This past week I have had some wonderful or “sublime” moments with children and some perfectly tragic ones – and some sublime moments mixed in with tragic ones. I suppose every sublime moment has an edge of the tragic mixed in since just being in a children’s hospital means something is seriously wrong – something that requires the family to come here. Even so, let me try to describe what I mean.
One day last week as I was working with a family whose child was actively dying, I went and visited a child on the general pediatric floor who was sick and sad, but obviously getting well. The little girl was resting in her mother’s arms so at first I visited with the mom, but then I noticed the little girl peeking at me. I said hello and told her my name. I said, “Did you hear me tell your Mom that I’m a chaplain.” She nodded seriously. I said, “Do you know what a chaplain is?” She shook her head no. I told her that sometimes I pray with people, or just talk with them – that I’m here to talk about how they are feeling in their hearts not to poke and prod them or give them shots. I said, “How is your heart feeling today?” She said, “Its sad.” I said, “I’m sorry its sad. It is hard being sick.” She nodded. Then I said, “You know, chaplains also tell stories. Would you like to hear a story?” She sat up and said, “Yes!” enthusiastically. She told me she had to get “cozy” first. She arranged the blankets and puffed up her pillow and then settled back down.
I pulled my miniature Creation story out of my bag and began to tell it. She was entranced and engaged on all levels, touching the material, wondering with me about what might be the most important gift and where she was in the story. When I finished she said she was ready for a nap. I said, “That’s great. I hope you have a good nap. Can I come another day with a story?” She smiled and said yes. I turned to say goodbye to her Mom who whispered, “Can you come every day?” I smiled and said I would try.
In the meantime I found my way to the Emergency Room where a little girl was being treated for a broken bone. She was alone, since it happened while her Mom was at work, and she was terrified. I sat with her while we waited for her mother. She slept a little, but she was in a lot of pain and needed her Mom. I said, “I know how scary this must be. Would you like me to say a prayer?” She whispered, “Yes.” I said a short prayer and then asked, “Do you know any prayers?” She drew a deep breath and started, “Our Father…”, and together we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. It was a holy and precious moment – and blessedly her mother arrived shortly after that.
All of this happened as I was also caring for the family whose child was actively dying. And the last “sublime” moment for me was when I stood with the staff at the very end of that long sad day. The drama and emotion of the day was exhausting for us all, but as we stood alone in the room (the family had been escorted to their cars) we gathered in a circle around the child and prayed. I prayed the Prayer of Commendation from the Burial Service in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Those simple words were a “sublime” way to end what had been a long and difficult day.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant. Acknowledge, we beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen. The Book of Common Prayer, p. 499