Our time at St. Paul’s Senior Services was over for Pam and myself. We had said our goodbyes, completed our evaluations, met with our supervisor and the field education director. We were doing quite a good job at detachment and moving on but there were one or two residents that we wanted to keep in touch with. One of them was Stan.
Stan is his real name! I know that he would not mind me using his story as an example. I had become friends with Stan over our time at St. Paul’s and we had shared some highs and some lows together. One day Pam and I had popped up to his room to see if he was about. When he didn’t answer his door, Pam wrote him a little note to say that we had come by to visit. Last week I arranged with Pam to visit Stan after work one evening. We went up to his room and there he was very pleased to see us. As we were talking he went to his bedside cabinet and pulled out a stack of papers. He had kept every handout that we had made, every service book produced and there on the top of the stack of papers was Pam’s handwritten note. It was clear that even the smallest thing to us was a significant memory for Stan.
In ministry we often think about the big things. How a program or ministry will achieve its goals and improve on what we did last year. Whilst it is important to keep moving forward, to continually strive to find new ways on how we can make the gospel relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s generations, we should never lose sight of the fact that God’s kingdom is here in the present, in our everyday lives and in the routine and even mundane things that we do each and every day.
Sometimes it is our small gestures, the basic building blocks of our pastoral care that makes a difference. Nothing is too small to be insignificant and each and every one of our actions has the potential to be transformative and renewing.
My interaction with Stan reminds me that staying those extra ten minutes at coffee hour, making that phone call that otherwise would be easy to put off or not forgetting to ask about a sick relative are all just as important as delivering a powerful sermon or launching a new cycle of bible study. For in Christ the last shall be first, the weakest will be the strongest, the smallest of children will be the inheritors of the kingdom of God.
A couple of weeks into our internship, Pam and I were asked by residents at the Manor to start a grief support group. When I realized what was being asked of us I was simultaneously humbled and a little apprehensive. We had of course covered grief and death in our pastoral classes but this would be the first time that we would be leading a group.
Leading is what we ended up not doing. We facilitated the group and walked along side the members of the group as companions as we met each Friday afternoon for six weeks. We had the back up of our supervisor, Fr. Jacobsen, and also a wonderful resource that he had put us onto “Companioning the Bereaved – A Soulful Guide for Caregivers” by Alan D. Wolfelt. The book title is shared here with a very strong recommendation.
Our group of five plus Pam and I met and I would say that we all got different things from the group, everyone was at a different stage of grieving. What was common though was that no-one had really talked about their journey of grief in a deeply meaningful way. The act of sharing, of being accepted and of listening to others proved to be important fuel for the journey.
On another occasion I had the opportunity to talk about death with one of the residents at the Villa. He had certain wishes, things he wanted to say and after we talked he realized that the conversation that we just had was a conversation that he also needed to have with his family.
Our culture does not encourage us to talk about death, before death occurs. Also when we have experienced death of someone else our culture patterns the norm of what grief should look like. But grief has no norm, has no set path. I did an experiment on Saturday evening after I got home from an afternoon at the Villa and tried to talk to my husband about death. He didn’t want to talk about it – clearly I have work still to do.
As a candidate for Holy Orders I find myself in situations where I can talk about death in the context of faith. Faith transforms our view of death, from a final act to the passing into a new season. But anyone of faith has the same Good News. The pain and horror of Christ’s death on the cross is followed by the joy, hope and reality of the resurrection. We must never be scared or ashamed to talk about death in the context of our faith. Doing so, means that we can openly talk about death and the practical earthly realities that we need to talk about with loved ones and caregivers. Then in grief at the death of others, we realize that we are never alone for in faith Jesus holds open a 24/7 grief group – we just have to rest on our faith to enter in.
I bet all of us have looked at an elderly person and treated them differently to how we would have treated them if they were 40 years younger. Often out of perceived kindness, sometimes as a result of our own prejudices and blindness, we have all fell into the same trap.
