Pastors spend a lot of time in hospitals. There they meet their congregants in trying moments, ill or hurt, facing or recovering from procedures that frighten and confuse. The most formidable lay pope, the one who thwarted your every dream at the last trustee’s meeting, now looks diminished in a “johnny” gown. Even in the best of hospitals the smell of mortality is ambient.
Which is why hospitals are such fertile spaces for grace to make an appearance, and why ministers do well to be present there as often as they can. Most people get better and come back into the life and flow of the congregation, but they will not forget that in one of life’s delicate moments you were there, and through you, their congregation was there, and through you, by grace, God was there.
Once again my late friend Arnold Kenseth, a Congregational minister who died in 2003, captures the truth of this in another of his exquisite poems:
In the Hospitals
In the hospitals trussed up to blood;
Or heaving breath so that the pulse can count,
The heart re-beat; or leaving the damp food
Untouched; or stuffed into the oxygen tent:
The sick, sexless as death, are fondled by
Machines, are stroked, pummeled, impaled, and Oh!
Ecstasies in the valley of the shadow,
The morphine murmur under the lost sigh!
And I think how we may die down down down
In the needle haze, in the white mercy
Of nurses, after the seance of x-ray,
Our souls stringed, buttocked in the bleak nightgown;
How dignity, dreaming, passion, faith, all
Will need God to retrieve them as we fall.
Arnold Kenseth (Seasons and Sceneries, Windover Press, 2002)