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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Driven by a dream ...

Driven by a dream

They leave no trace but a star’s light;
the relentless sand beneath their feet filling shapeless dents.
Under a moon thick with shadows,
silica shaped by a night wind carves graceful curves in the shifting hills
re-writes again and again a cosmic riddle for a transient age.

Anger spills out onto these sands, too,
yet leaves no stain. There is only a collective crush of sound jarring the heavens;
an anguish of grief sliding through the sand like Noah’s rain:
implacable and unexpected.

The rhythm is so Jehovah:
modest metaphor meets mythic moment;
symbol erupts from sand;
God entombed in a Baby carried by a Virgin.
And they flee a dust-bound potentate whom the world will know only as a petulant baby-killer.

The modus operandi is so human:
absolute power corrupting absolutely,
greed fueling government,
a king enthroned on a pile of gold yanked from the Earth and pinned by a flag.
And he chases a baby, never knowing the world will always know that Baby as Redeemer, King of Kings, the Christ.

A donkey plods on.
A hidden journey in a night brimming with light.
New stars like small souls flashing through the darkness;
journeying home, they pave a path of brilliance that cannot be seen by man.
One family fleeing in the night far, far from home;
standing between heaven and earth,
caught between  justice and the law of the land,
driven by a dream.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sacrament - Part three

I have been reflecting on the Last Supper, and what 'do this in memory of me' means to those within traditions of Christianity that have Sacramental tradition and those that do not. I am not seeking to drag up arguments about transubstantiation, although these views drive the way we practice our faith and how we 'do this in memory of me.' What I am seeking to do in these two blogs is simply to offer my heart's reflection during the past week. 

In my third reflection on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, I am considering a favorite theme of mine—that is, I should say, a long-standing desire to bring this into my life from the heart of my being: the sacrament to the present moment. To those unfamiliar with this contemplative path, the sacrament of the present moment was taught by Rev Jean Pierre de Caussade in the late 17th century. To Rev de Caussade, it is only in the present moment that we have the precious ability to engage with the reality of eternity. Our past imagination and future concerns are a part of our mortal mind; eternity is, it does not have a past or future. Therefore, we are privileged to meet with the Eternal, engage with God and the heavenly hosts in our indivisible present. The ‘flipside’ of this understanding, is that instead of railing against the interruptions, tensions, and questions of our day, to truly engage with God, we must abandon ourselves to live in these present contentions of our world in our present moment: “the duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation” (de Caussade).
 The following is a reflection from the Irish Jesuits who keep the site, Sacred Space (
One conviction is central to Christian prayer: that God is active in it. We turn to meditation not so much as an exercise in self-improvement, as an opening ourselves to our heavenly father who is waiting for us. Three hundred years ago de Caussade wrote of the Sacrament of the Present Moment. It is only in the Now that we have access to God. Looking forward or back exercises the mind and imagination, but that distracts us from the true meeting of prayer, with the Lord who is present in my inmost soul. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46). There is a stage in prayer where we go beyond words and thoughts: the hard bit is to stop thinking. A mystic is quoted as hearing from God, ‘I will not have thy thoughts instead of thee.’ As we grow older, prayer becomes less wordy, less brainy, more like the peasant whom the CurĂ© of Ars used to see in his church, ‘I look at the good God and the good God looks at me.’
I began to wonder how the ‘sacrament of the present moment’ connects with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper … I began to think of what is happening in the Mass, and began to realize that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, is itself a moment of engagement, of meeting with Christ and his Body, suspended in time AND eternity. Thomas Howard, in his book, If your mind wanders at mass, writes of this, saying:
This is the famous ‘communion of the saints’ on which we count so earnestly when we pray. The Church teaches that, in a mystery, the veil hanging between time and eternity is drawn back, as it were, in the liturgy, and that we really are one worshiping body ‘with angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven’ (Preface for Epiphany)  (p. 38).
Let the Mystery and the Moment begin!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sacrament - Part two

I have been reflecting on the Last Supper, and what 'do this in memory of me' means to those within traditions of Christianity that have Sacramental tradition and those that do not. I am not seeking to drag up arguments about transubstantiation, although these views drive the way we practice our faith and how we 'do this in memory of me.' What I am seeking to do in these two blogs is simply to offer my heart's reflection during the past week. 


Packaged jesus

Somehow in the craziness of our drive-through,
instant potatoes, texting world,
we have succumbed to the packaged jesus.
There he is: minimalist, tidy, sterile elements
separated by non-permeable membranes.
Fortune cookie for a Christian economy;
treasure to be discovered a century from now.
Can you see them? Bright shiny archeology students
 decoding the message in jetted ink within the faded tiny circle of grain:
This is my body which is broken for you,
Take, eat: do this in remembrance of me.
In our world, no one is troubled this morning—
No rushing of buying or baking of loaves,
No wine to uncork, pour out to the masses,
No hand to heaven blessing of elements
No eye-to-eye lock and the words, ‘… for YOU,’ host pressed firmly on the palm.

