To be the chaplain

81-J107hr4LAccidental Saints found its way into my library hold shelf a while back. I didn’t review it. Not because it wasn’t good. Just because I didn’t. I can do that sometimes… read a book and not even have the decency to write about it. Apologies.

I loved it.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a foul-mouth overly-tatted rough-and-tumble Lutheran Pastor. And she will challenge your assumptions. Probably all of them. I’d read it. If I were you.

There… reviewed.  51-eSak6d8L

More recently, I picked up Pastrix, her previous book. More of an autobiography. It’s good. I’m not done. But you should probably read it.

Two reviews in one… I’m killing it.

Clearly I’m not really writing book reviews today either. Let’s leave it at:

  • This woman is hilarious
  • and she will not make you comfortable.

In Pastrix, Nadia is telling the story of how she was thrown into a hospital chaplaincy, willy-nilly, in the middle of her mad seminary days. She had no idea what she was to be doing there. It’s kind of a funny book.

Nadia, on inquiring why she, as a new chaplain, was called into the trauma room:

Inside the trauma room, a nurse was cutting the clothes off a motionless man in his fifties on a table; tubes were coming out of his mouth and arms. Doctors started doing things to him not meant for my eyes and sorely misrepresented on TV shows. Another nurse was hooking things up to him while a doctor put on gloves and motioned for paddles, which he then placed into the motionless man’s fresh cracked-open chest.

A nurse stepped back to where I was standing, and I leaned over to her. “Everyone seems to have a job, but what am I doing here?”

She glanced at my badge and said, “Your job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room while we do our jobs.”

~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

I have never heard an actual job description for a chaplain before. This is not what I imagined it might be.

In fact, I dug a little. On the internet. Which is always right. I can’t find anything like this there either. Words commonly used are support, care, guidance, assistance, counseling. Now we’re on familiar turf. Yes, that sounds better.

But ‘stand there and be aware of God’s presence for us?’ Not one I’ve heard. Somehow I doubt that you have either. Is this a common request of nurses and doctors? Patients? Is it in the fine print when you sign on as a chaplain? I even wonder if that nurse wasn’t employing a lethal dose of spite and sarcasm when she charged this newb with her duties.

Doesn’t much matter. She spoke an essential truth. Whether she wanted to or not.

I doubt that Nadia Bolz-Weber nabbed the nearest gurney and hopped aboard to better minister to those in the trauma room around her. I don’t think she laid her hands on the surgeons as they fought for that man’s life. Probably didn’t use her pastorly voice to pray loudly over the man dying in front of her. If I had to guess, I’d say she shut her mouth and opened her heart. And she stood there, trying her best to maintain a focus that no one else in the room was capable of.

What a gift.

It makes me think of the monastic calling to pray for the world. All the time. With your whole being.

And then it makes me think of my own.

What would it be like, to stand and just be aware of Christ for those who are unable to be aware themselves? Maybe this is the true Christian vocation. I know that there have been times in my life where another human standing by, just being aware of the divine presence for me, would have been enough to bring me to my knees. Times when I just couldn’t do it.

But sometimes I can. There are plenty of spaces between my crises—or better yet within—where I could be that person for someone else. For the man down the road who just lost his wife. For the friend who is juggling a grim diagnosis for her child with being a parent and supporting them through it. For the one in the crisis that no one will ever know about. For you. I could do that.

And what about those who refuse to acknowledge God for themselves? Who gave up? Who’ve been crushed by false images of the divine that we’ve managed to thrust at people left and right? What about those who don’t care? Maybe it is my vocation to stand and be aware of Christ in the room for them as well. To hold them up. I could be that person. I could do that.

I think maybe this is what intercession really is.

What would it be like to be the chaplain to the world around us, to stand there and be aware of God’s presence in the room?

Let’s give it a shot…

12 thoughts on “To be the chaplain

Add yours

  1. Loved loved loved Accidental Saints, which accidentally appeared in my library stack a few years ago.

    And your description of intercession brought me to tears. Because sometimes you just can’t anymore, and every once in a while you can.

    Liked by 2 people

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