Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A simple clay vessel

Hospice remains a special field of healthcare, be it conventional or alternative, because in general we understand that a condition exists that we do not have the knowledge or tools to cure. Recently, I have had the opportunity to present to hospitalist physicians, and to some other interested groups - as regards the dilemma that we continue to care in cases where we cannot cure.

While our training and accomplishments may give us pride, this situation draws from us another need .....sometimes hard to define within our western accomplishment driven, personal growth driven, credential driven culture. I am not reflecting that any of these values are lacking in importance - simply that some situations ask of us another pathway .....

Some years ago I heard a tape of a mainstream Protestant Bishop - I do not mention his name in respect of his own requests - he was speaking to a Bishop's convocation and both exhorting to a higher level of faith, yet at the same time in some regards reflecting on his own career - as the invitation to deliver such an address at such a convocation is an incredible honor reflecting accomplishments that touched (directly or indirectly) the lives of 10's of millions of people on several continents. And what he reflected was that in every single one of his accomplishments he had simply been "an empty clay vessel." It was not because of his hard work, or his talent, but in  his reflection simply that although he may have been unworthy the higher power (he would say God) acted through him for God's own purpose.

In the Bible we see this sort of reflection - Moses sees himself not chosen because of his worthiness, he has a speach impediment, he lacks faith, he killed a man, he ran away ...... he does not ask to be called or seek the role he is given - the spirit chooses the prophet .........

In this struggle to define ourselves - caught between a culture which views attainment often as personal, and a result of hard work or talent which lead to deserved credentials and authority - and a spirit tradition that those who are chosen are not so selected for talent or worthiness but for the spirit or creator's undiscernable reasons ......it is interesting to reflect on some work coming out of South America today, particularly the work of Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa .....

Llosa in an interesting person in his own right, lost in a bid to be president of Peru, and having written extensively with novels reflecting a tension consistent with the mixed culture of South America - the blood and the history of both indigenous people and European cultures mixed together ...... In "Death in the Andes" he reflects on cultural issues seeking to understand what is occurring in the high mountain country - certainly a different view of Incan tradition than we would receive from a purely "western" analytic rendition..... and in "The Way to Paradise: a novel" he reflects on the experiences of the famous impressionist artist Gaugin, in Tahiti, juxtaposed with reflections on Gaugin's less well known but fascinating grandmother of mixed Peruvian and French descent who was a founder of the socialist and feminist movements in France ......

In Llosa's novels there is this tension between the western culture - and the indigenous - both present within the same person. And this different way of looking at the world ...... spirit acts and moves through us, not as a result of our attainment or worthiness - but because it happens that way, or - we are who we are as a result of our talent, hard work, and earned attainment.

Do we call upon "spirit" or does "spirit choose the" recipient for its own purposes? When we have a patient who our skills and education and experience can no longer cure, does our simple presence offer both a human connection and - as one speaker at an American Hospice and Palliative Care Meeting once said - "create a sacred space within which miracles can happen."

We all see in hospice, some recoveries that scientifically we absolutely cannot explain - in these moments do we search what we have done to determine which skills of ours were at play, or do we accept that we simply had the honor to be "present" - and that which worked in our presence was not related to our talent or merit?

1 comment:

  1. I would agree that in a Hospice situation "we create a sacred space within which miracles can happen". And for being present when that possibility happens is truly humbling.

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