Yet, somewhere, with head-coverings (hard hats or hair nets),
a factory of workers, seven days a week, file in to take their places beside rows of machinery:
 cooking, cutting, stamping, printing, wrapping, shipping, marketing …

Somewhere there stands a row of white coats doing quality control on the packaged jesus’ riding past on the conveyer belt before them.
For this is what we pay for, what we value:
convenience, cost-effectiveness, sterility, and invisibility of effort.

Today, there are no lines of sorry sheep stretching down our aisle,
seeking what-they-do-not-know.
No Mystery, this packaged jesus,
except, perhaps,
where they hid the list of ingredients,
and the expiry date.

Sacrament - Part one

I have been reflecting on the Last Supper, and what 'do this in memory of me' means to those within traditions of Christianity that have Sacramental tradition and those that do not. I am not seeking to drag up arguments about transubstantiation, although these views drive the way we practice our faith and how we 'do this in memory of me.' What I am seeking to do in these two blogs is simply to offer my heart's reflection during the past week. 


Body and Blood

Body and blood.
They speak of life rough-hewn, raw.
An old West etching of caskets:
side by side by side, eyes penny-ed shut.
There is no room to duck these silent images of black and white death.

Body and blood.
A strange legacy to leave these small soldiers of a new world order
organically grown from the stillness of star and stable.
Eternity sliding beams of sterile light through golden straw?
No, instead birth is chosen.
Blood and water mix,
there is a wrestling of flesh and spirit,
lungs stretch, aching to learn the lesson of air and earth-life,
there is the sting of night, the shock of wet,
and the omnipresent scent of sorrow.

Perhaps that is why the kindness of bread and wine is what he gave
to this raggle taggle group of guardians. See them
reeling at the thought of treachery amongst them.
Side bars of conversation cease,
now they are mouthing, tasting,  slumped in puzzled wonder
at this solemn elevation of bread and wine.
They do not feel the roll and pitch underfoot;
like the Sea of Galilee, their world rocks, quakes, boils.
Body and blood they are to see prolonged.
No awe-full act of birth awaits them,
instead, a slow separation of flesh and spirit.

But, that day, he gave them bread and wine.
Staff of life and heartening cheer—Remember Me:
from the fields of parables they traveled, imbibed Him, embedded that living Word,
bruising grapes under their sandals,
the crush of grain between the Master’s hands,
they walked and talked and tasted.

Bread and wine. An echo through ages,
eons of understanding that this is essential essence of earth-living.
Now, eternity-infused;
there is an awe of things at once so simple (essence) and profound (eternal).

In Memory of Me.
This kingdom of bread and wine;
eternity-infused, transformed,
transforming body and blood.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Voice and agency

Janna, my Dalmatian, is a talker. She has always grumbled, moaned, sighed, barked, yodeled, and done this weird, uncanny half-whine, half chant when she is very excited about something amazing like finding my sock on the laundry room floor. Her sister, Maggie, is much quieter and very much the slightly-sneaky observer who notices everything. Most of the time, all that talking gets Janna what she is after—the lion’s share of attention. From her, much more than all that nursing literature out there, I’ve learned the deep connection between voice and agency. We are able to act as our own agents when our voice is heard; when we are marginalized, our voice is dismissed, or ignored, or simply drowned out by louder voices, and our ability to act as our own agent is negatively impacted. Our ‘vote’ is not counted. That toddler, sitting on his mom’s lap for an immunization, was clearly registering his vote. Thankfully, for his greater health, we shifted that vote with our distraction technique of bubble-blowing, otherwise his voice would have given rise to the agency of running out of the room!

As nurses we take this connection between voice and agency, between vulnerability and marginalization very seriously. On a daily, an hourly, basis we care for people who are made vulnerable by situation and have a voice, and people who are made vulnerable by society and have little-to-no voice. We see their disparate outcomes in recovery. For nurses, social justice is an integral component of practice: health and wellness outcomes are connected to voice and agency, vulnerability and marginalization.

Traditionally, nurses have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their patients, identifying with an equal plane of social power, acting as translators of ‘orders’ and advocates seeking to catch the ear of the white-coated medical elites. I cannot count the times that I have sat beside patients helping them think through and jot down questions they will take on their next doctor’s visit, seeking to give voice to their personal concerns and to have agency into their care. We act to empower these patients by coaching them to use their voice to gain ground in that short eight minutes they have the ear of their physician.

The dynamics of nursing have changed with time. We are now all-too-often fiscally restrained by time and outcomes not of our choosing; we are also moving up the ladder professionally and are beginning to sense the power distance growing between patients and ourselves. Along with the health care system, we are becoming ‘bigger’ and patients are becoming smaller. It is difficult to have your voice heard in the vast system that is the business of healthcare.

