Sunday, February 19, 2017

the fruit of service

There was an interesting story in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in reference to hospital chaplains. ("Hospital Chaplains Answer a New Call" February 19, 2017) No longer are they "just" Catholic or Lutheran, but they are from a wide variety of beliefs and in some cases, non-denominational. People nowadays do not want someone to tote a Bible and give some whipped up sermon, so much as just to have someone there with them in the lowest time of their life. Someone who can empathize, someone who can dole out a hug, a massage and some words of understanding or, in some cases, to just hold hands and breathe in the silence. In one instance, according to the news article, a chaplain brought in a CD of Pink Floyd, and the patient and he had a lengthy talk about music. The chaplain said later that he was sure had he come bearing a Bible, the man would have tossed him out! (If one is familiar with the music of Pink Floyd, I'm thinking that either "Learning to Fly" or else "Comfortably Numb" would be very appropriate discussion topics in this case!) is it that we have come to this point? Actually, it was there all along. When Jesus began His ministry, it was not to preach of hell fire and doom, but rather to preach by EXAMPLE. He walked among the sick, He raised the dead, He ate with tax collectors and counseled women. He saved a woman from being stoned and vocalized His appreciation of children. He taught by example. As we all know, words are cheap, actions are more powerful than words. He criticized the Pharisees and scribes of His time who vocalized long and loud of how he wasn't "following the rules!" Silly them! If only they knew Who they were complaining about, I'm sure they would have realized just how foolish they were! But they were so focused on the "rules and regulations," they couldn't see the One in their midst.

The same can be said about nursing homes also-- of how they are places in which people are forgotten. I have been to a few in which the residents are all lined up in their wheelchairs in the community room. A TV is on, but no one pays attention. People walk by, but no one is noticing the absolute poverty in the room. Yes, poverty...poverty of soul, poverty of spirit, the loneliness is so palpable, yet no one addresses the need. Residents wait...for the phone call from family that rarely comes, they wait for visits that rarely take place...they wait for death to finally take them away from the emptiness that is the end of their lives. All they want is to be acknowledged. Everyone is so enamored with babies, yet at the full circle stage of life, when seniors slowly succumb to more infantile ways, no one thinks it is so cute when grandma forgets to use her speech filters, or grandpa soils his underwear or Uncle Joe needs help to walk to the bathroom. No one wants to sit and read a story to Aunt Louise and no one tucks in Mama...who, when she was younger, always tucked in her children and said prayers with one. Last week, I walked into a nursing facility armed with magazines for the residents and an adult coloring book for one gal who I know loves to use those. She was waiting for me by the door. When I handed that book to her, her eyes glazed over with tears. She was speechless. "Why did you do this? For me?" she asked incredulously. I hugged her and told her that she had mentioned she liked to do that and so.... The look on her face was priceless, but in my heart, I was given a most wonderful gift, the gift of her gratitude.

According to the news story, what is becoming more relevant is not religion, (Catholic, Protestant, etc.) but rather, spirituality. Not so much focus is placed anymore on dogma, but rather, going back to the example that Jesus taught us. Showing love, not judgment. Showing compassion, not sermons. Showing peace and offering love in a non-threatening way. To me, religion, with all of its talk of being non-confrontational, can be so hypocritical in its thinking, in all of its "do as I say but not as I do" conventional-isms. St. Francis of Assisi admonished his followers to "preach the Gospel...use words only when necessary."  Mother Teresa spoke of the poverty of the soul, when a touch means more to people than a loaf of bread. When our souls become so hungry for love and attention that some people who lose their significant others can also die within minutes to days later, all because they fear being alone.

Someone I know works at a nursing home. He signed on as a maintenance man, became a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and also puts forth effort at truly understanding everyone he works with, from greeting his co-workers and walking them in from their cars on icy cold days, to providing entertainment in the form of comedy routines for the residents. Everything he does comes from his very generous heart. Oh, if only we ALL could muster that much enthusiasm, the world would be so much more accommodating!

The human touch. Babies are known to die without it, but us older folks, too, we all need that validation, that hug, that verbal pat on the back, that affirmation of "you are special and I love you!" I myself work as a food service assistant (OK, lunch lady!) in a high school. I greet kids by name, I serve them food with a smile, I chat with them, I even laugh with them. They soak this stuff up! I think school lunch is that one place where they don't feel the weight of judgment or of being graded, as they do in classrooms. They can just be themselves. If I can make even one person happier than they were before, then I have not failed.

Today, where can you be a symbol of hope...of love and joy? In your workplace? In your neighborhoods and communities? Is there a nursing home that you can visit or volunteer at? Do you have  a friend in the hospital that maybe needs your words and sweet face for a visit? There is so much need in the be a friend requires NO need to haul out the checkbook...just a need to BE the reason that someone smiles today. Go ahead...BE the one!