A Chaplain’s Perspective Essay IV: The Journey Continues

The Journey Continues

            “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but  to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Working in the hospital and especially on my assigned COVID+ units, the pandemic continues to be at the center of our thoughts and daily conversations. At the same time, life continues and for many, other challenges have taken priority and the pandemic has drifted to the background.

In the United States we are seeking to reflect a growing understanding of justice. We are seeking to assure that justice and the right to live and dream is known by all members of our society.

There are times this social strife that is seeking growth and change has happened peacefully and other times, protests have become violent. These are challenging times.

What perspective can a hospital chaplain bring to the Black Lives Matter cry of the moment?

First, a re-centering on the role of religion. The great Nigerian thinker Francis Cardinal Arinze said it this way, “Human life is sacred. It must be protected. We have no right to kill ourselves or to kill innocent people. While self-defense is a right and justifiable, it has to be kept in due limits. Justice, peace, tranquility in the world are built on the pillars of respect for the fundamental rights of other people, especially their right to life, religious freedom, and free exercise of political, economic, and cultural rights. Economic and political development of people is also an obligatory road to peace. If people are illiterate, underdeveloped, oppressed and repressed, then justice and peace are rendered more difficult. Violence, terrorism, the taking of human lives and the destruction of property are condemned by all genuine religions. They are opposed to love of God and neighbor. No matter the problems and challenges to be faced, these violent roads are the wrong ones. Solutions in line with respect for God and humanity have to be sought, no matter how difficult and long-term they may be. All religions are bound to help their followers to engage in reflections such as these.”

Second, in support of equality, the advancement of civil rights and recognizing the increased challenges and restrictions both seen and unseen within African American communities and especially among young African American men, I am left to wonder about the challenge of change. And, as we seek to broaden our collective vision, I ask a question rooted from chaplaincy encounters at the bedside, “If Black Lives Matter then would it not be logical to also say that Unborn Black Lives Matter?”

The most difficult visits for me occur in Labor and Delivery and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. These visits drain me emotionally and I am continually amazed by the heroic teams of professionals called to work in these units day after day. Labor and Delivery and the Neonatal units are for the most part the happiest areas of the hospital full of new lives, but at other times, they are the saddest units in the hospital. The sadness and intense grief seem to fill the hallways and enter the hearts of all associated with the death of a baby.

On eighteen occasions I have been called by family to the room of a newborn who will not live long on this earth with the request to baptize their child. I am going to give more detail to one of these situations.

A woman went into spontaneous delivery. There was nothing the medical team could do to stop it. The baby had a heartbeat, but the gestational age was only nineteen weeks and three days. Therefore, it was known that the baby would not survive. Everyone believed medically that the child would be a stillborn. Family was at her bedside and waited with heavy hearts.

Finally, he was born, barely over a pound and breathing! No one expected him to be breathing. Nurses laid him on his mother’s breast, and she swaddled him. She gazed at him and loved him. Family members gathered around and surrounded mom and her baby with love.

At some point the family requested that I baptize the baby. We gathered around the bedside. Mom continued to hold her son and using two fingers I baptized him, and we prayed to God.

He was with us, never leaving his mother’s arms, for 1 hour and 48 minutes. In that brief amount of time he changed the world. He inspired so much love. He permanently impacted the lives of those blessed to see him and the one who literally held him during every moment he had on earth. His life mattered!

 

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