Friday, August 12, 2016

We Can Be Heroes: Speaking to the Soul, August 12, 2016

In the epistle passage for this Sunday, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews lists numerous heroes in Israel’s history, including Gideon, Samson, and David, among others, who accomplished mighty deeds, and those mighty deeds are attributed to their great faith. In the last verses, Jesus is then referred to as “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” to whom we should look as our example for living a fully human life—in particular through Jesus’s willingness to give himself for us.

I was thinking about people who are heroes today through their great strength and faith and who, consciously or not, remind me of the same self-giving love that Jesus exemplifies for us. It didn’t take me long to come up with a category of people from my current experience. The past eleven weeks, as part of my pastoral training, I have been serving as a chaplain intern at a large, urban teaching hospital that is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation. It’s attached to an outstanding university which is known for its top-notch medical school. That is certainly part of what makes it such a fantastic hospital.

But the backbone of the hospital rests not just on the doctors and educators. The real, everyday heroes who have drawn my awe and admiration all summer long are the nurses. As today is the final day of my chaplaincy with the nurses on my floors, I can think of no greater heroes to embody the virtues of love and sacrifice than these nurses with whom I have been privileged to work.

These women and men are the ones who spend hours every day with the patients and their families, tending to their bodies, minds, and spirits with a self-giving love, embodying grace in their every step. I have learned so much from these heroes.

I have had nurses call me to talk about a patient they are concerned about an hour after they went off the clock because they can’t rest until they know a chaplain will visit their patient.

I have watched them go home after a 12-hour shift for a few hours and turn around to work another shift when there just were too many patients on a floor for the number of nurses available, and they didn’t want patient care to suffer.

I have seen them cry and embrace families after patients have coded and passed away.

I have seen them advocate for and be with patients who had no family present when they met with doctors.

I have watched them stroke the hands and heads of the dying, comforting families in times of deep distress, skillfully eliciting stories about the beloved patient from the families and helping them, if only for a moment, place themselves in memories of happier times.

These nurses have been a living reminder of the reminder from St. Teresa of Avila that the life of a Christian is to embody the love of Christ himself, to be not just a fan but a participant in the life of Jesus, lived out for love of the world:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Our reading from Hebrews begins by celebrating military heroics, but ends by reminding us that the greatest example of faith is based not in strength or might, but in living faithful lives embodying the love of Christ. So many great world faith traditions agree that we are called to live a good life, a life lived for others. This summer, I have been most beautifully and wondrously reminded who the true heroes of America’s hospitals are. I give thanks for the wonderful women and men who have embodied that grace for me, as well as for their patients and families this summer, and for teaching me what true care for each other really means.

(This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on August 12, 2016.)

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