Thursday, January 29, 2009

I am not a Gas Station attendant

I regret that I am not a more regular blogger- somehow there is too much of life happening to crystallize it. The last time I blogged, I was headed into a time when I was to train interns in a shadowing process. Each of those times brought learning for both of us. But the more recent time happened on a snowy day, when I drove through the virtual snow globe and slick roads, watching each of the 10 accidents I passed to predict if it involved people who would be coming to the hospital. I am still not sure what that says about me. After a trip that took three times as long to complete, I had just introduced myself to the intern, and gotten the handoff of patients when the traumas started. Since the other non-student chaplain was stuck in traffic, we were off to the first of 6 traumas in our 6 hour shift. Many involved another patient who was somewhere else in the ER, and the shuttling back and forth to keep everyone who had been torn asunder, connected. Husbands and wives, parents and children. In all of this buzz, there was the family of an older woman who was in the ER and dying, totally unrelated to the swirl of motor vehicle events. The ER is like a beehive when there are multiple simultaneous events, and one must keep one ear to what is happening beyond to know what will soon be told. In the midst was a Code Blue five floors away and the challenge of how to leave and how to be present for a totally different family who doesn't care about my trauma load downstairs. How it is that one is able to shift and be what is needed is truly God's work.
In the midst of this wild ride, I am trying to keep the intern in the loop and check how she is doing. It becomes obvious that this is not at all pleasant for her- in the rare moment of time, I ask how she is doing and learn " I guess I did not prepare myself for the reality of death. I am not ready for it now."
But who among us really has prepared? The fact your beloved has been sick and could die "someday" is not "today." The fact you were hit by another car, but now your mother, the passenger, is dying, is not what any of us can mentally be braced to simply accept. This is what makes us human- to love is to risk. But in the midst of this, what is the word that can be offered?
Recently one of my classmates, in lifting up the merits of parish ministry (which are many) told me that what I do is "just gas-station ministry." In the sense that I am sent by God to fill up your spiritual tank when you feel depleted, or drained, I suppose that is true. The fact we are 24/7 not answering machine, is a reality. But from where I stand, it is not about whether one or another has a "better" or more permanent ministry. After all, who knows what the seeds are that are planted- do they happen because of a great sermon, or a warm handshake at the door each week, or do they happen because when faith was tested in the crucible of trauma, it was restored, or kindled? Only God knows.
For whatever reason my time at the hospital allows me to use a gift. It is not an exclusive gift- but in my time there, I will do what I can to plant seeds, for the patients, for the staff, for the families, for my peers. Often this happens when a pastor cannot come, or at a time when pastors are elsewhere. It takes many of us, each where we need to be, when we need to be, to do what the Spirit desires. If that means I am a gas station attendant, then I guess I pray you will want to fill your tank and that one of us will be there with a smile and an encouraging word for the journey ahead.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Between the Firsts and the Lasts

As this past year drew to a close and I am now halfway through my J-term class, I am halfway through my coursework at LTSG. A semester until internship, and the knowledge that the time after internship will fly. And at this halfway point, lots of things have begun to crystallize in new ways, and perhaps this is my epiphany. This time last year, I like some of the juniors I talked to this year, had that sense of brief relief, having survived that first semester, and discovering that coming back to school was, in some ways, a relief- to be with people who understand this whole "becoming a pastor thing." Yet this year, I am ready to head out to internship, because after the summer at the hopsital "doing," I am itchy to get out where this whole "pastor thing" happens, not just talk about it. And after starting seminary feeling like it was all swirling wildly, knowing that the swirl has a Director. As I listen to those who are in the junior class, I hear them saying the very things my peers and I said last year, knowing that the seniors can say the same about us middlers. There is a certain joy in being able to see where one was, with one foot into the future unknown, when it is framed in discernment in the community here.
But as sure as I say that, I am, I daresay, impatient. Yet, I know that this year is in so many ways a gift. A gift of time to luxuriate in learning. To know that I have traveled from that first day of Greek to probably the last class with a professor who has been a mainstay in my seminary learning, and to bask in that one moment of praise. A time to draw my family close in ways that will not always be possible. A time to enjoy the sparkle of the face of LC#1 and her boy. I gaze upon the Adorable Couple, knowing that this first real "romance" is also a marker of the time which will be the last of high school, far sooner than I expected it. To watch as LC#2 is even more quickly hurtling toward that same direction, or at least it seems that warp speed has been activated.
A time to move closer toward that goodbye to my home parish. And to stand in the tension of finally having preached to the home flock for the first time,and to soak up their welcome, but also to know that I have probably sung my last Christmas Eve with them; my last Christmas Eve solo. Yet, to feel a peace in this new status after many months of angst over it.
And indeed to prepare the inlaws for the reality that we will not be with them next Christmas Eve, and to incur the blast of wrath for "taking them away just because of something you think you have to do." To be shopping with my mother who is still trying to buy me things I will not wear, in the time when there are only so many days outside of clerics. To hear her say she still cannot get that through her head, but to gently tell both women in my family that in fact over the next year, this change will come.
And finally ending the last vestige of my active legal practice- having now articulated when the last work will be for the two communities I represent, which happens to coincide with when my good friend and town manager is retiring, so we will "ride off into the sunset" at the same time, having had what will probably be the last business lunch before we each leave this community in different ways.
Between now and internship, and all of those classes, I continue working several times a month as a chaplain, and to this there is one more first and last. I have gone from the first day of CPE when the facility and all it entailed seemed impossible to fathom, to completing CPE. But now as I did this fall, again this week, I will be helping to train one of the new interns in a shadowing process and to recall where I have been in new ways.
While I am beginning to think about where God may place me for internship, I give thanks for the Spirit's showing that this pattern of firsts and lasts is not one we experience in isolation, but in prayer and contemplation, and in the community with all of those who are placed here in our midst as instruments to that purpose.