One of Michael’s new responsibilities is to hold a ‘Circle’, twice a week, for two different groups of residents in ‘Assisted Living’. Week by week, the attendance is random and can be comprised of half a dozen people from totally different backgrounds and physical challenges. Their common bond is they are in their nineties and need an activity other than watching TV.
As their Chaplain my job is to initiate, support, maintain and gently direct a conversation for about an hour or more. At times I hoist a red flag question, just to see if anyone will be open to it; like, “Did your parents believe in God? Or did they take you to church on Sundays?”
Invariably, the answer is they went to Sunday School, either taken by their parents, one parent, grandparents or a friend. In answer to the question, ‘Was there anyone in particular who affected your spiritual life?’ That question has to be rephrased to ‘your religion,’ to be understood. Ninety years ago people ‘did religion’ as the norm and they held fast to their elected denomination. If I ask them if they are Christian, they answer by stating a denomination. In their childhood, a personal intimate relationship with Jesus Christ was not sought after and unlikely to be preached from the pulpit. More probably a conformist denominational obligation was emphasized, with strong community expectations and a punishing God.
So now as we sit in a circle, I struggle to find common ground, to initiate some kind of meaning or purpose into their daily lives. The world since their childhood, has spun totally out of control.
Their values, once foundational to a strong community, have been totally upended. Now as they are confined to bed or a wheel chair, finding activities worthy of keeping their minds alive is an endless challenge. Every room has a television which is constantly blaring with an image of the culture and place called, The United States of America, which is now totally foreign to them, even though they have lived in it all their long lives. There is a resignation that all is out of their control. A resignation and a retreat. They need help with their bodies, which can no longer look after themselves. They learn to wait and to wait some more.
Talking about their children is always a joy; until they remember, ‘they live so far away and of course they are so busy with their own children and grandchildren, I never see them.’
I come back to that old subject again, Religion, and there is a blankness in their eyes. It is hollow for them. They never experienced a touch of the living breathe of the Holy Spirit. They never knew the closeness of an intimate loving Jesus Christ. Their paradigm was held by an ‘obligation and restriction’ to a God, which they later decided, ‘could not really be real because of all the awful things which happen to good people.’ Sunday School, never took them past the education about God into a relationship with God.
My heart breaks for people held in that paradigm. The emptiness is resounding. The hope is focused on the material. Faith has settled on humanism and medical advances.
Christianity, so simple in it’s essence, appears to many to have lost it’s essence; God’s love. It looks to many as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Even an outdated idea which has been kidnapped into a political weapon.
The question remains, how do we bring a living relationship with Jesus Christ, to those who never met Him, one on one? By being patient and kind, not boasting or envying, nor arrogant or rude, not insisting on our own way, not being irritable or resentful. In other words, showing the love of Christ, which becomes an invitation for people to meet Him, often for the first time. Of course we can hopefully introduce them to the Holy Spirit in the process, then the love is really flowing.
Such an easy thing for me to write, but so difficult to achieve when divisions are deeply defended. Even within ‘the circle’, of people in their nineties, there is fear to talk freely about politics and religion. The bible has a term which comes to mind, a ‘hardening of the heart.’ Some of the elements in that condition are fear, greed, inaction, resignation, denial, and the inability to change, or realize empathy for others.
So this is my prayer, that I would not have a hardening of my heart, but be patient and kind, and keep my eyes on Christ, because He is the only way, the truth and the light.
He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters
at the boundary between light and darkness. Job 26:10.
Christine’s news is that she is working on a long term project called “The Creation Series”. It includes icons and natural images such as birds and flowers and plants. It’s a vehicle for the searching and experimenting she is doing combining ancient symbolic language of icons with modern abstract and natural imagery to make a statement about God and the environment.
She is almost finished with two identical original Saint Paul icons and will post those images upon completion. She has also realized that her website needs to be completely overhauled and re-generated on a different platform and is dividing her time between that task and her creative work.
WE both are so grateful to be living in a staycation environment and so so happy not to have to move again for awhile!! (Hopefully forever!)
Sending you all lots of love and prayers, and please do keep us in yours!! We need each other!!
Much love, Christine and Michael