It's just about 2:00 am and this is the first time I've sat down since I arrived at 6:00 pm. It has been an exhausting shift so far.
This evening I was with two people as they died. In neither case was the death expected to come as it did and I had the privilege of accompanying the family members in negotiating the first cataracts of grief and loss. To pray with them, to be with them at this vulnerable time is a great grace...a great honor...and in the best possible way, a blessed burden. I find myself searching for words, for gestures, for ways of being more present to them and their needs. And yet, in spite of all my attempts, I find myself giving way to something else, the holy Other who works through each of us, and I realize that any comfort provided to these people is not of my account, but through God using this imperfect minister to convey a healing presence.
I'm often tempted to write about my struggle with faith. I believe because I pray...and sometimes my beliefs are strained to near-breaking. I admit this candidly now, but the inner terrain of my faith life is rugged and often bleak. But I cannot doubt the existence of God...and I will admit that there are times that I have tried. Embarrassed am I to admit that there are times I wish I could be an atheist, times when I wish that I could live my life as though it were mine alone, times when I want to feel uncalled and un-chosen because it would be easier, more lucrative, or more fun. This is my struggle and perhaps it is my curse that I will always wrestle with nagging doubts that give way on occasion to moments of tremendous insight and great confirmation.
Tonight, I received such a confirmation.
Due to exigent circumstances, I was called upon to baptize a very ill baby. With the parents and several nurses present, I performed the baptismal rite. I poured the water on the baby's head, watching it run down her forehead in small rivulets that ran down the side of her face to be absorbed in the white cloth upon which she rested. I prayed the "Our Father" with the family, realizing how profoundly the prayer speaks of our radical contingency and dependence on God for all that we have and call our own. I prayed with a mother who taught me of dispossesive love - true love, a love that is poured out freely and sometimes painfully that seeks no return, no recompense, but is poured out nonetheless in order to be 'wasted' on the life of another person. And as this love is 'wasted' and spent prodigally, the ache of heart's bleeding echoes deep within us, reminding us of our humanity, drawing us to humility.
Tonight, I welcomed into the Christian community through baptism a new sister, a new child with a story to tell and to be told, a part of creation whose life lay before her to be measured not in years but in hours, a life that has touched my own life and the lives of so many others in the most profound of ways. Tonight I enacted the hospitality of God, a God who makes room for others at the table and invites them in anointing them as guests.
I can't write anything else. I suspect I'm breaking some regulation now...but this is something I must share, I feel, or else it will be lost.
I'll be in bed until tomorrow afternoon - I still have six hours on my shift left to go. It's going to be a long night, and I think I'll spend some of it in the chapel. God and I have much to talk about.