Practical Theology: Where Divinity and humanity meet.
Let me know you, for you are the Creator who knows me
The following Theology(s) are my “Confessions.” Each one is a simple attempt to consider the Nature of our Creator while reflecting on personal history--allowing ancient Scripture-- to more fully align, change, or improve (my) beliefs in today’s world.
Theology of a Chaplain
Praise and Lamentation live side by side . . . If anything, greater faith only intensifies lament as our faith intersects the harsh realities of life . . . And if we are going to be honest with God, following the example of the faithful from Israel to the saints in heaven, then we need to learn how to speak a language spoken by the trailblazer of our faith as he offered prayers with cries and tears to the (Creator).
In the book of Exodus, the people of God were to leave enslavement and embark on a long journey, to a strange land that had yet to be seen by any of those ancient sojourners. The route to the Promised Land was vast, forcing them to survive in a desolate, largely uninhabitable wilderness.
Without a guide, they could easily have perished. Several human guides were provided as needed, yet one stayed consistently with them until that journey to the Promised Land was reached.
Exodus 13:20–21 tells us that the very presence of the Creator was physically shown to them with fire, giving hope and direction to these people as they wandered in their desert:
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
This scripture is prominent in reflecting upon my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) internship at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. I was to be both the wandering escort in search of a promised land and fuel for God’s guiding flame in the desolate, uninhabitable wilderness parents must travel when their child needs hospitalization—or dies.
Even though over 80% of the children that came into Scottish Rite Hospital would leave better than they came in, it has been the other 20% that became my ministry route while in that internship. Nights in a hospital are especially long as a chaplain on call. That is when I was called most often to a bereavement room to sit with families to help them hold their children as they died.
I was a sojourner, wandering around looking for my own promised land by completing graduate school to become a pastor. So, while I was nourished by the manna of scripture, the fellowship given freely by the other interns, the calming presence of my CPE supervisor, and wisdom from seminary, I was also being baptized by a fire that does not “depart from the people.” Though I am certainly not the fire, I humbly submit that I was attempting to be the resin which allows seasoned wood to burn, even in the heaviest storms.
Resin is the sticky substance produced by certain trees and offers protective benefits to the plant when harmed. This substance when used on firewood will allow a flame to last through rain. Plant resins have a long history, documented back to ancient Persian, Greece, and Roman societies, which used highly prized resins known as frankincense and myrrh.
Resin is collected in clumps of sap known as “tears” from trees in which the volatile oils remain sticky and opaque and are valued as the “aroma of life” in the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic faiths. The burning of this resin in these multi-faiths is used to anoint newborns and individuals considered to be moving into a new phase in their spiritual lives.
As a person of faith, being called to pastor a family in the storm of losing a child links my story with the call of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). My own life history, of loss and grief, formed my own tears of resin to be harvested and then used in this hospital setting. My prayers were those tears which then were able to take on a larger meaning as I was simply called to “be still” or, otherwise, be the fragrant offering space to make known the Creator as the pillar, the guide, the way out of the desert.
Before becoming a chaplain, I was a student of social sciences and international relations. This actually is what pushed me to believe that lamentations, and the faith found in them, have been pushed to the margins in our post-industrial, medically advanced, wealth driven, Western society. Are we even taught how to respond in a hospital or what to expect when we’re taking Momma to a nursing home?
We tend to forget that even “Jesus wept” when he lost a friend to death (John 11:35). All humans seem to need to be reminded with rituals and holidays that Christ was “plunged into agonizing sorrow” even before he was crucified (Matt 26:37). These emotions in Christ were not evidence of his lack of faith but of his humanity and ability to understand our pain as our “high priest” and “adoptive” brother/parent. Even “creation groans out” while we wait for the redemption of our bodies (8:23). Therefore, to think of myself as resin used in a heavenly flame brought me the ability to stand firmly, with my God and my theology of resurrection, within a room holding parents who were lost in wordless translation of unbearable pain found in the bereavement room of a children’s hospital.
The fragrant offering found in being a hospital chaplain was nothing more than being willing to be in a space of “one another” in prayer while bringing to our senses that we are not alone, ever. This “we are not alone” theology did not come to me in seminary but was shown to me by a family I was privileged to serve and hope to never forget. Their child was born premature and, due to the vast amount of complications and undeveloped internal organs, the family made the decision no parent can even fathom having to make. After struggling for two weeks, they decided to have their daughter removed from life support.
As the chaplain, when it was time, it was my role to help them transition from the crowded intensive care unit to a private bereavement room for the child. This would allow them to spend her last hours of life peacefully in their arms without the other, quiet distractions of the ICU. What made this family different from others I had served was that there were ten other family members (sisters, brothers, grandparents and cousins of the grieving parents) gathered in that small bereavement room that night.
Without anyone suggesting this to happen, one at a time, each person in the room stood or knelt beside the mother holding the child for the three hours the baby chirped her last breaths. They all spoke of their undying love for this child and the joy she had brought them in her short life. Being in the presence of this whole family reminded me that, even though death is tragic, it is not to be endured alone. Their own light of faith shone bright that night; I was but one piece of it—resin attempting to keep the light shining in that room full of tears.
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Elizabeth enjoys teaching god’s word and speaking topically on caregiving, parenting, and finding peace in chaos. Her style is engaging, funny, vulnerable, and full of honesty.