We cannot lose this innate call within nursing to identify voice, agency, vulnerability, marginalization in our care. To do so, would change the core of nursing. The pressure of practice today, however, is to move toward programs of interventions and guidelines of practice based on outcomes. There is everything right in this move, except that the decision to keep or axe a program or produce a guideline of practice is only as good as the evidence supporting it. Much of the evidence of which we are basing these fiscally-imposed decisions is from data that has failed to adequately capture the impact of nursing care interventions on patient outcomes.

For example, nurses’ care is often reduced to ‘tick sheet’ documentation that speeds up our world and is much easier to digitally record, however fails to record most of the actual care encounters that make up our shift. Narrative charting does not translate well to a digital world. The narrative portion of the chart (Nursing Notes) is helpful for communication between providers during an episode, but is disregarded after discharge. There is a huge component of nursing that has increasingly become invisible to decision makers, policy writers, and program evaluators. Two things happen with invisible voices: marginalization and lack of agency. We also forget who we are—a loss of identity because the new generation of nurses lose the connection of the ‘way things were.’

Doom and gloom for our profession? Of course not. We do need to acknowledge that change is the only constant in healthcare :-) … and we will continue to change with the needs of patients and populations. That is nursing and that is good. However, I do believe that to keep our strong core of advocacy and this commitment to social justice that informs our direct care and practice, we do need to strongly advocate for nursing sensitive indicators to be included in EHR systems so that we can document our care in a more complete, meaningfully manner. We need to raise our voices about what our direct and indirect care has contributed to outcomes of individual and groups of patients, of our communities and patient populations, or we will lose our ability to do what we do best. We need to learn to clearly articulate our needs as a profession and as individual professionals in our unique contexts of care, because if we cannot give voice to our needs this directly impact our ability to act, to be, nurses. Our agency is on the line.

God speaks as a still small voice. He also gets our attention by speaking in diverse ways (not necessarily louder). He speaks so that we can become bold in the knowledge of his great love for us and our neighbors. There is no exclusivity about such love. There is no circle of immunity to marginalization. We are called as nurses and as people of God to hear and to care. Let us support one another in continuing—and increasing—our ability to do so.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hearing that voice

Hearing voices … this phrase conjures so many thought-directions. Nurses are all-to-familiar with patients who are tortured by the voices in their heads—as are Chaplains, for other reasons! Devout believers from diverse religions, sects, and cults yearn to hear and discern the voice of God … the Universe … or, Gaia herself. Everyday people driving to work, eating in diners, scrubbing their showers, tending their kids, long to discover the voice within—that proclaimed wise voice who knows who we truly are, why we are here, and what we are meant to do. For isn’t that the meaning of the current pop-wisdom rolling from cable to TV screen to living room: “Follow your heart … listen to the wise intuition residing deep in your … body … mind … heart … soul … spirit (depending on the originator)?” 

The voice is everything in our culture. No, I’m not talking about American Idol and the entire pantheon of spin-off talent shows across the networks. I’m talking about our culture’s unified fixation with THE voice—ours! Or so our individualism would say … Although we are driven to have our voice heard, we tend to hear that individualistic voice of ours simply echo back to us the voice of the majority—or the loudest, most media-drenched segment of the ‘majority,’ anyway! It seems we have ambivalence about voice: we want to have our voice heard and yet, like middle-schoolers, we want to fit in. We find it almost impossible to stand out against that media wave we identify with as the majority voice. Perhaps our fascination with trend-setters and cultural icons is a sign of this ambivalence of longing to be heard yet wanting to be one of the crowd. Perhaps our intoxication with celebrity status is a symptom of our yearning to have our very own voice ‘stand out.’

That said, our culture prides itself on its individualism: we see ourselves as pioneers, trailblazers, and our nations as having been forged on the backs of single-minded leaders who subdued the wild frontier. We, the colonizers of the West, have difficulty understanding any culture that does not cultivate individual voice over communal identity. To our Western minds, having a ‘voice’ means having a vote; raising your voice is an ability to protest, to have your needs made known, and presumably, met. To be ‘voiceless’ means to not have a say in the matter; the voiceless are marginalized, made invisible and helpless in our world.

We continue to have our challenges with raising our voice and listening to voices and most of our problems probably come from frantically trying to do both at the same time. Judge Judy is forever citing the old saw that says something like this, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—listen two times for every one time you open your mouth.” I am amazed at the graciousness of God that he did not give us ten ears and one mouth … Interestingly, the voice of God in Scripture varies from ‘still and small,’ to the roaring of a lion and a tornado, to the braying of a donkey, and the blowing of horns. Apparently, we don’t hear ‘so good’—and God finds it necessary to get our attention by mixing it up! I immediately conjure up the image of ourselves as the so-easily-distracted toddler who is wailing, ‘NO!’ one minute and staring mutely at a cascade of bubbles the next … As nurses, we are lightning-fast quick draws in pulling out those bubble wands during immunization encounters! 