As regular readers here will know, Pam and I took it in turns to give the homily each week at St. Paul’s Manor. In the homily below I challenged the residents to consider how they think of homeless people. Nothing too strong, but something to think about. Afterwards one lady came up and thanked me for engaging her in the world around her. She said “Life is real, and I’m not dead yet”.
Words to live by.
Homily Second Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 2
Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
I like a glass of wine, but in no way am I a wine expert. I would like to think that I can tell a good bottle of wine from a bad bottle of wine but I just can’t seem to experience the level of taste that some wine drinkers can. The other month I was at a wine tasting event and the leader of the tasting poured everyone a glass of wine. She told us to swirl the glass and then stick our nose deep (in the glass and take in a deep breath, savor the aroma and then, and only then taste a little of the wine to complete the overall sensation of the tasting. She asked the people in the group “what do you see in the wine?” “I sense strawberries” one lady called out, then from the other side of the room a gentleman shouted out “yes, yes but I also feel the first damp nights of the fall”. The woman standing next to me disagreed “no, no it is much more robust than that can you not taste the richness of the cherry throughout the body”. I was taken aback, I could not sense, smell or even taste any of those descriptions, I just thought it was quite a nice glass of wine.
Our gospel reading today is full of images to be sensed, to be seen, to be thought about, to be considered. Jesus is at the center of the scene. A group of his followers are gathered around him, clambering to listen to his teaching and keen to be in his presence.
Then we see the Jewish authorities, the scribes, who are getting uneasy about this man called Jesus who had taught in the synagogue like no one had taught before and who had the power to drive out demons. He had restored health to Simon’s mother in law and cured the leper. But he had gone further he had broken the Sabbath and the scribes were none too happy.
If this picture was not busy enough let us consider a third scene. In the version of the gospel that we just heard, which is from the NRSV translation, we read “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” So his family went out to restrain Jesus because they had heard that the crowd thought he was mad. We get a slightly different picture in the King James translation: “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said he is beside himself “ a little bit gentler on both Jesus and his family. However the New Living Translation claims Jesus’ family believed that he had gone mad “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.” The differences in these different translations is all very interesting and has been and continues to be an area studied in great detail by experts but taking a step back, no matter what translation you use there clearly is a group of people in the scene who think that Jesus has gone a little mad or crazy.
So there we have it. One scene and at least three images. The image of Jesus, the son of God, the person who people followed, were inspired by, the person who drove those same people to action. Then we have the scene where we see Jesus as a no good troublemaker, watched with suspicion by the authorities who thought that he was bad. And then we have a third image of Jesus, an image where people think that Jesus has gone too far, who is a little crazy or a little mad. Who do you see in the Gospel reading this afternoon? Is Jesus bad, mad or God?
Directly after these three groups of people are introduced to us Jesus addresses everyone present. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Over the years many people have worried that they have committed the eternal sin and therefore can never be forgiven. I believe that often those very same people, people like you and me, carry around such a heavy load of guilt without truly knowing what the eternal sin really is.
Denying Jesus, the Holy Spirit or God himself is the eternal sin. When we look back at the Gospels it is easy to see Jesus and easy for us to stand back and say that we claim Jesus as our Lord and not as a mad man or an outlaw. But just as Jesus responded to the crowd that was gathered around him in the Gospel, he is just as much talking to us, to you and to me today, and he is asking us exactly the same question. “Who do you think that I am?”
We do have to wait until the second coming to answer that question. For Jesus and the Holy Spirit are here now amongst us. The challenge that we face every day is seeing Jesus.
I am sure that we have all seen a person that is homeless as we walk around Banker’s Hill or Hillcrest. If you look closely you will see that despite having very little a homeless person is more likely to help a person in need than many of us who are much better off. I believe that is an image of Jesus working through others. I have to ask myself a tough question. When I am rushing around the neighborhood and I see a homeless person approaching another person do I see the potential of seeing Jesus? Or do a see a mad or a bad person?
