Wednesday, May 28, 2014
English: Maya Angelou reciting her poem, "...
Dr. Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 (1928 - 2014). Her official website refers to her  as a global Renaissance woman with  legendary wisdom. She overcame adversity as a young girl and later went on to write several autobiographical accounts, including her first novel,  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She has said: "a bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song." And, indeed, hers is a song of victory and accomplishment that inspires us all. 

She has been hailed as one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. I read Caged Bird when it was first published in 1969. I was a senior in high school at the time. So impressed was I by her message that I followed her career from that time forward. Her works have been concerned with telling the truth and getting the story straight, a valiant endeavor in this day and age when the truth often differs from person to person and from time to time. 

Throughout her career I have watched her carefully. She has been an inspiration for me and a muse for  my own songs of victory. 

Rest in peace!

Read more about her in

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Thursday, April 24, 2014
Serenity Prayer

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

-- Reinhold Niebuhr
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Cover of "Thoughts In Solitude"

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton
Thoughts in Solitude, pg. 83

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Friday, April 18, 2014
Procesión del Silencio, Semana Santa – Holy We...
In his essay entitled “Communion: An Act of Revolution and a Call to Solidarity,” James A. Forbes, Jr. reminds us that today’s church sometimes lacks the audacity to stand up and speak truth in a world where terror and uncertainty are holding us captive. He contends that what we need is a healthy portion of prophetic courage – fortitude similar to that exhibited by Jesus when “the spirit of the Lord” came upon him and empowered him to do the work he had been ordained to do from the foundation of the world.

Forbes suggests that it was at the communion table where Jesus prepared his disciples to face the situations they would encounter as part of their ongoing work in the earthly kingdom. Because there was one common loaf from which the disciples obtained nourishment at the Lord’s Table they reinforced their unity as one body in Christ, better equipped to face the challenges ahead as the result of the meal they consumed together in the upper room. I submit to you that in a similar way, it is at the communion table that we – in the body of Christ – are nourished with provisions that invigorate us as we journey down a pathway we can see only with eyes of faith. At the communion table we boost our strength, receive our sight, and reinforce our resolve, all the while whispering reverently, “Feed me till I want no more.”

My hunger and thirst for the Eucharistic meal usually peak during Holy Week each year. At the communion table I garner power, strength, and courage to press my way forward on this perplexing journey God has beckoned me to travel. The bread and the wine – the body and the blood – nourish my own feeble body, mind, and spirit and sustain me in the presence of my enemies and friends alike. My appetite during Holy Week is usually voracious, so I partake of the Sacrament as often as I can. Although the feast this week has consisted of the same elements, each meal I have consumed has nourished a different aspect of my being.

During Holy Week I fed by body. Communion at my home church on Palm Sunday addressed my physical and visceral needs and prompted me to reflect on the various ways I have attempted to actively promote peace and intentionally combat racism in this world. As part of the service, congregants were reminded of the words carved into the wood of the Communion table: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We also recited the Confession of Sin, a statement that has caused me to critically examine my level of diligence in supporting my brothers or sister who are disinherited. My ruminations have caused me to question my actions and intentions pertaining to speaking out against injustice and intervening assertively in its destructive path. The liturgy embodied and embraced my cultural roots as we sang “blood songs” prior to eating the bread and drinking the wine. Afterward we rejoiced with songs of victory and clapping of hands in triumph as our voices rose in praise of the One who had shed his blood in remission for our sins so long ago. While this Palm Sunday service nourished my body in significant ways, it, nonetheless, left me wanting for more.

So during Holy Week I fed my mind. On Wednesday, I partook of communion at my seminary. Participants were invited to reconsider Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. Reflections, prayers, scripture readings, and songs contributed to the sacred milieu of the service. After eating the Lord’s Supper I contemplated in silence my relationship with the crucified and risen Christ while I cherished my thoughts about the sacrifice Jesus’ had made on my behalf.  At the end of this beautiful service, however, I realized I was still hungry, needing to be fed yet again. My being still craved something that was missing.

