run back up the floor see how they were all doing.  A lot of the children in the hospital are very sick.  Many will go home, thankfully, but some will not.  I pray I can be a conduit of God’s peace for each one, as well as their parents, during this time – that they will feel the presence not just of me but of the Good Shepherd himself while they walk through these days.

Lord Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd of the sheep, you gather the lambs in your arms and carry them in your bosom: I commend to your loving care these children.  Relieve their pain, guard them from all danger, restore to each one the gifts of gladness and strength.  In your name we pray.  Amen.   — BCP, p. 459