Maybe the fact that Jesus broke a few rules was not such a bad thing. Maybe the fact that he did some amazing things that made people think that he was a little mad was not such a bad thing. Maybe that is a guide for our lives today. When we see Jesus in the things that we do lets us not deny him. But having called to him “Jesus you are my savior, transform me to do your work” then our faith calls us to do something with the gospel, it calls us to action, to work for a better world reconciled to the love of Christ. And in doing so, maybe we will kick up a bit of dust and maybe people will think that we are a little mad. But we will do it with the blessing of our savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday was the last time that Pam and I were scheduled to lead the Sunday afternoon worship at the Manor. I am sure that we will be back as we have offered to cover Fr. Jacobsen when he is away. It was my turn to give the homily. As I sat and researched and then drafted and edited the text, I realized that my homily style had developed in response to the congregation at the service. The homily may be shorter than a traditional sermon and may reflect on a single thought from scripture, but that did not mean that it could not challenge, or even make the listeners a little uncomfortable.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 12th July 2015
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 1
Today’s Gospel reading, the reading that we have just heard is the reading that no one likes to think about. Let’s be honest, it is a story that is tragic, petty, full of hate, full of revenge and quite gruesome as well.
He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a Jew but he was also an officer of the Roman Empire. His personal life was complex. He had married his brother’s wife, whilst his brother was still alive. A definite no-no in those times. But he was in charge of the region and so he could get away with it. The only problem was, was this man called John the Baptist, a wild man, always preaching, always leading the way for the one who would come after him. John the Baptist called Herod out, told him that his marriage was wrong. Herod couldn’t let him just carry on like that even if he was drawn, maybe because of his Jewish roots, to the message that John the Baptist was preaching. The solution was to jail John. That way he could silence him in public but not actually kill him. Herod was intrigued by John but also frightened by what he stood for. Herod’s wife Herodias on the other hand just outright hated John the Baptist for the trouble he had caused.
So in the story we come to the party. And it sounded like it was a great party. A birthday banquet, full of food and drank and dancing. And there was his daughter the star of the show, working the dance floor, making everyone happy. Like any proud father, at a party, probably with a few too many drinks inside of him he makes a grand gesture to his daughter. Choose whatever you want – even half the kingdom, ask and it’s yours. The daughter do not know what to say, what to ask for, so she runs to her mother. Her mother is still full of hate for John the Baptist and so tells her daughter to ask for his life, his head on the plate.
When Herod hears this, he is shocked, he does not want to kill John the Baptist – secretly he quite likes his preaching. He wants him silenced in public but not killed. But what can he do to stop it? He is a high ranking officer of the Roman Empire, who lived by his word. If he refused his daughters request, his men would lose trust in him. Whenever he said that he would do something in the future, no one would trust that he would carry through. What was he to do? What choice did he have? Being an officer of the Roman Empire was more important than being true to his Jewish heritage. He had no choice. It was off with John the Baptist’s head.
What did this achieve? Maybe temporary validation of his empire status. Maybe his wife got some closure to her hatred of John. I’m not sure about his daughter?, Maybe she got her mother’s approval and favor. But long lasting achievements? If anything it only served to heighten awareness of Christ. John the Baptist was dead, but the one who came after him was growing in his ministry. Right after today’s gospel we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sustaining life, as opposed to Herod killing life. Jesus feeding the many as opposed to Herod entertaining the few. The contrast could not be greater.
But Herod had no choice, he did what he had to do. He did what the empire and society expected him to do. Herod had no choice. Or did he? Herod could have heard the request for John the Baptist’s head and said no. Refused to kill him without just and legal cause. He could have stood up to his daughter, his wife, his fellow officers and the expectations of those around him and of the society that he was part of. Standing up to them may have caused him some problems, it may have led to people question his authority but had he stood up to them and refused to issue the death sentence then he would have known that he had the authority of God on his side. He could have chosen to listen and obey his faith rather than blindly following the traditions and expectations of the society in which he lived in.
