Every Friday morning I get on the elevator and ride it to the fourth floor of the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. It’s always a long ride.
My ride is always fraught with ruminations about my purpose and what life holds when I reach the fourth floor phone and they buzz me in.
I am still learning my “calling”. No one on this floor has requested a chaplain on my watch. Every visit I make is a “cold call”. My job, according to my supervisor, is to “bring God into the room”. That feels incredibly daunting. Who am I to bring God anywhere?
What I love about chaplaincy is that I’m not allowed to preach (which I don’t do very well anyway). I’m not allowed to bring my own theology (which isn’t clearly defined for the outsider because I’m so against having a ‘set’ theology). I’m to bring a Presence that allows openness that helps clarify the mile marker on their personal spiritual journey.
I’m an anomaly in a mainstream setting. The other chaplains know who they are. They are Christians. They espouse American religion and it fits them like a wet suit – they move in it easily and comfortably and there are no tears or bubbles that need mending.
I, on the other hand, will dance wildly at Solstice time in worship of the Goddess. I will join others at Buddhist retreats and learn acceptance. I will honor my chakras on a weekly basis, hoping for a deepening of the ancient Hindu spirituality. I will allow Jesus in my heart as much as I can without allowing the fundamentalist dogma to crawl out and into my ventricular system. I thrill when I hear Jewish chant and soften at the rituals. I believe in the braided path to God, and I use my sixty’s marching mentality to defend all that I believe – as I hear the Native American war chant beating in the distance.
That is the strange persona that I bring to the fourth floor. I don’t expect the nurses to understand it. The minute I introduce myself as the Friday Chaplain, they have a preconceived notion of what I’m about.
The fourth floor is for women patients only. Bright pastel walls blend with the bouquets of flowers adorning room shelves when a partially opened door allows a peek into the room. Balloons can be seen waving a joyful “look at this!” Passersby catch a glimpse of youthful husbands and wives as they gaze at their new born child with awe. There is a gentle sense of love and joy in those rooms.
When I began my internship, I would knock timidly on the door and then gauge whether I was welcome by facial expressions. The most recognizable expressions are those of Mormon couples. They have no need for any spiritual presence outside of the True Church. The second most understandable expressions are those afraid that I’m there to proselytize. I empathize mightily. After years of Christians convinced that I need their brand of God, I have no desire to be a continuing conduit of arrogant parochialism for captive hospital audiences.
Last week I walked into room 4106. I knocked first and listened for permission to enter. I scanned the room for evidence of family and support. There were flowers and balloons.
A woman lay in the bed, fresh faced and beaming. Instead of the baby lying in the nearby Plexiglas bed, she was laying in her mother’s arms. Her skin was the color of Bing cherries with a web of dark hair caressing her tiny head. The mother looked up when I told her who I was. She welcomed me in, and asked me to give her the bulb so that she could remove unwanted material from the baby’s nose.
The baby’s name is Marissa and she doesn’t like bulbs up her nose. Her reaction was immediate and vehement.
“That’s a spunky little girl” I exclaimed, falling in love immediately. Her mother agreed and gleefully began to share the energy she experienced as Marissa settled into her womb and claimed her place as an important part of their life within that cave of nutrients and love.
I moved to the other side of the bed to get a better look at this little female who had claimed my heart. She opened her tiny eyes, and a Light emanated in the room. I shared my observation with the mother, who again validated my perceptions. “Her middle name was Christina because she was a gift from God”.
She had lost a baby two years ago through a tubular pregnancy, a chaplain sat with her to support her in her grief. This time, she wanted a chaplain to pray a prayer of thanksgiving.
The prayer came easy. I wrapped Marissa with a blanket of gratitude for the role she would bring to our world. I thanked God for the parents who would care for her and support her. A tear rolled down my cheek as I sent a virtual hug over to this baby, who had settled down and lay with ease in her mother’s arms.
I opened my eyes, and felt the glow of Love and Joy wrapped around us. Marissa was the only being that took it for granted. The mother and I smiled at each other; we knew it was a special moment.
As I was leaving, the mother promised me that Marissa would belong to a church and attend Sunday School every week.
“Just remind her of who she is every day” I said, (breaking my chaplaincy code of expressing my own theology). “A Child of God”.
It was a defining moment. I didn’t bring God to the fourth floor. She was already there.