My dissertation research project is called, ‘Lift up Your Voice.’ There are voices within our society that we have difficulty hearing within healthcare and as a society. This may be due to loss of capacity or functionality from the speaking, or voice side of things, or inattention and marginalization from the hearing end of the conversation. Individuals that live in residential care face huge challenges in being heard in our frantic, technology-driven society and our over-stretched, assembly-line healthcare system that cannot afford to pause to listen for indistinct voices. I am noting the many ways individual nurses and other direct care givers seek to incorporate the individual voice of residents in daily care; and I am seeking to hear the voices of these residents to shed light on what we are doing right and how we can better hear their voices.

Over the next few entries, I will be exploring the concept of voice and reflecting on themes that are emerging as I begin to listen. My hope is that I will learn to use my two ears and only one mouth in my own daily all-encompassing practice of care. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

from Palms to Passion

The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
"Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest."
Matthew 21:9

Today is Passion Sunday, now combined with, and sometimes better known as Palm Sunday. The Passion of Christ is read following the reading of Matthew noted above. The Sunday School illustration of Jesus riding on a donkey as he enters Jerusalem, his way lined with cheering people who create a carpet of palm fronds and robes for him to pass over (no pun intended!), is burned in my mind. I’ve always loved Palm Sunday, although I suspect that as a young Sunday School pupil, my interest was more in the donkey and the palm trees rather than the earth-shaking theology being played out in that simple event, so long ago. As a kid, what I saw was truly an oh-so-fun triumphant entry—how amazing to get to ride on a donkey and have a crowd of fans waving and yelling out a welcome. The irony of the utter humility of the King of Kings riding on a donkey, rather than on a steed, a rag taggle of humanity instead of a mounted legion surrounding him, the complete absence of dignitaries, trumpets, and royal reception, completely escaped me. 

From palms to passion. The link between these passages so close in time, yet so far apart in action escaped me as a kid. I did not get that the crowd that enthusiastically greeted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, days later, called out, mob-like, for his crucifixion. I didn’t want to believe it, and still wish to believe that there were simply a few bad eggs in the crowd who were easily swayed. That the rest were loyal friends to the end; friends that somehow deserved the passion of Christ. However, I since have learned that crowds are incredibly fickle; easily blown by the wind of emotion and situation. That I, as well, can be driven by that wind; that all-to-often the amount of sleep I have had, the level of back pain I am experiencing, the number of dishes that have gathered in the sink, the race I am losing to complete deadlines, the wait for the computer to update … all conspire to blow me away from my center. At times, the sudden, overwhelming wind of despair, stress, grief, loneliness, helplessness can pivot me around like the Dalmatian weathervane we have on our gazebo. Would I have been one of the bad eggs in the crowd if the wind had blown the wrong way that morning so long ago?

I lately have been reading Joan Chittister, O.S.B. In this reading that I would like to share here, I again was reminded of how our patients are our teachers, even in this struggle to abide in the center and not be swayed with the fickle wind that blows around us all.

We are surrounded by people who struggle through terminal diseases and live years beyond any reasonable prognosis because they refuse to give up. They simply go on as if life were normal. They simply insist on living … There is, in fact, no struggle that does not develop to the point where a person must choose between the fact of defeat and effects of quitting. Everyone is defeated sometime. Many then simply quit the fray. But the really strong, the really committed, do not. They decide instead whether or not the mountain is worth the climb. And if it is, no amount of wind can force them from the face of it. They endure for the sake of enduring. They live to finish what they began. Endurance is not about being too stubborn to give up on the impossible. Endurance is about having heart enough to keep on trying to do the possible, even if it is unattainable. We nurse the dying through years of disability. We begin projects for the poor even when they don’t begin to make a dent in the problem of poverty. We hold on against opposition for the sake of the principle of a thing. Those endure who seek to do what is deeply important to them, no matter how difficult it may be (Joan D. Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope).
The wind that blows our Dalmatian weathervane back and forth and all around will continue to blow, the weathervane will continue to spin. Instead of being afraid of the wind of emotions, sorrows, memories, and physical annoyances that blows through my day, I am learning to see this wind from a different perspective. The palliative and trauma patients that I have nursed over the years have taught me how the essentials, the core of life is clarified by illness, pain, limitations. Perhaps the lesson in the crowd is that the wind blows and we are given the terrible gift of seeing what is truly at our core. Thank God we are not alone when we see ourselves for the fickle cowards we can be—for in that split second of truth we are given the choice that the thief on the cross was given; we may cry out, again and again, “Jesus, remember me!”