And there we have the link to you and to me. To our life today. In many ways we are living the party. The party that does not fully care for the vulnerable members of our society, forcing them to live on the streets. The party that supports widespread and institutionalized racism in our nation. The party that makes gun ownership so easy. The party that leaves our veterans without the support that they need. The party that values someone’s life upon their material worth. The party where equality for all is a bad word.
Maybe some of those party descriptions make you a little uncomfortable. But today our gospel reading is uncomfortable.
So then we are left with the question. Do we want to be like Herod and go with the flow, save our face, sacrifice our beliefs when we know the truth that is deep in our heart? Or are we going to be Christ like, disciple like, and stand up for the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of our protection. Are we going to be Christians who value the worth of every human being? Are we going to be Christian’s that are prepared to be unpopular if needed, at odds with society but strong in the knowledge that we have the authority of the God behind us?
I hope so, that is my prayer for myself and for each and every one of us. May we be known through the love of Christ and not through the admiration of society.
In seminary we have been taught that in parish life we will sometimes find ourselves unpopular with parishioners, sometimes accused of being in the wrong and often examined under the spotlight. We were also taught that we will not always agree with other peoples views but as Episcopalians we are good at holding together different voices in a conversation. This is of course an important lesson and something that I have discussed with my classmates. I hoped that this preparation would have equipped me for when it would happen.
Recently it happened, twice in one day.
Pam and I were invited by a resident to meet with him and being eager to interact with as many people as possible we were only too willing to oblige. The resident was very pleasant but had no problems pointing out where we were going wrong. We both sat there listening respectfully and remaining present and attentive to the conversation. Inside my heart sank, for both of us.
Earlier in the day we attended an inter denominational worship service at the Villa. The pastor, from another denomination, is a dedicated minister filled with love for the residents. I have often disagreed with his theology but never enough to really feel that I needed to say something. I felt that we could agree to disagree. On that particular day however, I felt extremely uncomfortable about not saying something. The God that he was describing was not a God that I could associate with. After the service I purposely engaged in conversation with a resident to avoid speaking to the pastor.
So twice in one day, I wanted to speak out and correct someone and twice in one day, I sat back, quietly boiled inside and did not confront the situation. I wonder, am I a failure?
As I reflect on the meeting with the resident, I can answer with ease. No, I am not a failure. The resident had some valid points and it is good to learn from his experience. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. I also think that he wanted to be heard, and to share his experience with others. He was not causing problems in the residents community. A slightly uncomfortable end to the day, but no harm done.
As for the theology of the other minister, I am torn. I am grappling with holding true that there are other viewpoints to my own and for some people the message would have been very meaningful. But, I believe in a loving and merciful God and not the God that was preached that morning. I do think that saying something in front of the residents would have been inappropriate. But maybe I should have spoken to him afterwards, I will certainly be reflecting on this more. This blog is a reflection on a journey, not a postcard from the terminus!
I always say that I don’t have the answers but the events of today are making me think – who am I? Both as an individual and as a future priest. What are my boundaries? Where do I draw the line?
I guess that is why they call it theological field education – it is a time for us to learn and to practice.
After a few weeks of activities at the Manor, Villa, Memory Care Center and the Health Center Fr. Jacobsen gave us a new list of people to visit. The list contained names of people receiving hospice care, and therefore in the final stages of their earthly life. Judy (not real name) was on the list.
Pam and I went up to visit her room late on a Friday night. We did not know what to expect. The door was open and a very kind hospice nurse was sitting with her. We introduced ourselves and asked if we could come in for a few minutes. The nurse was very glad that we were there. We walked in and Judy was lying in bed. She was in her late nineties and had a very small frame but with a lovely head of beautiful white hair. She was curled up and obviously in a lot of pain. Pam and I sat with her and I struggled to find words to say. In so many ways I felt helpless. She was not able to respond to anything that we asked but we felt that she was aware that we were there.
