The Halls of my Monastery

I used to hate hospitals. Not only did the various odors (both sterile and grotesque) molest me in the extreme, but I spent an inordinate amount of time in hospitals as a child and adolescent. I had at least three major stints in hospitals in my pre-adult years, due to a variety of ailments.

But about eight years ago, when I underwent C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education), the “pastoral care training program” which priests must undergo as a prerequisite to ordination, my feelings about hospitals began to change. Perhaps due to the head of this program at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in downtown San Antonio, I realized that hospital ministry can be a form of prayer.

That summer, as I was introduced to the practice of contemplative prayer and began to weave that “means of grace” into my life, I began to realize that the halls of that hospital were like the corridors of a monastery. As I paced up and down the those hallways, passing patients and family members and doctors and staff members, not only could I lift their burdens and trials up to the Lord, but I could also practice other kinds of prayer as well. I could focus on the rhythm of my breathing; I could listen for the “still, small” voice of the Holy Spirit; I could meditate on an ancient form of prayer or on a passage of Scripture.

And now, all these years later, this epiphany has proven to be a very real blessing in my life. The main reason has to do with my own anxious tendencies.

You see, more often than not, when I pass through that revolving door at Mother Frances Hospital, or when I pass that big water fountain on my way in to the East Texas Medical Center, I am under pressure. More often than not, I am in a hurry. Perhaps it is 7:15 and I told my fourteen year old I’d be home at 6:30. Maybe I have additional folks to visit in different locations. Maybe it’s late on a Saturday afternoon and I am way behind on my sermon preparation for the following Sunday. Or maybe it has simply been a frustrating afternoon, and I am worn out and ready to call it a day.

Whatever the source of my stress, what happens on these hospital visits is extraordinary. I almost want to say that it regularly saves my life. When I enter the building, I am stressed, but when I leave I am grateful and at peace. Why? Because of what I experience in that monastery. The suffering of the members of the Body of Christ. The extreme burdens that family members and loved ones are carrying. Most of all, I experience the faith, hope, and love of real Christians as they throw their lives upon the Good Shepherd who knows what it is like to be in pain and to suffer loss.

On my way out of the monastery / hospital, inevitably I have a spring in my step. I’ve been reminded of what really matters, and it’s not my petty concerns. I’ve tasted and experienced the reality of Christ, in the bodies and souls of members of the Body, and “through the features of men’s faces.”

 

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