Blessings on your journey as we walk with Christ through this Holy Week.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

of bridges and dams, fields and fortunes ...

“Religion is meant to be a bridge to God, a vehicle to understanding. It is meant to plumb the depths of the human soul to the source of the spirit. Instead, religion can sometimes even be an obstacle to union with God. As the wag put it, “in order to sin properly it is not necessary to break the rules. All you need to do is to keep them to the letter.” Joan Chittister, Welcome to the wisdom of the world and its meaning for you.
Although I'm not immune to the pathos of the return of the prodigal, I’ve always, always had a soft spot in my heart for the eldest son. You will recall that wonderful-awful story Jesus told of the prodigal son (Luke 15). The older son makes his way home from the fields after working hard all day and walks into a party for his no-good, thankless younger brother. I can see him now: trudging along the dusty trail, thinking of a million things that still need doing on the farm, visioning a nice cool shower to wash away the day’s endless grit and the sun’s boring heat. Then, the sounds of merriment stop him in his tracks. What? Has he forgotten some event that his father had ordered for the day?  He summons up his energy, brushes the most obvious dirt of his clothes, pulls his collar straight, runs his hand through his hair as he adjusts his face in the most welcoming smile he can muster, given his work-weary demeanor, for his father’s guests. He beckons to a servant, seeking to find out what’s up … begins to ask,  who are the guests? Can I slide in the back door unseen to clean up before my father needs me? In his mind he is walking through the door and entering the dining room, an apology for the lateness of his arrival on his lips, his father’s approving eye on him. Even as the servant begins to bubble over with the news, even as he sees his father walking, nearly dancing, upright and merry to his core, stooped and careworn no more, he knows. His charismatic, sweet-faced, younger brother has returned. The news stops him cold. Dead in his tracks, lips still curved into a smile of welcome, freeze, then curl into contempt. What mischief is he up to now, he thinks. Thankless, good-for-nothing heart-breaker, he thinks, watching the nearly tangible joy leaping in his father’s eyes as he comes closer. What good is it? His heart aches, watching such joy, it is for him, it says to him, for the other, for the one I lost. His eyes die but almost immediately, a new flame is lit in his belly, a flame fueled by anguish that rises to his eyes and erupts into words, “All these years, all these bloody years … nothing! Never have I so much have questioned your orders! Worked nonstop for you! Nothing! He drags his sorry ass back home—obviously broke—always …  he just smiles at you and you just hand him the farm ... the farm I work, not him! …” The anguish floods the flame, and like a choked engine, he is left cold. Empty. Heart-dead.  Not enough for me.
What is it about us that in our core believes that love must be discrete, parceled out to the deserving and is somehow tainted, watered-down, or made meaningless if it falls on the other as well as ourselves? Love deeper than the ocean, bigger than the sky, love that does not ‘run out’ seems to us to not be as worthy, or as special as love that is narrowly  applied, that must be earned by a select few. We are elevated when we are one of those select few. We stand apart, special, uniquely identified as the beloved’s. We will always have enough as long as we hang onto it for ourselves. What a God we have created in our own image. For this god who jumps to and rewards our small obediences is forced to ignore the plight of those not in our circle of knowing.
“Religion without the spirit it is meant to preserve can become positively irreligious: we put the weak, the wounded, the addicts, the religious others outside the boundaries of our perfect lives, fearful of touching what might pollute us. Religion—who hasn’t seen it happen? –can be a very sinful thing.” Joan Chittister, Welcome to the wisdom of the world and its meaning for you.
I have empathy for that big brother who worked day in and day out building the farm for his father, only to see it slipping away (or so he thought) through the open-fingers of a pleasure addict. He was not evil in his thinking, only small. Like me, he fails to understand the Mystery of a love so vast that it can blanket all of creation without a stretch, without the persons at the sides needing to grasp at a corner to keep covered. The mystery of such love continues when we are told that such vast love recognizes the particular, the individual, the tiniest sparrow. There is enough, even for the great greed we have for love. The elder brother was not short changed by the love his father poured out over the undeserving head of his younger brother. There was no yank of the blanket off him when covering the other with love.
In our world, we live in the context of scarce resources. As nurses and health care providers and policy makers, we must ration services because of there their finite nature. How we do this very much demonstrates our values. Who is worthy, who is less worthy? What about earned worthiness: those who are productive and pay into the system? Those who are making healthy life choices? Who is truly vulnerable?  What portion of our meted lot goes to them? How we approach these questions of social justice and health delivery in many ways demonstrate our heart-understanding of this parable. Although the limited nature of our resources is indisputable, the vastness of our greed is just as indisputable.  Could it be that our greed has more to do with the allocation of scarce resources than the scarceness of these resources themselves? Profit is all well and good, until one realizes that ‘profit’ is to the haves, what ‘loss’ is to the have-nots. Wouldn’t be amazing if the demise of the profit/loss sheet in health care actually accorded more health and less loss to real people?
I want to think that the elder brother eventually moved past his brokenness and got it. That he learned, by looking even more deeply into his father’s eyes, that the joy did not stop with the younger son; that the love flowed free, and wildly-vast: limitless. I want to believe that ‘fairness’ is bigger than one son or the other can see … and that it is no matter, because all of us, no matter our task, our daily toil, work in our Father’s fields anyway.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh, Cana-DO!

