Rev. Dr. Richard Smith
July 19, 2015
As he went, the people pressed round him. And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and had spent all her living upon physicians and could not be healed by any one, came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
I remember it very well when I lost my virginity…..in electronics. Dr. Larry Hinshaw, First UMC, Tucson, AZ. came one day to our monthly clergy gathering in Tucson. I was an Associate Minister at Christ Church, Methodist and attended along with the Senior Pastor these monthly “in touch” kind of sessions for information exchange and support.
Larry could not wait to share. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pager. He joyfully proclaimed, “Now my congregation can reach me anywhere.” The reaction by the other clergy was not glee, but horror. Most of the response was something like, “Look there are times I don’t want my congregation to be able to reach me…..or they always know how to track me down.” It was the sound of clergy trying to meet all the needs of their congregation, which is impossible at times.
Well 40 years have passed and now I have Apples: iMac at home; iPad in my hand; iPhone in my pocket; an iPod in my car; and an Apple Watch on my wrist. We are surrounded by Electronic Communication devices, like the crowd that surrounded Jesus on that day, pushing and shoving at us for attention. And while we have more means to communicate with each other, recent studies have told us we actually communicate less. It is the picture of 4 people around a dinner table all texting each other, but not talking to each other.
My colleague at St. Rose, Connie Belmore, an Episcopal priest, and I were sharing our struggle with families who are “connected.” I shared that when I was at hospice, when the patient was dying, the family remained connected to their loved one, as they monitored the final breathing patterns of the patient as they came closer to death. Now in the hospital….same event…..and the family watch the telemetry…..as if the monitors tell us anything about being human.
Connie shared, what we both have experienced, that as the patient is dying, family members are on their cell phones letting other people know what is going on, as if they are completely disconnected to the event of death. Alena Hall, from the Huffington Post, published an article on July 10th entitled, “23 Signs you have a healthy relationship with your Smartphone.” I am going to share only a few, let’s see how you do…..honestly.
- On a rare occasion you forget your phone at home, a panic attack does not ensue.
- You don’t succumb to peer pressure to respond to text messages immediately. (I fail there).
- During the most awe-inspiring moments your phone stays in your pocket (rather than snap that unforgettable picture).
- You are able to give your friend your undivided attention without glancing at your phone for alerts, mail, messages without any residual anxiety.
- My last one, you spend more time playing with your dog (or cat) than taking filtered pictures of him/her.
We can understand in our own way, what it was like for Jesus to simply go for a walk, and have the demands of so many people for his time. And yet in the midst of this din of sound and people, we read…….As he went, the people pressed round him…… And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!”
In the midst of all of this, Jesus choose to be present to the woman who had suffered so much. So much of the literature is coming out to remind us what a great gift it is to be present to another person. Most of the time I am an outsider to the world of healthcare. They speak their own language of science and chemistry while I speak psychology and spirituality. But more and more physicians are being reminded about the role of caring presence in health care.
A recent flyer came across my desk that was advertising a conference entitled, “Emerging Tools for Innovative Providers: Spiritual Transformation Impact and Outcomes.” The presenters were from Medicine, not from Clergy or Chaplains. What had been assigned to Social Work, Clergy, Chaplains and maybe even Psychologists has now been taken over by the Medical Profession.
My own struggle and transformation on this subject has been the gift of ministry in Hospice and Hospital. First in order to become Board Certified as a Chaplain a candidate has to attend 400 hours of class work and complete 1600 hours of clinical training. The focus is really how to be present to others and understand the patient’s issues. Simply put, we have to deal with our own junk first, before we can be present to others in their suffering. My colleague and I remind each other, “Whose need is being met?”
I have very little doubt that Jesus developed his sense of presence through his prayer life. We know of one time when he went on a prayer retreat for many days, and was confronted by his issues of identity, pursuit of power, and his relationship to God. And in the end on his last night, he simply said, “I have shown a way, FOR YOU.” That is how Jesus was able to feel the women’s pain. He was so in tune with the bleeding of people that he could simply by a touch heal her with his presence. I have to witness to this happening in such regular ways I am still amazed at the simple healing power of presence.
