Presence and Absence

Early on, as I was becoming aware to a sense of call among the halls of a hospital, it became quite clear to me that much of my ministry would be that of presence. I’m unusually comfortable with awkward silence; generally, I don’t feel the need or desire to fill a room with talking unless I find that I have something to say. It can drive people crazy in a meeting, but in a hospital room, there’s nothing more needed. At first it felt like a half-hearted way to be there, and it wasn’t until month after month I would end up holding strangers as they sobbed that I realized just how important being present was in times of crisis, trauma, or illness. We need, in those moments, to be reminded that we aren’t alone, and my prayer as I would enter a hospital room was to not only to be present, but by my very God-given nature to be a flesh-and-blood reminder of God’s presence as well.

I have sat with people as they left this life, I have held hands with people and said ancient prayers as people navigate an unexpected turn in their or a family members health, I have sat in a room as a Pentecostal family prayed in tongues over a terrible diagnosis, confused, but present. There are hundreds of examples, but they are all instances of being present in the midst of a challenging part of life.

But what do we do when we can’t be present?

A good friend of mine is walking this path right now; over a year’s time a healthy 40 year-old became nearly entirely wheelchair bound with many losses and frustrations, most of which I’m sure I don’t even know about, and none of which a multitude of specialists have been able to name. Kester blogs about his journey at Slow But Sure. Kester and his family were some of my first friends in Texas and in seminary, and over the course of our friendship, it is clear that our lives will be closely linked for the remainder of our days.

It wasn’t until yesterday morning during my intercessions at Morning Prayer that I realized just how hard it is to watch Kester and his family go through each painful day without answers and almost no relief from the pain. I’m used to being able to be present in times like these, and this difficulty comes from watching someone I love suffer, of course, but it also comes from knowing that I can’t do the thing I default to doing in times of suffering.

At my ordination, Kester preached and gave me a charge and a reminder: in my ordained life, much like in my lay life, I won’t be able to go at it alone. I won’t be able to walk the path that has been set before me alone, and that was never God’s intention anyway.

Kester and his wife, Rachel, are on day four at the Mayo Clinic; it’s day four of intense appointments, conversations, and tests, and I hope they know this: even in our absence, there are so many of us present with them in prayer and they aren’t going at it alone.

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