An entire nation is overflowing with ‘cana- do-ness’ … flush with gold, silver, and bronze … reeling from a sense of patriotism that is intoxicating. Only in Canada, in the midst of such a flurry of emotion, would you hear a recurring theme in media interviews of marveling at this national pride, analyzing how this uncharacteristic display occurred, and almost apologizing for Canada’s exuberance. I love this mix of pride and humility, don’t you?
Is it possible to create a climate of jubilation that inspires athletic action, positive behavior, wall-breaking emotion? If you were able to take a walk in downtown Vancouver during the last two weeks, I think you might be convinced of the power of positive thinking. Like the picture my sister drew for me of her experience walking down Granville street: a celebrating joyful, polite crowd all around her, suddenly pausing in near silence, parting, making way for a quiet line of Vancouver City police on horseback, then, a spontaneous outbreak of, “Oh, Canada, our home and native land … “ The national anthem sung raw and real on the downtown city streets.
 I believe ...
Of course, most of us who are jumping around with bright red mittens waving, celebrating the achievements of our athletes, were not present to see the hours, days, weeks, years of practice, pain, and sacrifice that each athlete underwent prior to those few minutes on our TV screens. Still, I don’t think we can completely write off the push that positive thinking and a strong emotional support system can contribute to an athlete tuned to give the performance of his/her life.
Don’t you wish we could bottle up that ‘Cana-do’ spirit and ingest a bit now and again when we need to perform on-the-job? Or how about being able to prescribe it to our patients who are struggling in their efforts to make healthy living choices? How about infusing an Olympic spirit in the many diabetic patients who are wrestling with A1Cs that go up instead of down … or the ‘husky’ kids who wrestle with the Demon Coke, Ronald MacDonald, and that red-headed little terror, Wendy.
(The crazy thing is, that two of the three above noted fiends are strapping endorsers of the Vancouver Olympics. Can’t you just reach out and touch the irony of that? Off of our collective poor healthy choices, the athletes of the world perform so magnificently … )
It truly is a strange world we have forged for ourselves. Do you know that you can buy an alarm clock that wakes you to applause? Not sure how that can help, beyond a novelty grin lasting a few minutes over a couple of days. But, what if the nation summoned a roar of cheers every time a mom bought apples instead of cookies, or a kid walked home from school, past the local fast food trap, without spending his allowance? What if people on the street erupted into applause when a jogger panted on by? Or a dad spent time with his kids playing outside in the back yard? We need support to live well, to make good choices, to turn from the unhealthy patterns we’ve fallen into over the years.
If you are like me, you have recognized in yourself and in your patients that it does not work to simply stop a bad habit; what is more sustainable is to replace it with a positive behavior. It may seem like double the effort, but a vacuum just cries out to be filled. So many times an addiction is ‘cured’ with another addiction! I remember when chocolate was a ‘bad’ choice because it was high in fat and jelly beans were ‘good’ … then, for awhile, when both were ‘bad,’ as was any dessert-like food, I launched into bigger portions and second helpings of ‘good’ food (namely primavera pasta, heavy on the pasta and parmesan). Replacing an addiction with another addiction is not the same thing as a replacing a bad habit with a positive action.
We need support to make good spiritual and devotional choices, too. There are unhealthy devotional  patterns that many of us have we’ve fallen into over the years, too. How do we encourage strong spiritual growth without sacrificing a spirit of humility, or encouraging a feeble shadow of the spirit, rather than a robust authentic life-changing devotion?
Today is the second Sunday of Lent. Already, the ashes on my forehead have become a faint memory, a now-distant reminder of my mortality. As I move through these forty days of Lent, I am seeking , not a passive sacrifice of denial, but a positive sacrifice of action. Just a nudge of a perspective-shift, but one that adds a spiritual discipline, rather than takes away a habit. Giving things up for Lent is all very well, but most of us need to give those things that we annually give up a rest anyway. How about instead choosing to give of time, effort, to forge a positive habit, a spiritual action, or discipline? Jesus spent his 40 days in the desert not only giving up dessert, but meeting, head on, the enemy of his bride-to-be. Sacrifice can be denial, it also can be action.
I’ve already blown it a number of times, but, perhaps that failure in itself is a touch stone, a recollection to reality that I am not after forging an addiction, but prayerfully offering a sacrifice of authentic action.
And, you know, just for a minute, the other day, I thought I heard a small cheer from the heavenly hosts …. now that’s jubilation that heals!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all ye creatures here below
Praise Him above all ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost


Sunday, February 14, 2010

of Shakespeare, love, and trees ...

