Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmas prayer in behavioral health

When Christmas pierces the heart…

Last Christmas was a dark day for me, spiritually. Working a 24-hour chaplain shift in a major city hospital, it opened my eyes to human brokenness, on a level I had not seen. And with the brokenness, raw questions: How do we respond to a world broken…seemingly beyond hope? How do we offer light, when that light only seems sucked into a ravenous black hole at the center of our human universe – an event horizon from which no light seems to escape?

That day, the questions came fast and furious, wearing human faces: death, hurt, and pain: a man came into the Emergency Department with his throat slashed from ear to ear, his life too much to bear on Christmas Day. ED staff got him up to surgery still alive – a minor miracle, a major tragedy. A woman came in, beaten by her man – on this, of all days…face swollen, one eye shut, yet still with tears coming out, when she talked about her life. Another young woman tragically died in ED, her grieving family gathered around her, shocked beyond belief, hurting to the core of their being, smell of Christmas dinner still on their clothes…

Scratch the surface of Christmas, go an inch deep beneath the tinsel and commercial wrappings, the false sentimentality and trappings, and you’ll find pain – human pain, human depression, human darkness. And what answers do we give to those whose hearts are pierced on this day, of all days? As people of faith, how honest are we about the unseen pain on Christmas, this day when the ‘Word became flesh’ to bear our pain?

These questions flooded over me, without respite, one after another, last Christmas. Gone was the warm time with family, sheltered by favor and love, singing peace on earth… here, in these medical walls, the siren song of human condition: death, pain, emptiness: This day, I felt death as an entity; I encountered sorrow as a thing, something inconsolable and deep and ravenous.

So there I was, in late afternoon, without answers – a chaplain supposedly with the answers of God, yet feeling so empty inside. Somehow my feet kept going through the motions, and I found myself in the Behavioral Health unit, answering a call – fulfilling a promise to visit a lady on Christmas Day.

I talked with her, then her friend wanted to talk…and soon, those two requests turned into an impromptu group session, as others looked on.

It was a nice session. We talked about each other, about dreams, Christmas needs. We then shared prayer requests, and then talked about what those requests meant – why those things were close to our hearts. And then I prayed for the group by name.

We finished, and began to slowly file out, wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas!’ Then, one woman turned, and asked if she could pray for me. “Sure,” I said, without thinking. And she closed her eyes and began to pray, without ceremony, a touching prayer…

She prayed first that God would grant me boldness and peace, boldness to declare a divine word, and peace to accept it; she asked that I would be, in her words, “a Daniel,” strong to speak truth in a place that needed it, yet might deny it. Immediately, she had my attention: she had no way of knowing that my middle name was Daniel, nor could she know that my spiritual metaphor was Daniel. Needless to say, I tuned in – receiving her simple prayer in amazement…

She prayed that I would be anointed with vision and truth; that I would be kept from harm. Then she prayed, “Lord, pierce his heart with thorns from the crown of Christ, to make him everything he needs to be for your work.” When I heard this prayer, I cringed inside. “NO!” I thought, don’t pray that prayer!” “I cannot bear those thorns…” “That’s not a proper prayer!” Still cringing, I heard her pause. [I was grateful.] But then, in rapture of prayer, she said, “I see it! I see the crown of thorns surrounding his heart!”

And this stunned me. Amazement. Inner silence. In that prayer-moment, suddenly I realized that she was praying reality. My heart had been pierced that day…the Holy One was praying through her – one of His chosen vessels, slightly chipped, but true – praying in the Spirit on Christmas Day…in Behavioral Health. Sometimes those the world denies see more clearly than ever the world knows…

My heart paused before her prayer, and I bowed at an eternal throne.

I received her prayer – that at which I had cringed, I accepted: as she prayed, I opened my soul to the thorns, opening more fully to the Bearer of the thorns…

A wave of holy peace swept over me.

She finished her incredible prayer, never realizing how deeply God had guided it. How could I tell her? Now my heart was broken with holy wounds, and all I could do was weep…

I thanked her, and quickly walked away, tears in my eyes. I found a silent place, alone, and there, in quiet light, I wept. How often had I rejected the thorns, an essential part of the Person I loved? How often had I turned aside from thorns, the means of healing for those torn in this life?

Those tears opened my eyes to a Light, a Presence, a Person – the Child, a Man, in this place, this place of brokenness: this place was the meaning of His birth, His wounds. Truly, “He was wounded for our transgressions, and by His stripes we are healed.”

That prayer turned the rest of the day, bathing the evening in a holy light. My heart had been pierced; I accepted it, and as the stars filled the sky that Christmas night, I found it raised into newness of light.

It’s changed me. It’s changed how I view this holiday. It’s changed what I’m doing this Christmas…

Perhaps I’m more realistic, yet in the same instant, I’m more filled with hope. For I’ve seen the reason that He came, in graphic terms of blood and broken bodies, trapped souls, and yet, and yet – even higher, I’ve seen the answer in His wounds.

As we take those stripes, those thorns, into our inmost being, divine healing begins to work in us, and flow through our eyes…

And it’s my prayer that His children find this healing, this Christmas, and dare to be honest with it – in all that this means for others!

Selah.

2 comments:

Sunnee said...

Loy, I often read your blog and as a result I am blessed, touched, provoked and many times moved to contemplation. Today, as I sat at my desk at work I was moved to tears. Tears I could not share or explain to co-workers. So often at Christmas I am sad. A sadness few can comprehend. I wonder how Christ views our Christmas, which should be the realization of His birth. The birth or beginning of His death. Today I began with the scripture..."He was bruised for our iniquities, and by His stripes we are healed"... And then I read your post and knew God wants to bring His healing to the pain in our society today. Thank you for sharing such an awesome story and for caring. Thank God for you and your Heart for God. Bless you and your blog.

loy said...

Thanks, Sunnee. It is a blessing to know that these words touched you, and also to hear your thoughts and heart, too! so thank you -- I receive your blessings with gratefulness...

May God bless you and make Himself real to you this Season!

in Christ,

Loy