Friday, July 28, 2023

Spiritual (mystical) experience


Reflecting on a spiritual experience continues. What was the setting?  What were the outcomes, still continuing.

The year was 1973, the third Sunday in March, and I was the guest celebrant at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bettendorf, Iowa. The next day I would be leaving for Atlanta, GA, where the College of Chaplains would gather for their workshops. I was scheduled to give a paper on the training of lay people to be story listeners in a hospital setting. We began in 1966 and I now had enough experience to let others know about our adventure.

Since I could not find other like programs in the journals I was anxious about the reception. During the prayer of Consecration and the words “he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it”. I lost my voice. I could not speak. My mind went into a life review of rejections.  I don’t know the length of time, enough time for many in the congregation to start wondering if I was getting sick, faint, etc. Then I heard a distinct voice and words. “Broke is not the last word.” My voice came back and I finished the service. The paper was well received. A chaplain across the river in Illinois asked to join me in training lay people for his hospital. We worked together for five years and wrote a book at the request of Howard Clinebell who came to do several workshops for clergy and laity in the community.

The words and experience were the beginning of a creative pastoral adventure culminating (2013) in a six session DVD on the Healing Power of Story Listening. The art of listening for metaphors became the key for the spirituality of deeper listening. The initial words are also metaphorical, moving to different life events, my mantra for living in crisis, grief, conflict, any transition. They are meno. “He in us and we in Him” from John’s Gospel.

Marlin Whitmer, BCC (Ret.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Florence Nightingale: Observations Make a Difference

On August 12th, we remember Florence Nightingale in our Episcopal Church Year Calendar. My years as chaplain generated interest in the founder of modern nursing, often called “the lady with the lamp” from her work in the military hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War.

What few realize: she was a religious mystic. Two mystical experiences set the course for her life. A call to service at age 17 brought great frustration on two fronts. The first was service with nothing specific and the second was her land-owning family who sought the social life for her as prescribed at that time. It was near age 30 when another mystical experience in Egypt gave resolve and specifics, “service without reputation.” “Think only Thy will.” She connected with Jesus beginning his mission at 30. 


Her desire to be a nurse brought great resistance from her family. Nurses not part of a Religious Order were either prostitutes or drunkards. She refused to be a slave to marriage and a social life. She would be “nailed,” her word.


This resistance from family and her inclination brought on periodic depressions, suicidal thoughts, and trance like states of dreaming she called her enemy. Friends of the family would step in to revive her by furthering her interest in the world at large. She was well traveled, France, Italy, Germany, Egypt, and Greece by age 30.


Her father home schooled his daughters in a classical education, including his interest in mathematics. This resulted in Florence becoming an early statistician using research and numbers to make her point and convince others. Her image as the lady with the lamp and getting nursing started during the Crimean war overshadows her huge accomplishments over a fifty year period afterwards. She sought the numbers, studied the numbers, and used the numbers to argue for change in lowering the death rates in hospitals, among soldiers in the army, the slums, and in child birth. She was concerned about prevention and collected data on diet, sanitation, ventilation, over crowding, helping found the Red Cross, the Geneva Convention, etc. She developed the first pie chart diagram to prove her points.


She influenced the health in England, Africa, and India. In England nurses under her direction started public health. She even influenced health care in Davenport, Iowa, indirectly, as Miss Craig Anderson, head nurse and administrator of St. Luke’s Hospital for 20 years, was English trained. When I started as chaplain some still remembered the hymn singing and worship before nurses started their morning duties.


As late as the early 1900’s nursing was not thought of as a socially acceptable occupation in Davenport. When St. Luke’s hospital began and a school of nursing was formed they kept the name of the nursing school separate to not reflect on the hospital. I am talking about changes within the last 150 years. 


For Florence Nightingale we are talking about changes that met with powerful resistance from the military doctors and politicians of her day. The changes made in her time were accomplished by a few influential people working within a society that wanted to keep things as they were. 


Upon her return from the war her health was such that most of her work was done from her house and bed. I am sure we would call her condition post traumatic stress syndrome today. People still came to her for council and direction and she wrote copious notes, letters, and books to communicate her concepts and always with plenty of statistics to back them up. She lived to be 90 dying in 1910. Her grave has a simple cross with her initials and the two dates: born 1820 and died 1910.