During Holy Week I fed my spirit. On Good Friday I supped with the faithful at my favorite Pentecostal church. In the company of about 5,000 other saints I was reminded that God’s love had been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who had been given to us as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Throughout the singing, the rejoicing, and the sermonizing we gloried in the power of the blood and basked in our feelings of hope, fulfillment, and peace – feelings that are hard to describe to those who have not had the experience of regeneration or spiritual rebirth. As I ate the sacred meal that Friday night, I finally felt fulfilled in a holistic sense. My hunger and thirst had been abated at last. At the end of the service I smiled and thought to myself: Yes, now I have dined sufficiently!

By the time Easter morning rolled around I was full to overflowing. The service at my home church on Resurrection Sunday was icing on the cake! My mind, my body, and my spirit had been nourished during Holy Week. The Eucharist had indeed awakened in me a sense of prophetic courage. The Lord’s Supper had strengthened my desire to work as a servant for justice and peace. Holy Communion had empowered me to see more clearly the road of discipleship that stretched beyond the horizon. I had embarked upon Holy Week saying, “Feed me till I want no more,” hoping all the while that my appetite would be satisfied and my thirst would be quenched. Hope did not disappoint, for during Holy Week the body and the blood became my “soul food,” enabling me to stand boldly in the watchtower to which I had been assigned. Table fellowship had replenished my storehouse and had fortified my resolve to be in relationship with others who likewise yearned to know the truth and to be set free. And it all started with a meal.

Works Cited

Forbes, James A., Jr. “Communion: An Act of Revolution and a Call to Solidarity.” In Iva E. Carruthers, Frederick D. Haynes III, and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., (Eds.), Blow the Trumpet in Zion: Global Vision and Action for the 21st-century Black Church (pp. 122-125). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005.
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Saturday, April 12, 2014
So thirsty

By the time a patient reaches the late stage of Alzheimer’s, complete deterioration of the personality and loss of control over bodily functions requires total dependence on others for even the most basic activities of daily living. A few days ago Miss Mercedes had suffered a massive stroke, and her condition was steadily getting worse. Before long she sank into a coma-like state. Hilda, her daughter, flew in from out of state and decided that her mother should be placed on a ventilator. And so it was done.

Yet her condition did not improve. To make matters worse, Miss Mercedes developed a heart murmur and an ulcerated esophagus. During her last series of tests, evidence revealed that one of the arteries supplying oxygen-carrying blood to Miss Mercedes’ brain had been damaged. Lately Miss Mercedes was having trouble breathing even with the ventilator. Her loss of physical and mental functions appeared to be permanent. Her quality of life was abysmal. So the team conferred with her daughter and together they agreed to transfer her to the hospice care unit.

Hospice Care

If you really thought about it, hospice care was a noble undertaking. The arrangement would give Miss Mercedes a chance to spend her final days in dignity. Her interdisciplinary care team met often to determine what would happen next. The team consisted of the administrative manager, the attending physician, the nurse and CNA, the social worker, Michelle the chaplain, and Miss Mercedes’ daughter.

Each member of the team served a specific role. The manager coordinated the whole operation, making sure that weekly meetings would occur on a regular basis and that HIPAA rules were followed. The manager also took responsibility for completing the paperwork and making sure that decisions were communicated to appropriate individuals in a reasonable amount of time. The attending physician conferred with the team on matters pertaining to pain management and medical care. The nurses and CNAs performed a critical function. They attended to the patient’s day-to-day physical and emotional care. They were involved with the most intimate aspects of Miss Mercedes’s well-being. They were responsible for giving baths, skin and mouth care, feeding, and toileting. They also did light housekeeping and ran errands, if that’s what the circumstances demanded at the time. The social worker was responsible for providing emotional support and arranging for community resources, financial assistance if necessary, transportation, and government benefits. The chaplain provided spiritual support to the patient and her family. After Miss Mercedes had spent some time on the vent, the interdisciplinary team decided to place the matter in God’s hands. The vent removal procedure was scheduled for Friday.

Vent Removal

When the time came, Miss Mercedes’s primary nurse notified Michelle and Hilda that the respiratory therapist had arrived. Michelle led members of the staff and a few of the residents to the room where the respiratory therapist had already begun her work. Quite a few people from Miss Mercedes’s past had gathered to say their farewells.

