Great acts of faith

There is a letter on the first page of my Clinical Pastoral Education policies and procedures manual welcoming new students to CPE. It doesn’t sugar coat difficulties we should expect in the course of CPE. One sentence that struck me, moved me to tears in fact, when I first read it went like this:

“You will be asked to demonstrate acts of great faith in the face of uncertainty.”

I’m not sure what I thought those acts of great faith would be during this particular unit. Amazing prayers? I am, after all, a second unit student. My prayers should be brilliant… right? Maybe the author was referring to rituals – emergency baptisms, commendations of the dying, those sorts of things. I haven’t really done those things per se, but there’s still time. Anything could happen.

In my reality in this unit these acts of faith have turned out to be much less spectacular, much more ordinary. The stuff of my daily rounds as chaplain has required more fortitude and faith than I could have imagined. It’s an act of faith to sit with the dying, talking and listening, being quiet and calm. It’s an act of faith to stay in a room and listen to a patient’s story and focus on them when every ounce of your being is telling you how much this patient sets you off and reminds you of everything you’re scared of. It’s an act of faith to walk with hope into yet another room where a battle against lymphoma or leukemia is raging, setting aside how many patients you’ve seen die of both in just a short period of time. It’s an act of faith to sit with pain and loss and grief and despair and anger, none of which you can fix or change or erase, and somehow believe that presence is really meaningful. It’s standing at the foot of the bed while two residents search relentlessly for veins on the arms, hands, feet, neck, and legs of an elderly cancer patient whose veins have all collapsed. It’s an act of faith to walk into a room to see a young woman who has lost a perfectly formed, beautiful baby girl at term.

This work isn’t about fantastic liturgy or knowing what to say or do. These days, all I can really do is show up, witness the stark reality of my patients’ situations, and not panic in the midst of it all. That’s about as good as it gets. And I am finally starting to learn that it’s enough. As my preaching professor would say, it’s a great sufficiency.



~ by Sophia on October 29, 2009.

2 Responses to “Great acts of faith”

  1. A great sufficiency indeed. Amen.

  2. I’m often surprised at how much it means to people when we just show up. The mother-in-law of a friend passed away recently after a long illness. I mentioned in passing that I was going to try to attend the funeral. As the funeral approached, I began to talk myself out of it – it was 2 hours away, on a sunday afternoon, the day before i was going out of town for a week. I had almost given myself permission not to go, when I got a txt msg from my friend telling me how much it meant to her that i was going to be at the funeral. i went. i didn’t do anything but just be there. but sometimes that’s what people need.

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