Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Work We Can Do

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Famous Giant Hospital summer before last, I described my adventures to my father a couple of times during telephone conversations.

"I could never do that," he would say.

"Of course you could," I said. "You just show up."

During this past year, I have acknowledged that there was more to it than just showing up and that, indeed, my father could not do what I did.

Several years ago, my daughter asked me, "How do you know so much about other people?"

"I ask," I said.

I'm not particularly nosy. Today, for instance, I asked someone how her family was doing, since she had said last week that there were problems. I have no idea what the problems are and no need to know. But when someone is in my care -- a legal client, a student, a patient, a parishoner -- I am not afraid to ask.

People want to share who they are. A client wants to tell you how she discovered her husband's infidelity. A student wants someone to know that he is gay. A patient wants to say that she no longer believes in God. A parishoner wants to talk about the wife who died and left him with a small child.

I don't know why it is difficult for some people to hear the stories of others, but I know from my father, and from many others like him, that it is. I don't know why I can hear them, but I can. It doesn't much scare me that life is hard and confusing, that solutions are elusive, that loss is pervasive. (It scares me some.) I don't like any of those realities, but they don't motivate me to pretend that things are not what they are, and they don't intimidate or silence me.

In the past couple of weeks I have had occasion to learn something about the misconceptions that people tend to have about suicide. The people in possession of those misconceptions will soon be pastors. In one case, there is nothing I can do, but in another, there is.

It seems that in addition to hearing stories I will be telling them.

Today we heard a terrific sermon in chapel. The gist of it was that God may ask us to feed people when we have nothing but five loaves and two fishes. Do things for people. Help people. Be present to people.

I do not have five loaves and two fishes. I have more like a soggy crust. I can absorb the things people share with me and I can communicate them to others, perhaps at times and in ways that will on occasion make a difference.

That's it. My soggy crust.

At least I don't have to figure out to how fillet a fish.


Karen and Joe said...

A soggy crust is plenty appetizing to the starving. And listening to the sorrows of others is maybe the best kind of gift you can give us...

Purple said...

You are already an awesome pastor!!

Jennifer said...

Oh, my. So true, so simple.
You rock.

karen gerstenberger said...

Richard Rohr has a couple of pieces that pertain beautifully to what you've written here. Do you know or have any of his writings? If you're interested, I'll send them to you. They are about Mary at (and after) the annunciation, and how she moved into the situation at hand, and did what was in front of her.
Perhaps the best lesson I've ever had in what God asks of me was in taking care of my daughter while she had cancer. No time nor privacy to study the Word; just love, and the clear need facing me, moment by moment. There was agony and freedom in it, at the same time. God provided what was needed to do the job. God did not provide the cure we all asked for; He provided the love, the hands, the "bread and fish" for the moment. XO

Gannet Girl said...

Karen, I have a couple of Richard Rohr's books, but I'm not familiar with what you're talking about. Can you send them by email or do you need a rl address?

karen gerstenberger said...

I'll email you.

Stratoz said...

this reminded me of Buechner's call for us to tell our stories.

and that the loaves came from somewhere, the one gospel has them arriving in the hands of a child. Sure our loaves may feel soggy, but there may be someone standing next to us willing to give us some fresh baked bread to pass on to others. hmmm, maybe that is how God wants me to see my glass???

now I am going to look up what I couldn't remember when we chatted.

Cynthia said...

Your words are profound and true. I have been a pastor for over 20 years. Listening to people's stories of loss, grief, confusion and despair puts a lump in my throat and reminds me that I am in the presence of holy truth. Thank you for your blog. I visit most weeks to remember the depth of loss in your life and others. My son Jacob died 1 hour after birth and his twin brother Jackson is now 14. My loss is very different from yours, but I thank you for allowing us readerst to have a glimpse into your journey of grief and ministry.

Gannet Girl said...

Cynthia, thank you so much for de-lurking. My sad condolences on your loss of Jacob. I always thought that the loss of a twin would be one of the worst things, no matter the age, and it is. We never emphasized the twin-ness of our boys, but the reality is that they were partners from conception onward, most especially in my own heart. I suspect yours have been in yours as well.

Anonymous said...

Jim at recommended your journal, knowing we both lost grown sons. I have been interested to read of your trip across the desert. I liken my journey as into a deep dark cave. It has been 21 years since 1s since our family gathered together in a foreign country to watch medical workers make decision we had not part of. I am out of the cave, but I know the pain is still back there, for once in a while it stabs me, and hot tears flow. I'll be back. and xkdip at

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

As those of us who read this blog can attest, you feed people well.