Every other Friday I am the On-Call Chaplain for all three of our hospitals from 6 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Saturday morning. I have come to live with a kind of expectation on what may happen during that time. Often I am not called out but the sleep is not any more restful. Yesterday morning at about midnight I was called to the hospital to be with a young man whose wife who wife was (ironically enough) bleeding following a surgery that had taken place about a month before. She required 6 units of blood (6 pints) and she was close to death. It’s in those moment that I have to practice being present to another, and put aside the thoughts that I would rather be sleeping.
We talked until the surgeon came out with the good news. I was amused at the surgeon when I introduced myself, he said, “Well we don’t need you tonight.” Countering that, after the surgeon was done with his report, and our prayer together the young man said, “Thank you, I needed you tonight.” You see, we are called to follow Christ in this ministry, to be present to those who are each bleeding in their own ways, some have been bleeding for many years.
The great mystic of our time Thomas Merton, once answered the old Zen Koan, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” He said, “The least we can do is be there.” (Finally,) presence, and compassion…..takes energy. And so we read: But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.”
I concede this morning that all of this does not come easy. Unfortunately I have met Christians who are the most dis-passionate, un-caring, non-present people I could even imagine. They pressed in by the crowd of their own voices, their own concerns to be of much help to others. Oh sure, I know the people I am with are in the hospital, we might say, not at their best. But I have met some saints too.
The hospital is a level playing field and there are patients who are beautiful, compassionate, loving to our staff. Being present to others takes energy, we even have a name for it, “compassion fatigue” or “burn out.” Take some time to page through the Gospels and discover how Jesus dealt with this. He would take long retreats into the desert, to pray. He would be so absorbed in his walks along the beach he would miss the boat.
And he would find strength in worship, as we read he did regularly. And so, that is the danger, that is the risk, that being present to others not only requires your choice, but it may mean that you have to give away some of your own daily energy. In the rhythm of the hospital we are always a little on edge. In the midst of your lunch; or a conversation with a staff member, or us just “catching up with each other” there is first the Overhead Alarm, and the following, “Code Blue.” In addition I wear another electronic device beside a pager that is a voice device that can call me to the Emergency Room because we have a cardiac arrest coming in, and the family is in hysterics.
Whatever personal plans of how many room-to-room visits I might make or need to make, whatever meeting I am in or phone call……I have to put that on hold and shift into being present to the scene I might find. It is not easy….I prefer the peace and quiet that is often the hospital. And Connie and I remind each other that it is okay. Some days are like that where you have to spend 6 of your 8 hours with one patient, or one family. One person……in the midst of the crowd……who is suffering perhaps for a long time, maybe years……now in this moment.
And we take care of each other. We step in to take the “next one” so we can regain our spiritual strength, so we can be present again. Well, I think it’s time, so I close with this. Our two miniature schnauzers are my spirit guides. You know in some Native American traditions our spirit guides are animals: Coyote (the trickster) Fox, Eagle, Buffalo…..and so on.
Well Sophie and Tanner are trying to teach me something about presence. I got it the other day, when early in the morning after we have had our breakfast and before I have to leave for the hospital, I usually like to open the modern day version of the newspaper, and read the various news stories on my IPad. And this was like every other morning but I had to listen, to them speak to me. Tanner likes to jump up on my left side, and Sophie on the right each demanding my attention. Well, you got to know, you can’t juggle an IPad with two schnauzers on your lap. And then it came to me: Stop your action, and be present to these two dogs. Be with them, ignore the electronics, listen to them.
And as I put down the news, the many voices that come from all over the world: Donald Trump, ISIS, the latest shooting, by a homegrown terrorist, or police office, the climate change, the latest dumb proclamation from either a national politician or even religious leader…..my two dogs say to me, “practice being just present, pet my head or rub my belly, and you will feel renewed. I know, I know that when I do that I am reaching out to Jesus, just to touch him in this moment, and I begin to feel the bleedings of my life, heal.
And just as Jesus said to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” he said to me, “Richard your faith has made you whole again.”