I have written about Jill before because she has been worshiping with us since I began with SpiritCare. She now grows more frail. Her hearing continues to deteriorate, and she has been blind since she was a young girl. She has always blessed us with a beautiful laugh, but we hear it less now as her physical struggles increase. While I am not certain how much of the service she hears, she enthusiastically answers yes when I yell in her ear, "Would you like to take communion?" After the service yesterday she asked me, as she periodically does, if I believe in the Holy Mother. "Of course," I always yell. She told me again of the vision of the Holy Mother that she had while visiting Lourdes as a child. If I am remembering correctly, the Holy Mother was sitting on a fence. Jill went to Her and asked if She could help her vision (at that time it was poor, but Jill could still see). The response was a gentle, "No, I cannot. You will be blind." There may have been more to the conversation, but Jill has never mentioned it. But she passionately loves the Holy Mother, and that one vision has been enough to sustain her for a lifetime.
After my conversation with Jill, I saw a caregiver bring Roger into the activity room. He has no mobility in his lower limbs and must rely completely on the care of the attendants. Just as I began to walk towards him, he raised his hand and asked me, "Ma'am, please excuse me, but is Sue Ann still here?" I touched him on the shoulder and replied, "Hi, Roger, I am here. Is your vision giving you trouble?" Yes. The vision in one eye is completely gone and the other eye grows more blurry. Yet still he said, "Oh, it is so good to see you."
These people love me. I believe them when they tell me that. I love them and I believe most of them know it. And there, of course, lies great peril. Whom am I serving?
Fairly early in my ministry I was blessed to read Christine D. Pohl's very good book, Making Room, Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. In it, she quotes Dorothy Day, and this passage (found on pages 185-186) often comes to my mind when I become flush with the emotions of the work:
I have had to stop myself sometimes. I have found myself rushing from one person to another - soup bowls and more soup bowls, plates of bread and more plates of bread, with the gratitude of the hungry becoming a loud din in my ears. The hunger can be as severe as someone else's stomach hunger: the joy of hearing those expressions of gratitude. I remember a nun who came to visit us. We and sat and drank coffee after she had helped us work. She was a fast one. She went from table to table, arranging chairs and helping some of the men who really needed help. she was tactful and modest, and, of course, they took to her. She knew who could fend for himself and who needed a little boost from her. As we sat and talked she said to me in whisper, '"This is dangerous work....It is a grave temptation to want to help people."
I know no of not other way to serve these elders but in love, despite the dangers of being tempted to always listen for the gratitude. I can change very little in their lives. I am grateful that Jill continues to share with me her vision of Mary simply sitting on the fence. It reminds me of the strength that presence has to offer. When I first moved my own mother into skilled nursing, I had such an immediate and profound sense of Jesus' presence that I kept expecting to see him leaning against a wall, in a sort of James Dean pose (this was West Texas, after all). That sense has never left me. I am beginning to think that I am a sort of well-meaning but slightly bumbling tour guide in this journey in, through, and to the kingdom. Fortunately, Jesus and Mary serve as gracious sign posts to keep us from losing our way. I surely could not do it alone.
Blessed assurance in these dangerous times.