We asked if we could pray for her, we held her hand and I managed to pray what felt like a clumsy prayer, but one from the heart (note to self: never leave home without a bookmarked BCP). We then said the Lord’s Prayer and at the end I swear I saw her say “Amen”.
This is where we were meant to be, helpless but present, lacking but adequate.
We said goodbye and left the room. We both felt that the time of passing was very close and went home subdued.
The next day we returned and whilst still in pain Judy clearly was in a better condition than the night before. Armed this time with both the BCP and Ministry to the Sick our prayers were more coherent. On the Sunday she was brighter still and we said one of the daily devotions with her and she responded multiple times. Judy’s time of passing is close, and we continue to visit her every time that we are at the Villas. Walking softly, being present, praying that she feels the blanket of Christ’s love as she journey’s home.
Each week Pam and I have been leading the afternoon service at St. Paul’s Manor as part of our theological field placement. We alternate between officiating and delivering the homily. This week it was my turn to give the homily. I had a nice homily planned based on David and Goliath and then on Wednesday the tragic events surrounding the shooting of nine African-American people attending a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina stopped me in my tracks. I felt uncomfortable with the homily I had written and felt called to talk about the events. Late Saturday night I sat down and started over, writing from the heart.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 21st June 2015
Proper 7 RCL Year B
1 Samuel 17: 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Across the nation today, many pastors, ministers and preachers will be trying to make sense of another mass loss of life that occurred in the week before. In Charleston, South Carolina this week, nine lives were taken from members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were attending a bible study. Emanuel is a historic church that was and is known for its activism and work for making the local community, the church and our nation a better place. From all that we know, from what the police have reported and from what survivors have told us, this is a hate crime. An act of hatred, hatred of African-American people.
We have been in this position before.
We have struggled to find the right words too many times.
Bishop Mathes in his letter to the people of the diocese this week wrote
“African-Americans in this country are in poverty because of racism. African-Americans are disproportionately in prison (our modern slavery) because of racism. African-Americans are being killed because of racism. Look at the statistics. Look at the history.“
As Christians we must do something. We must act to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to racism.
For those of us who use the Baptismal Covenant as part of our faith we promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” If we are to mean what we promise than we must act.
Many of us are stricken by fear. Fear that as individuals we cannot do anything. Fear that we are a little shepherd boy with no armor sent to battle the massive giant who is protected by a thick and glorious suit of armor. But that fear should not hold us back.
The lectionary today gives us the story of David and Goliath. David was indeed that little shepherd boy but he was also the shepherd boy who had faith in God.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears;………. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!”
We know how the rest of the reading goes. Goliath baits David, and David uses the tools he had from his everyday life and defeated the giant against everyone’s expectations. David had faith, faith to overcome his fear. I’m sure that he was scared, who would not be. But he had seen how the Lord had protected him before and he had the faith that the Lord his God would protect him in the task ahead.
Compare that to the disciples in our Gospel reading. They were full of fear, fear that the great windstorm that was crashing waves over and into the boat would sink the ship. In their fear, they ran to the Lord and woke him up. The Lord said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He then questioned the disciples “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much better that we be like David the Shepherd boy than the disciples? But if we can’t then let us learn from the disciples, that even in our greatest fear Jesus will not let us down.
So we come back to our need to act. Our need to do something to break down racism in our country. I do not have a perfect answer for you. However we must look at the gun laws in our country. There have been too many deaths to let things stay as they are. We must do everything that we can to turn our social justice rhetoric and activism into concrete actions that allow our African-American brothers and sisters to live a life that is equal to all people of this nation.
