One of the special privileges of older adult years is visiting folks in the hospital. Like funerals or memorial services, these visits can be exquisite times of spiritual depth—occurring at just the right “god-moment”—that might be hard to capture in words. Let me tell you about a recent hospital visit that might match similar experiences in your life. Perhaps these thoughts might help you cherish the moments you spend in the presence of someone who’s facing difficult medical conditions.
Zeitgeist is a German word that describes larger spans of time(zeit) by their prevailing spirit or climate (geist). For example, some parts of our continuing national zeitgeist could be portrayed as anxious, depressed or angry. And if we stretch the idea a bit, it’s possible that notable experiences—ones that defy and define time—can also gather around them a deeper, more profound and lingering sense about what’s really happening inside our spirit or core emotions. So the zeitgeist of an older adult’s birthday celebration might clearly call for quiet recall of memories rather than loud and raucous goings-on. In my experience, hospital visits have a time-defining spiritual quality that helps make these experiences transcendent, holy or life-changing. They may intertwine with our sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The following examples may illustrate these ideas….
Many chaplains came and went during my friend’s stay. Some of them in their official roles—pastor, hospital staff, mentors—and others just by virtue of a calling they assume as part of their daily lives. Best example: Nadia, the cleaning woman who offered spoken prayers for my friend—deep emotions, testimony, intuitive understanding of a situation she was part of.
There was something spiritual, too, in the sheer size and complexity of medical care in this hospital. A massive array of miracles, all available to my friend.
Those who came to visit became a kind of community, joined together by our concern for this dear saint. We took care of him and his family, some of us staying awhile. During our conversations there were intimate moments of confession, witness, gratitude, prayer, sorrow and joy.
Intuitively each group of visitors knew what to do and what not to do. Almost like we were unified parts of a single soul. Without instructions or invitations, we knew what to say (and not say), how long to stay and how to listen well. Humor and encouragement were well-mixed and well-delivered. We got out of the way when medical personnel needed to do their work.
Words became precious, and so we used them sparingly. Because our emotions challenged our vocabularies’ capabilities, we realized that we didn’t need to surround or insulate our friend with too many remarks or questions. Quiet became its own language. Prayer-words stepped around platitudes.
Our friend’s life was hanging in the balance, so we understood that these moments together might also be preparation for what could be coming. Time moved slowly—or seemed suspended. This timelessness distilled past/present/future into an eternal now—each moment rich for memory and helpful for what might come next.
Humility settled into each of our souls, as we realized how little we knew and how little we could do—the doctors and nurses primary examples. As each of us came to the ends of our knowledge, experience or hope, we embraced humility as the best (and only) way to approach these moments.
This hospital room was a training ground for elemental honesty. Bravado, shallow spirituality, hidden emotions, empty words—all brushed aside. Gently applied candor short-circuited any possibility of covering over or ignoring what was taking place. Our friend appreciated and participated in sincere, reliable truthfulness.
Attended by the miracle-working angels of medicine, God was present in so many ways. Creating, redeeming and making holy. Teaching and inviting us to consider our own mortality. Commissioning us to strong deeds of care. Assuring us that our friend was never going to be separated from love, God’s and our own. Being on sacred ground—a quiet and focused spiritual setting—was comforting.
I hope that your hospital visits can be richly spiritual, a God-gift that fills your years with a zeitgeist that includes you as giver and receiver of blessings!
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