Friday, May 25, 2012


I was  surprised to find a parking space in the small lot at the skilled nursing community this week.  I was even more surprised to discover that I did not have my song sheets with me.  However, I was not overly concerned, as I always keep a bag of spiral bound large print hymnals in my trunk for such musical emergencies.  As I pulled the bag out, I said a quiet prayer of thanks for the friend who gave me these few hymnals.  They do not have music, only the words, but I knew that the pianist who was joining me has a vast number of hymns memorized, and he is rather fearless about playing them.   I was confident that a good time would be had. 
This coming Sunday is Pentecost. I decided to not serve communion, but rather to give each person a blessing in celebration of the Spirit that calls us together.   The residents of this home are very frail, and many cannot take communion, but it is the rare person who is not moved by the offering of a blessing.   
Arnold surprised me by thanking me as I blessed him.  His is a voice that is seldom lifted, and I was glad to hear him.   After the service, I went back around to thank each person for joining us.  As I did so, the pianist then began to play, "Jesus Loves Me," and, out of habit, I began singing.  I paused by Arnold, and kept singing, not so much at him, but rather "with" him, as he really appeared to be engaged with the music.  Afterwards, he amazed me even more by lifting his fist, not in a combative way, but rather in  victory, and quietly exclaiming with tears in his eyes,  "Jesus loves me."       
As I have been thinking about that moment, the hymn "Victory in Jesus" keeps coming to mind.  It is a hymn not sung in the UCC churches that I know, probably because it sings of the blood.   Yet, I do serve people whose lives have been so difficult that they truly yearn to hear of the redeeming power of the blood.  I am reminded that Jesus did not just vaporize on the cross, he did indeed bleed.  We all do.  Let us remember that on Monday.  Maybe Memorial Day is not the best day to go shopping.         
Nonetheless, I will probably always find the redemptive power in the love rather than the blood, so I leave you with the beautiful second verse of this lively hymn.  My prayer for you is that you, too, know that you are loved with a Love that is beyond comprehension, a Love that is cheering you on because it has already won.  May everyone claim their  victory in love today.  Maybe then our wars can end, and all can find their way home.          
I heard about his healing, 
of his cleansing power revealing, 
how he made the lame to walk again 
and caused the blind to see; 
and then I cried, 
"Dear Jesus, 
come and heal my broken spirit,"
and somehow Jesus came 
and brought to me the victory.   
                                         - Eugene M. Bartlett, 1939       

Friday, May 4, 2012


When people hear that I serve SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors, often the first assumption seems to be that I am a hospice chaplain.  Truthfully, I make too much noise to enter that exalted realm.  However, as I did yesterday, I sometimes sit at the the bedside of those whose physical bodies are in the last stages of wear. As I write this morning, I believe Anne probably has passed, but, of course, I have no crystal ball.  I do know that yesterday she had moved very close to that threshold.  I do not think God called her to back away, but to go ahead and cross.  
I began my ministry with SpiritCare four and a half years ago, and Anne was already living in skilled nursing when I arrived on the scene. She would sometimes come to worship (when she did, she would don a straw hat with colorful plastic flowers on the brim), but I usually visited her in her room.  In all this time, I really found out very little about her.   Last month when I arrived at the home, one of the long-time volunteers for the home told me that Anne was in hospice.  When I asked if she knew it, he replied that he was not sure.  When I broached the subject with Anne, she replied, "Well, that kind of makes sense.  I knew I was somewhere."       
Skilled nursing communities are noisy.  When I walked into Anne's room yesterday, her roommate's tv was on, but her roommate was not there.  I turned it off, but there was not much I could do about the construction noises coming from the work being done outside.  There were no family members present.   I thanked God for Anne's friendship, and I thanked God for carrying her safely.  I kissed her crepe paper thin forehead and stroked her fine grey hair.   Despite the noise, what I remember most was the silence.  The gentle silence that I often experience at the bedside ofsomeone passing.  A silence that one can take refuge in, and know that God has not forgotten.  Indeed, God is all there is. The real dilemma,however, is that not enough of us are.   
Last night I as I listened to Tierney Sutton sing "The Water Is Wide," I found myself reflecting on the day, and thinking, yes, the gulf is wide, but not impossible - as long as we have the courage to not turn back, but to keep moving with, and towards one another.  Last week, I watched Geraldine, her body swollen with illness and medication, fold her hands on her chest, lean her head back, and sing every hymn at the top of her frail voice.  When I served her communion, she took the wafer in her mouth, and then held my hand firmly  for several seconds.  I had the sense she was at the dock, just about to set sail.  On Tuesday, Charlie reached out to me with his arthritic hands. Lois, gave me her warm hug, though it takes her awhile to maneuver her body because of her stroke.  Stella, who I really thought was completely blind, joined the chorus of waves and good-byes as I prepared to leave after worship.  I am convinced she saw me from across the room.           
Our elders are our pioneers.  The only dependable map for their journey, and ours, is love.  I always try to remember that Jesus got into the boat.  He has never asked me to walk on water, but he always asks me to get in.  Yes, even when I can't readily see an oar.                  

The water is wide, I cannot get o'er 
Neither have I wings to fly, 
Give me a boat that can carry two, 
and both shall row, my love and I    
                                              - anonymous?  

He saw his disciples struggling. They were trying to row forward, but the wind was blowing against them. Very early in the morning, he came to them, walking on the lake...He got into the boat, and the wind settled down.  (Mark 6:48, 51)   
Blessings on the journey, Anne. Thank you.  I shall always remember your funny hat, and the fact that you always offered me a cup of coffee, even when there was never a coffee pot in sight.  Because of you, this morning I understand a little more about love.