How do we do that? What can we do? You and me? We can support all of those things I just said but there is something else that we can do. Importantly we have the power of forgiveness and love to fight racism and injustice whenever we see it.
You may say to me that showing love and forgiveness to a person who is being racist to whatever extent is extremely hard, if not impossible, it is indeed like sending David out to fight Goliath. I know it is hard and something that many people will struggle with, but I want to share with you one of the most powerful images from this past week.
At Dylann Roof’s court bond hearing on Friday, relatives of his victims were allowed to address him via a video link. Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims, said the following to him at the hearing.
“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The story of David and Goliath was retold this week.
We can make a difference if we confront racism whenever we come across it.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
I know that it is hard, especially when we are hurting and the pain caused by someone else is as raw as the pain people are feeling now. But as Christians we are called to act.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
Today the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reopened and continued the hard work of doing something. The name Emanuel means “God is with us”.
My prayer for us today is that as brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act to break down racism in our time. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will raise up those who have been downtrodden. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act in faith starting with sharing the gospel of love and forgiveness to all, respecting the dignity of every human being.
Back at the Memory Care Center, Pam and I arrived with a list of residents to visit. The list contained an interesting entry Room 123 Admiral Hyde (not actual room number or name). As we approach the room the door is open and so we knock and walk in. An elderly man is lying in bed with the television on in the background although I don’t think that he was really watching it. “Hello, my name is Richard and Fr. Jacobsen asked if we would stop by to say hello to you, this is Pam” but before I could finish the sentence the elderly man cut in “Are you from Tennessee?”, “No I’m not are you?”, “Born and raised there, where are you from?”, “I’m from the England” I responded. “Great place, been there many times” the man said. “My list says that you are an Admiral, was you in the navy?” (aside: sometimes I do ask the most stupid of questions). “Yes I was, Admiral of the fleet. Are you from Tennessee?” As I reflect I remember in all honesty doubting that this man was an Admiral of the US Navy and I was beginning to form an opinion about him.
As the conversation moved on I realized that you could hold a normal conversation for about two minutes and then everything started again with “Are you from Tennessee?” I started to look around the room for something to talk about, to create a link to. Sure enough on the far wall was a painting of a very handsome looking sailor in an officer’s uniform. I asked if it was him, and if it was ok to go across and look. As I got closer, I realized that this was a painting of a high ranking naval officer and there it was – the inscription underneath. Admiral James Hyde, USN. The painting was hanging in the corner of the room and next to it on the wall was a display of medals and pins from every one of the Admiral’s postings. He had commanded many ships, ran Pearl Harbor and was indeed an Admiral of the United States Navy.
Standing there I felt a mixture of being ashamed and very unworthy of the task that I was meant to be doing. I realized in that moment that I had fallen into the trap of doubting before believing.
Aging can have savage effects on us. It transforms us on the outside and sometimes on the inside into something that makes the former self barely recognizable. As a young upstart I think of how often have I discounted to some degree the experience, sacrifice, love, pain, joy and so much more of someone that I am in pastoral relationship with because of their age or physical condition. I need to be reminded of the promises made in the Baptismal Covenant especially “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” to which I respond “I will with God’s help.” Today I pray for God’s help.
Senior care is a humbling ministry, full of richness. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve in this capacity. Today I made the mistake of making assumptions and being eager to judge. I pray that I have learnt from this and this will be a lesson never to be forgotten.
Admiral Hyde is a hoot. He is full of joy. Sure we keep coming back to Tennessee but in between I am in the presence of a hero.
St. Paul’s Senior Services has a complete range of facilities for seniors from Residential Living (at the Manor) through Assisted Living (at the Villas) to specialized memory care (at the Memory Care Center) and a lot more in between. My mentor and supervisor for this summer, Fr. Leigh Jacobsen, one of the chaplains at St. Paul’s, recommended a book Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey as an introduction to working with residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I did not have a chance to read any of it before my first visit to the memory care center. Pam and I arrived at the center and saw that our names were on the daily activities list as Reflections with Pam and Richard. Taken a little back by this but eager and willing to do whatever was requested of us we asked the staff what was expected of us. We were told to go into the dining room which also doubles as the activity room and just sit and talk with any of the residents. So off we went.
