This summer I am working as a chaplain intern in a Clinical Pastoral Education program at a Catholic hospital in Indianapolis.
This program is teaching me about many things. What I’m finding most insightful, though, is the power of presence.
In just a few weeks, I have had the pleasure of spending time with patients from many different backgrounds, faiths, and walks of life. One thing all of these encounters shared in common was the importance of presence. It seems, no matter who we are, in crisis moments, we simply need someone with us, to hear our story, to see our tears, to share our pain, and not run away.
For me, these have been holy moments. I have felt honored to share these sacred spaces with total strangers. They have invited me into their lives in their most vulnerable moments. All I can do in return is remain present. What I’m finding is, for the most part, that’s all they want.
Still, there are many times when remaining present is hard. Times when, given the circumstances and the emotions being shared, I feel myself wanting to escape out of the room. In these moments, I think being present is hard because I don’t want to get messy. I don’t want to enter into the chaos, pain, and reality of someone else’s situation.
It’s not that we don’t all have our own messes; we do. But, generally, we keep them hidden, far away from the public eye. In the hospital room, life gets messy and it’s not possible to hide it. However, if we stay present, despite the mess, we may share in something truly sacred.
I think of the women whom I had the honor to journey with earlier this summer. We had different theologies, faiths, backgrounds, and experiences. However, as I sat and listened as she shared about the trauma of her past and her current struggle with what we found out is a terminal condition, I knew we were sharing in a holy moment. I spent four-six hours on four consecutive days with this woman and was in awe of the inner strength and beauty she possessed. I hope as she heard her own stories and answered my questions she caught a glimpse of that as well. If I had walked by this woman on the street just days earlier I may have looked down on her. I may have made judgments about who she was and why I was better off than her. I would have never met or been taught by this inspiring woman.
It has become clear to me in the hospital that we need not share a religion or even a belief in a God to experience the sacred together. We only need to share in each other’s moments of crisis. It’s not hard. It’s quite simple, it only requires you ask about someone’s story and how they are doing and then listen. Who knows, it could be you who is changed.
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