Monday, August 20, 2018

Aha's! Open the Door: part 1

Greetings One and All,
I am starting a thread with the word Aha! My journey has been a continuing series of Aha! Even in the midst of pain, suffering, confussion, stress, being overwhelmed, there has been the Aha's! Gifts! Insights! New understandings! A new birth! Even a paradigm shift!

Death and Resurrection? Good Friday/Easter?
I begin with two stories from Bellevue Hospital, New York City. 
After my first Clinical Pastoral Education experience in the summer of 1953 I went back to serve for the vacationing night chaplain during the summers of 1960 and 1961. I was testing myself to see if chaplaincy could be my future vocation. My experience in several congregations after being ordained priest in the Episcopal Church in 1955 did not seem like like I was in the right place even though I seemed to be doing acceptable work. 
My goal from before, during, and after Seminary was, this seems rather audacious now, to develop the ministry of the whole Church (parish). My mentor and I had many conversations on this topic. I wrote a paper my senior year in Seminary on the subject. Now in the reality of parish life I wasn't making much progress. The ordained as the Minister was deeply ingrained and moving to the concept of all have a ministry, laity and ordained together, was resisted back in 1955 to 1965. I was paid and ordained to be "The Minister." Some changes have taken place since. We still have more to accomplish.
A necessary foundation for the Aha! was Story listening, an outcome from the ‘53 experience with Fred Kuether as Chaplain Supervisor at Bellevue Hospital. There a few of my pastoral visits began to net an Aha! Experience. A surprising outcome for both speaker and listener caught my attention, especially the listener in my case.
I will share two stories, one from my visits as night chaplain and another as a Clinical Pastoral Education student. 
Before surgery at Bellevue, a hospital requirement, all patients were seen by either a Roman Catholic Priest, a Rabbi, or a Protestant Chaplain. After the visit you signed your name on the temperature page in the chart. Patients with no preference or from another tradition were seen by all three clergy. If this was not signed you could be called to the operating room to see the patient before going to surgery. They followed the rule. I am sure it is different now.
I visited a young black lady from the south. From the beginning of our conversation I could tell she was extremely nervous. I Proceeded slowly as I learned she was to have surgery on her heavy bandaged infected elbow. The operating schedule informed me ahead of time but I wanted to hear from her what was about to happen. Surprise, as she told her story she suddenly bent over putting her hand to her face. When she raised up there was a glass eye in the palm of her hand and an opening in one eye. Aha! Her last experience in surgery was the loss of an eye. Was she about to lose an arm? As our conversation continued she asked me to read Psalm 31. I carried a small Book of Psalms with me since such requests was not out of the ordinary from some patients. Reading the long Psalm was like reading her autobiography with suffering. Like many laments the turn around came at the end. I repeated it twice, the second time as a prayer. The next day I returned to see what happened. Some distance from her bed I knew from the big smile on her face. She still had both arms.
Bellevue was a training hospital for four medical schools in the 50's and 60’s. Researchers and Specialists were present and available for conversation in the Dinning Room. This story comes from my chaplaincy intern days and involves a patient from Thailand who was scheduled for both a goider and heart surgery. Six times the surgery was canceled because of risk with her rapid heart rate. That made for a number of visits. We were getting acquainted in spite of her broken English and he was meeting with all three chaplains from their traditions since she was a Buddhist.  Another day she was scheduled and I was visiting again. This time the surgery was performed successfully. The day after I made a follow up call and out of her mouth came these excited words in broken English, “I feel like new born!” Aha! I have never forgotten her metaphor for new life. Since her sister was married to a naval officer at the Thai Embassy in Washington DC, I made a visit to her sister's home while she continued to convalesce.  My seminary was in Alexandria across the Potomac. 
In both of these stories I was on my way to discoveries that would net greater Aha's! The seeds had been sown but germination takes time. And different seeds germinate at a different rate. How about 25 and 26 years. Slow learner.

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