All of the residents at the center have some memory issues but there is a wide range of functionality from resident to resident. With some residents I struggled to find words when the response back was confusion and at times fear. With other residents I could hold a conversation to some extent. One resident, Mary (that is not her real name) seemed to be having a good day and was quite coherent and we chatted about her sons and how she was going out to dinner with them the next day. Then, all of a sudden she looked out of the window and seemed to be focusing on some buildings across the street. “Do you see my husband over there?” she asked. “I don’t I’m afraid where is he meant to be?” I replied having no idea why her husband would be outside waiting for her. “He should be on the steps over there with his mates, you know he is always trying to organize a game of something, can’t you see him?” I couldn’t and I suspected that the husband was not real, maybe a memory but not in the present. I had no idea how to respond. It was clear that if I told her the truth she would get upset but it felt wrong to lie to her and play along with her fantasy.
When I got home that night I started to read the book that had been recommended and I couldn’t put it down. The book is split into small sections, each with little suggestions on activities and responses appropriate for interacting with people experiencing loss of memory function. A central theme of the book is that we must accept when the memory has gone and meet the person where they are. In that moment and in that location we try to create a moment of joy. Not for us, but for them.
In the case of Mary, her memory is now somewhere to a point earlier in her life. Maybe she remembers looking out of the kitchen window and seeing her husband out with his mates on the street at night. There is no harm in creating a moment of joy back at a time that for the rest of us was long ago but for Mary was now.
The next time I was at the center, Mary was all dressed up and was indeed waiting for her son to take her out. As I sat with her (she was ready three hours early and had little concept of time) she again asked me about her husband. “Yes, I think he is over there, I saw him a few minutes ago heading over to Balboa park with a bunch of guys and a football” Mary’s eyes lit up in a moment of joy. “Oh good, now I know he won’t get into too much trouble whilst I go for dinner”.
Both Pam and I have become regular visitors with Mary. I know that she loves to cook pork chops and she promises me that next time I come she will cook them for me. The knowledge of the happiness of her planning the meal is a delicious moment of joy.
I’m back with a series of ten blogs over the next couple of months recording thoughts, musings and reflections as I make my way through my second year of summer theological field placement activities. This year I am spending time with St. Paul’s Senior Homes and Services. I have company on the journey as most of the sessions that I do will also be with Sister Pam (you can read her blog here) who has been a schoolmate for the last two years and God willing and people consenting will be ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in November at the diocesan convention.
Last year, you will recall, my field placement was with Episcopal Community Services (ECS) and specifically with this ACCORD DUI program and also their Downtown Safe Haven transitional housing project. That experience was so rewarding, fulfilling, humbling and formative that I worry that anything that I do this year will fail to live up to what I had experienced before.
And there we have it. Lesson number one slaps me in the face even before really starting this year’s placement.
Let go, let be, and be open to what lays ahead.
What is it about our society that drives us for a need to rank, compare and constantly evaluate? There is of course a time and a place for all of these activities but there is also a skill in learning to balance the need for structure and evaluation with trust in the Holy Spirit and willingness to try experience new things and even the willingness to fail.
If we don’t give ourselves permission to fail or at least to readjust then we are not being brave enough in living out the gospel that Christ himself calls us to live.
So as I start this year’s activities I have my Learning-Serving Covenant in place, I have learning goals set, and weekly activities laid out. A schedule of time with residents, leading worship, group reflections and weekly games of bingo. What will each activity bring? What will I learn? What lays ahead that I cannot see?
I have no answer for these questions, but I’m ready to let go, let be and be open to what lays ahead.