Tuesday, March 16, 2010

walk these halls...

Each day I enter the hospital, trudging through two parking lots and downtown insane traffic, cut through the back Emergency Department entrance and weave my way through the Emergency Department main desk area.  Dodging moaning patients in transport beds on the way to X-rays I badge out and breathe for a second as I reach my key down and unlock the door to our closet of an office.  Opening the door I hardly even notice the key whip back into place on my spring loaded name tag holder and I sit for a minute and listen to the walls.  Literally, because our office shares a wall with the the psychiatric department, and I listen for more than just sound.
The chaplains have a ritual for handing over the on call beeper.  First, because you have been alone with the weight of crises care for the whole hospital on your shoulders for 8 hours, the chaplain gushes about the day, what happened, who died, who survived, how families are doing, where they are and who needs a visit.  The incoming chaplain takes this opportunity to listen, to hear between the lines to be sure their colleague isn’t drowning in this sloshbowl of information.
Its an overwhelming position, chaplain.  More happens in a day than is possible for a human being to take in at one time… ever.  It is intimidating, especially in a culture where our iron grip on the surface level distractions cannot be budged except by a power outage.  Unfortunately, as chaplain, this is an impossible posture.  Everyday we gather ourselves and turn from our own lives to face the raw energy and unbridled emotions compulsively rush forth from those impacted by a crisis, death or sickness.  We are the bottom line, we are the roots, the way back to reality for these folks, and this listening we do at the beginning of a shift is what grounds us in our day.  It is sort of like putting your uniform on I guess.
Then the incoming chaplain gives an update on themselves and how they are doing and we pray.  I find that my prayers during this time have a phrase that they cannot shake.  It just bangs around in my head until I eventually rattle it out… ‘walk these halls…’ God be with me as I walk these halls (I chuckle about this as I say the world ‘walk’ because its more like a trot, a cha-cha and a marathon all mixed up together).  These halls, here in the hospital are sacred.  The rooms are intimidating, they hold life, stories, machines and medicines.  The halls hold people who are trying their damndest to keep their shit together long enough to figure out whats going on.  For doctors and nurses it seems to be a natural habitat.  For chaplains, I think we are more of interlopers in this community.  We dont come with medicine or tasks to fulfill.  Instead we bear with us comfort, presence and hope.
We dont walk these halls on our own, we pray every day for God to go with us into that crazy jungle out there.  To attend to each camp and be a grounding wire for them in their shock, fear and anxiety that washes over folks, like waves in a storm.
It isn’t an easy job on the feet, walking shoes are required.  It is an active job, stamina is required and so is fuel.  This time we spend praying at the beginning of each shift is our fuel.  Our supervisor like to say we need to ‘eat the word’ each day.  In taking the opportunity to listen to our colleagues and to help them digest what they have been through, and to pray it out of these walls, I think we do get the fuel to keep on walking another day.
I thought I was getting tired of the same old phrase ‘walk these halls…’  I dont think I can stop using it, it will have to be a mantra.  Its so literal – yes, for a living I do walk up and down hallways, I do inhabit the gray space between nurses counter/dr’s office and patients room.  It is also a metaphor for Christian life isn’t it?  We live in the world but we are not of the world.  I can see it now clearly in this way.  As a Chaplain I connect people with each other and sometimes with reality, as a christian I connect my experience in the world with my knowledge and experience of God.  Walking these halls of life is just as much a challenge as chaplaincy isn’t it then.
Its a facinating little phrase.  Maybe its a call to loosen my white-knuckled grip on the surface level and allow myself to descend into my life, to really be a full participant in my life.  Perhaps I should see that God does offer me a grounding wire of hope through my too often neglected faith.  In these halls, God assures me that my Creator understands the explosive, primitive and uncontrollable emotions that I brew myself in the basement of myself.
These halls are a strange territory in the current world.  The economy is crashed, the world is warming, people are starving and fighting wars over oil, diamonds and that metal that makes cellphones vibrate… Those who can afford it escape into virtual palaces made of sites, sounds and silliness and those who cant march warily along side the rest of us.  They beckon us into the halls, just for a second, to tell us something, but its too hard, to scary,  facebook is better, youtube is safely hilarious.
Its hard to be in these halls, but we have to, we are called to poke around in these places that can feel unprotected and serious. We do have protection and grounding though, God watches over us, providing help as we walk these halls… Help in what manner no one can predict, only watch for.