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Shakespeare certainly hit the nail on the head with that one. Love may be a wonderful feeling, a sacrificial act, a soul-deep decision, or all of the above, but it could never, ever be described as ‘smooth.’ Today is the feast day of Saint Valentine, the martyr. According to legend, this priest defied the edict of Claudius II who had outlawed engagements and courting to keep soldiers from leaving the war. Saint Valentine transported love notes and gifts between lovers and married couples in secret. It is said that after he tried to convert Claudius and was condemned to death, he wrote a farewell note, signing it “from your Valentine.”  Legend or not, the story of St Valentine resonates with truth: love, sacred, romantic, or platonic is firmly planted in some serious soil. Dying brings out the best demonstration of love we’ll ever know.
First Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter in the scriptures gives another description of love that is also not for the faint of heart. All I can say after reading it, “’the course of true love never did run smooth.’” It’s much easier to send a Valentine; that is, it WAS much easier to send a Valentine. Now that I know Saint Valentine’s story, each Valentine I send is somehow tinged with the sacred sacrifice of his martyrdom … not, I’m sure, what Hallmark had in mind!
Today, in church, the homily was a collage of New Years (Gung Hay Fat Choy!), the day’s readings, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. A homage to love, beginnings, and to the prophet Jeremiah: 
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
The image of that tree, green, straight, feeling-no-fear …  this is, I think, a valuable metaphor of love tough and strong and oh-so-dependent on the water of life at its roots. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, talks about the shattering of virtues as well as of vices that occurred at the fall of humankind. Love is to the left of us, to the right of us, all around us. Red hearts, cinnamon candies, chocolates and roses … cell phones ringing, texts flying, messages bouncing back and forth across the internet, across the globe … all in the name of love, all with a tiny disconnected piece of that shattered virtue, nonetheless gleaming.
Love that is connected to the water of life, like Jeremiah’s tree planted by the stream, is love that can live in the reflection of first Corinthian’s. This love can smile gently at Cupid’s arrows, for it sees a tiny fragment of itself there; it can nod knowingly to the cheering patriots lining the Olympics venues, for it sees a part of itself reflected there, too. The kids sharing cookie hearts, the teen crushes giggling over Facebook messages, the single man and woman gamely filling in their e-Harmony profiles with hope in their hearts … all grasp fragments of the virtue of all virtues: love.
In our time, the ultimate and most necessary love, it is said, is self-love. Psychosocial and wellness experts claim that self-love is essential to healthy personal and social development. How does ‘self-love’ fit within the paradigm of first Corinthians and of Jeremiah’s tree? Today, our priest, almost in passing said about self-love:

“We must have self-love to survive and give love to others; but we must have self-love that is not selfish.”
Rhetoric? I don’t think so. This little phrase rings true! Self-love that is not selfish, I think, is love that places the self in the same order that Christ places our selves; no higher and no lower. To see ourselves as Christ sees us—in the same terrible truth-light; and, paradoxically, in the same blinding love-light. It is to be rooted like Jeremiah’s tree: beautiful, straight, quenched, no fear … to be connected to the stream is to be connected to Christ and to all others, all of which must drink at these waters of life. Love truly is all around us—we live with fragments flying through our universe, but our roots can drink deeply at the Source, of Love Integrated and complete.
There is only one thing left to say:
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Believing in yourself

Complete self confidence is not merely a sin; complete self confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief … GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
If you doubt the above statement, I would guess that you have never seen an episode of American Idol. I am perpetually amazed at the would-be contenders who have an unshakable faith in themselves as the next musical sensation. Some are struck dumb with shock when they are rejected by the judges; others explode in a tirade of protests and promises. I can imagine Chesterton chuckling away in Heaven watching these stormy manifestations of unwavering self-confidence.
On the other end of the scale we all know of capable people who are somehow frozen in moving forward in their chosen life’s work because they lack confidence in themselves …  students and nurses who second guess their practice and management decisions to the detriment of care … practitioners and other folks who long to do something of importance in the world but perpetually believe they lack preparation or ability  … so remain forever stalled in meeting their life’s mission.
Too much or too little self-confidence? Is that the issue? Through a casual use of such terms as self-confidence, self-actualization, centeredness, inner locus of control, I think that we are perhaps sending the wrong message to our students, the young in our profession, and to each other. The net outcome seems to be that we are preparing nurses and students who are set up either for a lifetime of hiding insecurities, growing a rhino-thick skin of self-illusion, or simply ceasing to care about the whole thing. None of us knows the solution for every patient situation—the fact is sometimes there are no solutions. The truth is, it is not all about us: our knowledge, our solutions. However, that is not what we feel we can portray to patients, to our peers, to ourselves. Our socialization in this world of ours informs us to our core that, to reach maturity and success in life, we must believe in ourselves.
Add on to this the pressure of being not just a nurse, but a Christian nurse. Wow. Now, not only do we have to have complete self-confidence in ourselves as nurses, but also in ourselves as disciples of Christ. It’s like wearing a Fish bumper sticker on your uniform—you don’t dare step to the right or left without your indicator on, travel over the speed limit in the hall, or flip off that jerk who cuts in front of you or fails to hold the elevator button. The Christian nurse has to not only exhibit self-confidence as a nurse, but also portray self-confidence in the ability of her/his faith to handle all the messy ethical issues and borderline personalities on the unit.
Can you say, ‘Burn out?’ Do we continue to wonder why we are hemorrhaging nurses from the health care systems on both sides of the border? Do we wonder why authenticity has become synonymous with inner doubt and depression, rather than with an invigorating humility grounded in external Faith? We seem to be cultivating an inner locus of control based on inquiry of self-as-primary assessor, rather than an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally.

