Some days in the hospital there is an even mixture of kidney disease, failing livers, heart attacks and the occasional cat bite. But this day it was almost all hearts. And all of them either had, or was going to have, a procedure to open a blocked area. So many hearts! When things like this happen I pay close attention because perhaps the Universe/God/The Divine is trying to tell me something.
The first heart patient was sitting up on the side of his bed. When I introduced myself and asked if he would like a visit, he rolled his eyes and said, “Sure.” I was surprised to find out he was a fundamentalist Christian. As required by the hospital, I was wearing a surgical mask and goggles. He looked at me and said sternly, “COVID-19 is a hoax!”
Then he went on to say that he definitely would not take a vaccine because that would probably require a “chip” and we all know that the “chip” is the mark of the beast! He announced to me that COVID is God’s way of punishing us for our sinful ways, especially “those LGBT whatever groups.”
“And all this nonsense about churches not meeting. Where is their faith? Where is their faith that God would protect them?”
Very quietly I said, “Well, there was that incident in Snohomish county where two people died from COVID-19 and 45 people became ill after choir practice.”
He then explained that, “any death in the state is now being counted as a COVID death.” I know this is not true.
We were not having a conversation. This was a diatribe; a one-way fear-filled rant. And fear was the dominant emotion with a good helping of anger.
In chaplaincy training you learn to observe your reactions. And at that moment I was observing myself observing myself. This is not a typo. I thought, “Look how you are watching yourself let his words wash over you, but not allowing any of them to soak in.” I felt like Haystack Rock on Cannon beach. The waves were mighty and loud, but none of them really penetrated. I did not let them.
I will admit that when he was ranting about churches not meeting and saying, “Where is their faith?” I was thinking, “Where is your brain?” I am not proud of this.
Before I left I asked if he would like me to pray. “Yes! Pray for me and my procedure. Pray for my family because that is where Satan starts his attacks—in the family. Pray that my son and my sister would be believers. Hmph—college graduates.”
So I prayed for his family and his procedure. Then I prayed God would fill us all with love and compassion because of my aforementioned snarky thought.
The second heart patient, already had her heart procedure and told me she was ready to go home. She was happy to see me because she was Christian. “But I don’t believe in denominations,” she said. “Because Jesus never talked about them in the Gospels.”
Fair enough. She had a good point there. We agreed that denominations, by definition, are based on disagreement and exclusion. So she belongs to a “group of us that believe the teachings of Jesus.” Of course that brings us to the House of Interpretation but I was not going to knock on that door.
Then she said, “You know that verse, ‘Go therefore and make disciples’?* It’s a mistranslation. No one can make disciples except God. We don’t have that power.”
We both agree that was a relief because it also means we don’t have that responsibility. But she went on.
“We don’t have that power, but we do have to witness! People should be able to tell we are Christians.”
I immediately thought of that song, They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love. Now it was playing in the back of my mind like a sound track.
We talked a bit more about her life, her marriage, her kids. Then I asked her if she would like me to pray before I left. “Yes, but you don’t have to pray for my healing because if the Lord wants to take me, I’m all right with that. Let’s pray for the world.” So we did.
The third heart patient I saw at the very end of the day because his daughter was with him all morning. I was annoyed because I knew if I saw him in the late afternoon I’d never get out of the hospital on time. I was grouchy when I walked in. But my grouchiness dissolved as soon as he smiled and said, “I’m so glad you’re here. How nice that the hospital has chaplains.”
I asked him, “What’s getting you through this ?”
He beamed and said, “My family and my friends are just so wonderful. And of course God is with me all the way.” And even though it was pouring down rain Wednesday afternoon, his room was filled with Light. He went on to tell me about the love of his two sons and daughter and his grandchildren; his love of piano; his life as a church organist; his hard childhood and the too-soon deaths of his two wives. But even his sad stories were filled with love and gratitude.
I didn’t want to leave.
But I could hear the dinner cart coming so I asked if he would like a prayer before I left. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Let’s pray for my family because I know this is hard for them. Oh, and all these nice nurses—they work so hard. And whatever you like.”
So I thanked God for the way Spirit lives in us and loves through us. And then I thought about these three people and the blocked places in their hearts and immediately recognized the blocked place in my own.
I didn’t want to love the first patient because I didn’t agree with his theology or his politics. I heard the anger and the fear in his voice but I ignored it. Being Haystack rock was temporarily good for me but did nothing for him. That’s where I could have simply been a love-filled presence.
Because after all, they will know we are Christians by our love.
*Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”