My remarks about Florence Nightingale are all too brief. The Scripture chosen for her day is most appropriate.


       Isaiah 58:6-11  Matthew 25:31-46 Psalm 73:23-29


Special prayers and thanks for all the health care workers who served through the pandemic. The stressful times cost lives and those living. The stats apparently are 2.3 million retired, etc. The nursing shortage will take some time to recover and the experience lost even longer. Hard to measure the loss from experienced nurses except it is real and makes a difference.

Prayer for Florence Nightingale: Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen


Marlin Whitmer, B.C.C. (ret.)



Sunday, July 9, 2023

Fitness Exercise at age 93

I had a number of session with a physical therapist to help me deal with balance. Neuropathy made balance an added challenge. I have given up wearing socks so the numbness is a little closer to the ground. This provides me with more assurance whether it is true or not. What I did take away from the physical therapy was the need to strengthen my leg muscles and core.

The Fitness Center I had attended for 7 years closed. The city of Bettendorf decided it was too expensive even though a sizable number of elderly retired attended as well as a middle age group doing pickle ball. We went to a public hearing. But that was a farce. You could tell the decision had been made. The YMCA bought the building for a gymnastics program. It took me some time to decide to go the the big Y in Bettendorf.   The building is overwhelming. I did get a membership but I didn't use any of their equipment.  I decided to go the the new Y in Davenport which was funded in part by the Bechtel Trust. The new Y is a beauty. I knew the Bechtel. Marie Bechtel had been a Befriender at the hospital.

The membership at the Y, paid by health insurance, allowed me two free sessions with the fitness trainer. The first 1/2 hour was a review of my health. The second was an introduction to the resistance machines he recommended. He directed me to the machines he said would be best. We started with three that worked on my leg muscles. He said you start with the long muscles. Then four for my mid section, shoulders, and chest. Last were the two machines were for triceps and biceps .  What I discovered when I starting doing the exercises twice a week on my own. I was forget the breathing in and out part. I have made the correction. I am starting to experience an energizing at the end of the exercise time. That is what I was hoping for.

I will meet with him again in a month to review and get further instructions.

My schedule is adding a three day week,Monday, Wednesday,  and Friday. I am working on a time of day. The place is busy with younger people by and large. A very diverse group. After 10 AM and after 3 PM seem to be times when fewer people are present. Many exercise in pairs or if alone they seem to need the iPhone for a longer break. That means waiting for the next machine at time. Amazing how many people seem to be addicted to the iPhone.

Since I have only been at the Fitness Center for a couple months I have much more to learn and discover in terms of benefits. What I can say, I strongly recommend the activity for myself. While gardening provides movement and enjoyment my muscles do not get the workout they seem to need.

I sometimes wonder about growing up on a farm where there was a lot of physical labor even for a boy, carrying buckets of feed, shelling corn with a corn sheller, etc., establishes that need and frequency at an early age. I am talking about the 1930's and 40's. Then athletics in high school, wrestling and track. Not much physical activity during college. Although I did get a Red Cross Life Saving certificate and served as a life guard for church camps. Seminary did have flag foot ball and an a required afternoon for a work detail. That did turn out to be fairly heavy after the hurricane went through our campus with 40 acres of timber.

After seminary and out in a parish I went to the Y and took up hand ball. That put me in shape. When I came to Davenport Paul Mendy and I became the doubles champions one year. At age 52 in a tournament I strained my sternum. I decided to hag up the gloves and take to bike riding. 

I could take long rides out into the country in the evening after work at the hospital.

After retiring as a hospital chaplain and moving to a lake home there was a great five mile ride to another town on a back road. The total ride made 10 miles with breakfast in between. My wife and I were going to the Fitness center in DeWitt. She went to a water exercise group and then beach ball water pollo. They seemed to do a lot of laughing as I walked around the track.

After her death I kept the fitness routine. Now remarried, my retired Army Nurse, is also into exercise as part of retirement. Mutual support is an added advantage.

More to learn and experience. The body is a teacher as well. Since I have periodic bladder scopes that have led to five surgeries to remove tumors I know how weak you can feel after a surgery. The physical therapy provided some specifics but the fitness center has helped to restore strength as muscle loss increases with age.

Three times a week isn't working out. I will stay with two times. 

I am on a continuing journey, stay in touch.

Marlin Whitmer, BCC, ret.