How frightening, it turns out, to be both inquisitor and standard-setter of your soul!  One would think that we long for such freedom—“you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Such freedom becomes our own personal hell. We are forever second-guessing if we are good enough at our jobs, relationships, families, lives: I never have to look far to find some nurse, some professor, who appears to have it more together than me.
People either shatter or become paralyzed to any action when, overloaded with self-doubt, they can no longer sustain an outward illusion of self confidence. They may disappear (quit nursing or teaching),  isolate (avoid peer/professional activities), or become incredibly hungry for continual external validation of the purple dinosaur variety:
“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family …”
“I’m a nurse, you’re a nurse, we’re the ones who really care … “
Chesterton, in his essay, the maniac (in Orthodoxy), states: “Materialists and the madmen have no doubts.”   This is comforting to me ;-) … for I have many doubts. The list is long: it begins with myself and it goes all the way to Heaven.

The materialist immediately has a much shorter list: there is no heaven, and nothing to doubt that cannot be seen, touched, measured, and experienced. Once things are seen, touched, measured, and experienced, nothing can be doubted—except, perhaps, for doubt itself.

The madman is horrifyingly certain of his reality. Any psych nurse knows that that therapy is so difficult because the practitioner is striving against that certainty: if even a glimmer of doubt can be shed about his world of paranoia, voices, and illusion; there is a movement toward wellness.

Christians, on the other hand, are free to doubt in good health :-) ... to wonder, imagine, to embrace Mystery. Christians live in the paradox of the cross: this crux where time and eternity meet. We are free, then, not to believe in ourselves. To cultivate an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally. We are valued by God, and upheld by his standard of care made explicable in his Word. There is, thus, an external touchstone when caught up in the whirling vortex of self-doubt.
Last week, my nephew reminded me of a quote by Madeleine L’Engle.  In her book, Walking on Water, Madeleine states: “The wider the light, the bigger the circumference of darkness.”  What a metaphor full of meaning. As our circle of light becomes wider, the thin edge of darkness, the circumference, becomes proportionally bigger.

We live caught in time, but captured by the eternal. Our God is big. Our viewfinder is limited by finite boundaries. As we grow into greater vision of God, these boundaries grow with us. We live in complexity: the muck and murk of earthly reality in learning, teaching, nursing, community living is framed by the finiteness of the boundaries of our viewfinders. Healthy doubt is catching sight of the periphery in stark contrast to the light. Glimpsing that thin edge at light's border—a necessary happening in this finite world. Perhaps, in this way, doubt itself acts as a marker of the size of our God. Perhaps as well, this doubt saves us from the madman’s illusions: it is not all about me, my feelings, my thoughts, or that matter, my actions … as the Bard scribed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
 Believe in yourself. I write this with a grin on my face, knowing, that what I believe about myself in any given time may change depending on how much sleep I have gotten the night before, what I have eaten (or not eaten), whether or not I made it to my treadmill that morning, and who has smiled at me recently.  Doubt.  I grin again, knowing that I will never see it the same way again: not seeking to be either a materialist or a madman, I find myself catching the edge of my viewfinder rather regularly.
Perhaps this is one reason why we are asked to die with Christ in baptism. At the crux of the cross, perhaps only from that terrible perspective, do we see the junction of time and eternity caught at the right angles of two pieces of wood fused together in perpetuity  by the blood of Jesus.  A wide, wide beam of light set against the darkest of evil. Utter truth that is not dependent on my current view of myself, or me at all. An external touchstone for time and eternity.

I will doubt. I should doubt myself. Not to do so implies that I am either not in time, or not in eternity. I am meant to be in both until I am called into the presence of God.