I listened to a message on the Chaplains Office voice-mail yesterday afternoon. It was a request to visit a patient in the ICU. I arrived in the ICU a while later and asked about the patient. I was expecting her to be present, but as the nurse described her situation I realized that she would be completely unaware of my presence. She had just undergone a cranial operation and was still unconscious. I walked into her room and saw all the equipment, the ventilator, four IV’s containing various solutions, the bandage around her head with blood stains visible, her swollen eyes – I wondered what in the world I could do.
I did all I could do, all that a chaplain could do in a situation like that. I spoke to her and explained that I realized she could probably not her me. Probably, because I know of too many examples of patients that seemed completely unresponsive or unaware only to find out later that they did hear, they were aware in ways we could not have realized. Anyway, to explained who I was and said that I would pray for her. I did – several prayers. Then, I read to her a number of Psalms, beginning with the 23rd. I held her hand.
I do not know whether she heard me or not – probably not. Much of medical literature dealing with spirituality and prayer suggest that it does play a big and verifiable role in healing. I could not deal with the needs of her body. I could only deal with the needs of her soul, and I did all that I knew how to do. I pray that the prayers and scripture read aloud fed her soul.
I ended up not being able to visit my assigned floors yesterday. After visiting the patient in ICU I went to the family lounge to jot down some notes. I found a woman watching a soap opera and one thing lead to another. For the next hour and a half I spent talking with this woman about her aunt, who was also in ICU. We went to the aunt’s bedside and prayed. The aunt suffered a stroke on Saturday, and while you could not tell she was aware from her face, she could respond by squeezing our hands. I held her hand, I prayed with her, I read to hear, and prayed again. She squeezed my hand at various times throughout. The connection was made, regardless of what we saw in her face.
The “Plano West” conference ended last week. ENS (Episcopal News Service) reported on the meeting and quoted Anderson:
Anderson predicted times will get harder before they get better, and advised participants to stockpile diocesan and parish directories.
“There may come a time when the AAC chapter in your diocese may need to do direct mail into every home in the diocese, when they may need to replicate the local bishop’s power to place a message in every living room,” he advised participants.
For all the rhetoric from the AAC (American Anglican Council) and the Anglican Communion Network (Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes) that they are a part of the Episcopal Church USA and will faithfully remain so, with the glaring omission of a pledge to abide by the Canons of the Church, statements like those above simply confound these statements.
Because the elected leadership of a Diocese may not agree with the AAC or the Network and thus implement their policies and theology, then the AAC must go around the duly elected leaders and attempt to force their views by sidetracking the elected leaders with direct mail appeals. They are attempted to deny and usurp the authority of the Bishop by appealing to church members in the pews directly. The problem is that the Episcopal Church is not a congregational church – it is episcopal! It is a church of Bishops, and if the AAC attempts to force their views upon the mainstream church in this way they will be violating traditional Anglican understanding of the episcopate, authority, the diocesan structure, and the Canons of the Episcopal Church.
As much as they claim to be the true expression of the Anglicanism and of the faith handed down, they violate the very core of the Anglican ethos that calls all to wrestle with issues but remain together, to allow differences of theological opinion yet remain faithful to one another. Additionally, they are attempting to undo the very ancient organizational structure of the Church catholic and Anglicanism.
Their goal, as stated in the leaked memo months ago, is to usurp the structure of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA and establish themselves as head of the Church structures. They want to do the same as ultra-conservatives did in the Southern Baptist Convention years ago when they took control of church structures and expelled moderates and liberals.
I was on-call last night, and I am tonight, also. Last night, I think I did not set the beeper correctly, which meant all hell could have broken loose and I wouldn’t have known a think. Of course, that is an exaggeration after all, but even if it were not there would have gotten through it fine without me.
I am in CPE to learn – I am a learner. As one of our fellow Episcopalians from VTS commented earlier today during our first IPR (Inter-Personal Relations) seminary, “we are the project.” Tonight, the beeper is working correctly and I could be called in to the hospital at any time, but only under certain circumstances.
The other CPE’er and I who are assigned to St. Luke’s roamed around Roosevelt hospital to familiarize ourselves with the place in case we are called-in. We spent a good amount of time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Man, the security is tight, but this little “Chaplain” badges get us in anywhere. These little, tiny babies – tubes, special lighting, clamps, incubators, naked, parents waiting, waiting. My goodness. So fragile. So helpless. So innocent.
Monday night while Ashton and I were walking in Chelsea after a movie, we saw a woman wondering around (I’ve seen her before), needle marks up her arm… pregnant. To think of this baby inside of her that must endure the trauma of his/her mother’s tragedy is unfathomable. What heroine is doing to the development of that helpless, fragile baby made in the image of God, I cannot imagine. Yet, so many of those crack or heroine or coke or alcohol babies make it, and miraculously many are not seriously devastated. How? God, how?
