I knew this was coming eventually. I remember sitting in Goodson Chapel at Point Loma Nazarene Universuty, listening to a lecture about the Dead Sea Scrolls, when someone asked the question of how he got so involved in interpreting these scrolls.His response was that he thought he was called to be a minister, but after realizing that hospital visits were part of the deal, and more importantly realizing he was no good at the aforementioned, he jumped ship to another vocational calling.
So I hesitated for a moment in the car this afternoon outside the hospital. Part of me was hoping the summer rainstorm would abate, and the other part was recalling the experience at Point Loma and recognizing the potential weightiness of the next 90 minutes. I had visited hospitals before, during both this summer and last summer, but always with the minister taking the lead. This was my first time making ‘unaccompanied’ hospital rounds, and I had no idea what God had in store for me.
First up was visiting a lady I knew very little about (who we will call Lillian), or even why she was in the hospital. And immediately I recognized the awkwardness of presence. I was greeted by three relatives of the lady I had never met, and a patient for whatever reason unwilling to talk or open her eyes. Then, because of nurse obligations, I uncomfortably witnessed her being force-fed apple sauce (the first timeshe had eaten in 2 days), eventually with pills the size of popcorn mixed in. She would not open her eyes, and would only respond in the negative to any question asked. I am not one to naturally diffuse awkward situations, so watching an elderly lady force-fed pills like a dog is not a place I like to find myself in. Especially when all I’m armed with is myself, a title (that of Summer Intern/Student Pastor/Duke Student or any combination of these) and the ability to pray. So I offered to pray for her and the family. And after rummaging around in the sheets for Lillian’s hand, I began to pray. I am not exactly sure what I said, but somewhere between me starting and saying ‘Amen’ I realized how important such words were for both the family and Lillian. Intellectualy I had always subscribed to Wittgenstein’s argument regarding the importance of words and language, but practically I had never given much weight to the power of prayer. Today in room 2614 that changed.
Yet God was not finished yet both teaching and using me. I then went down to the opposite side of the hospital to visita man whom I have got to know quite well during his now-three-week stay in the hospital coincidental with my time at Summer Field Ed. A spry 91 year old who has now been confined to a bed for almost a month, his confidence in himself and his body is waning. But his humor is not. Nor his frank practicality.
For some reason today, he got hooked on the phrase ‘hole in the bucket.’ Such as, “me being stuck in here is a hole in the bucket.” Or, “I don’t have to go to the bathroom in here. I know where the number one goes, but what about the number two? It’s a hole in the bucket.” Or, on the tube draining the bacteria-filled fluid from his lungs being ripped out, “I was trying to walk and then I’m in surgery. A real hole in the bucket.”
It’s ironic that today at the weekly meeting for the elderly of the church I spoke about the earthiness of Jesus, the fragility of his body, the fact that he really was human and bled, went to the bathroom, and experienced all the bodily functions that we do, even the more grotesque. Sometimes our experiences in life can feel like a hole in the bucket, but thank God we have someone to look to who experienced the same things we have, yet was also fully God.