Oh, and let me expose and express my FEELINGS about…
I am having a difficult time “jumping right in there” and visiting patients. A couple of us from General were talking yesterday about how we, if we were patients, would not want someone coming into our room and attempting to do with us what we are being instructed/encouraged to do with patients. I feel as if I am intruding. It is different to enter a room and explain who I am and what the Chaplaincy Office can provide than to attempt to get people to emote.
For some odd reason, I have far less hesitancy when in the Emergency Room than when on my assigned floor. Perhaps it is the openness of the physical space in the Emergency Room – I don’t know. I have prayed with every one of the ER patients I have visited.
I do know that I need to relax. I need to be myself, which I think may run a bit contrary to the wishes of the chaplaincy office. (I was told I verged on proselytizing when I encouraged a patient who was lonely a fearful of being by her self when returning home and who had a Christian upbringing to seeking out church or religious community.) I need to be more present in the moment (“Be here, now!”). I need to be more curious when patients do want to talk – ask more open-ended questions and follow-up on comments with more probing questions.
I am also having a hard time understanding my role as a chaplain. I am not from Psych who focuses on the mental aspect of a person. I am not a counselor who focuses on the emotions. I am not a social worker who focuses on physical needs. I am not a doctor or nurse who focus on the medical needs of a person. I am a chaplain, a religious and faith person. I focus on the soul. My job, as I see it, is not simply to try to get people to emote so they can feel better. I can do that, but so can people from Psych and social workers, and doctors and nurses for that matter. I am, as I see it, to focus of the development, growth, and strengthening of a person’s spiritual life. Because the ministry is inter-faith, I will encourage them in what ever religion or spiritual community they want to be a part of, but I will encourage them to develop their spiritual life, to be faithful, to recognize the social, spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical benefits of a spiritual life not neglected.
If we are truly beings made up of body, mind, and soul (or however that dynamic is categorized or described), then let the professionals who deal with each do their work. If chaplains are to be respected as important members of a holistic health care team, then we have to be more than simply hand-holders or people to get family members out of the way so doctors and nurses can do their work. Chaplains can do such things joyfully, but I believe our role is as healers of the soul. However, some people are so afraid of offending people that they will forgo their freedom as representatives of “God” to speak into a person’s life when deal with spiritual matters and the soul as doctors deal with the body and psychiatrists and therapists deal with the mind. I can’t do that and be authentic, which means if I must then this learning experience will not help me to find my place in this kind of role, but rather simply cause me to suppress who and what I think I am.
We are ending our first week of CPE. I have a great group of people, although I would have liked at least one weird or cracked-up person just to make things interesting. Actually, I’m thankful for a bunch of ordinary (!?) group of people.
I am placed at St. Luke’s, a former Episcopal hospital directly across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. There is a wonderful chapel in the hospital, and generally chaplains are well integrated into the affairs of the hospital. I am assigned to the Orthopedics unit and the Emergency Room, which is one of only two Trauma 1 units on Manhattan. I am truly looking forward to working in the Emergency Room, and I do not really know why. I am at a disadvantage because I do not speak Spanish, although it does not seem to be a predominately Spanish population. We should actually see patients today.
I am dead tired when I get home. Eventhough at the end of last summer I thought I could have endured CPE with no problem, I think I was wise in listening to people who know such things and not doing CPE last summer!
Our CPE group is made up of Jews (one CPE’er and our supervisor) and the rest are Christian (Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist). Here is the quandary/issue for me: We try so hard not to offend that we deny the very center of our faith. Christians are encouraged not to proselytize – and that’s fine, but to some simply using the name Jesus Christ is proselytizing. So, we do not pray in Jesus’ name. But, that is the same as having a Jew never mention anything about Moses – that means the books of Moses, the Law of Moses, and so very much of the Jewish faith. Likewise, the Muslim not being able to mention Mohammad – it just wouldn’t happen. So, why is there an expectation for the Christian to not mention or pray in the name of Jesus, etc.? To do so is denying the very core of Christianity in the same way as demanding a Jew not mention Moses or a Muslim not mention Mohammad.
There has to be a way of respecting one another’s faith without demanding the core of that faith is denied.
This morning I begin CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). I will work as a hospital chaplain intern for the next 12 weeks, and I’m not sure what I think about it. For some, it is a great experience, and of course for some it is not. We shall see how things fall for me.
This is going to be a very tight summer financially. I can’t work because of CPE, and I will not have enough money to make it through the summer, all things staying the same.