Michelle explained to the group each step in the procedure and why it was being done. After she had recited the science of the procedure, she directed their attention to that which transcended the science. She told the witnesses she prayed that Miss Mercedes would breathe on her own after artificial respiration was discontinued.

“After that happens, everything else is in God’s hands,” she said.

With that pronouncement, the tubes were removed, and immediately Miss Mercedes started to breathe on her own. After a few seconds of silence, Michelle read two scriptures she had selected for the occasion. Everyone joined hands.

“Let us pray,” Michelle said.

She thanked God for Miss Mercedes’ life and for the way she had lovingly influenced so many people. She thanked God for the memories Miss Mercedes had created and the lessons she had taught to those who crossed her path. She asked God to accompany Miss Mercedes on the last few remaining steps of her journey on this side of life. She told God that none of us understands death; it frightens us and intrigues us at the same time, but be that as it may, we were putting our trust in God. She asked God to give comfort and strength to those gathered here and to show them ways to resolve the uncertainties that would grow in their spirits in the days to come. She asked God to give them courage and compassion to stand with each other and support each other in these disconcerting times. Finally Michelle asked God to help them all remember that absolutely nothing could separate any of them from God’s everlasting love.
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English: Diagram of how microtubules desintegr...

Right after breakfast, Mother Mercedes sat at the dining table alone. She had fixed her attention on a crumb of bread that had been left behind from the morning meal. She poked and patted at the crumb until Chaplain Michelle arrived to escort her to their morning visit with the nurse and the new social work trainee. 

That’s how Michelle happened to be sitting with Miss Mercedes near the nurse’s desk when a visitor approached.

“Hello. My name is Angela Martin,” she announced. “I’m here to see Frances Parkinson. We have a meeting scheduled for 10:00.”

“Hi. My name is Michelle Anderson. I’m the Chaplain Intern. I’m sorry, but Mrs. Parkinson is attending to a medical emergency right now. I’m sure she’ll be back very soon. Would you care to have a seat in the lounge?” 

“No thank you. I think I’ll wait right here outside her office if you don’t mind.”

“That’ll be fine.” Michelle answered. At that moment Michelle glanced to her left. 

Marvin, a long-term Village resident, was strolling down the hall. Michelle shook her head slightly, not knowing what to expect from Marvin this morning. He was so unpredictable. She figured if she engaged him in some way he would be less likely to do something that was completely off the wall.

“Good morning, Marvin,” Michelle said pleasantly.

“Don’t be smiling at me, Chaplain. I know what you’re up to. I’m not going to pray with you. I’m not going to chapel. And I’m not reading any bibles, either. I told you before.” All the while Marvin was displaying his toothless grin. “I’m just messing with you, Chaplain. You know I love you!” He pursed his lips in a phony kissing gesture.

Michelle laughed along with him. “That’s okay, Marvin. You know God don’t like ugly. I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. So, what’s up today?”

“Those CNAs keep trying to get me to eat that slop they serving in the dining room. I’m hungry, but I’m not eating that mess! I’d rather skip a few meals.”

“Good!” Michelle retorted. “… More for me!” By then they were both laughing playfully.

Suddenly Marvin noticed Angela Martin, who had started to fidget in her seat. 

“Who is this lady?” Marvin asked.

“This is Mrs. Angela Martin. She’ll be visiting with Mrs. Parkinson this morning,” Michelle responded.

“Hey, baby! How’re you doing?” Marvin walked closer to her. Angela squirmed a bit but didn’t answer. She fixed her eyes on the pile of papers that was on her lap. “I’m talking to you, lady.” Marvin said.  “I asked you how you doing.”

“I’m doing just fine, thank you.” Visibly uncomfortable, Angela responded with a tight lip.

Marvin walked closer to her and began to stare her up and down. “Hey! You are fine! I like me some big women!” Marvin said. “You married?”

Angela did not answer. Instead, she looked at Michelle for some assistance.

“Marvin! Go on, now; leave Mrs. Martin alone.”

“Aw! Chaplain. I don’t mean no harm. I just think I done fell in love! Love! Sweet love!”

Without warning, Marvin turned to face Angela head on and tugged at the waistband of his sweatpants. Before anyone could understand what was happening, he had dropped his drawers, revealing to the world the very nature of himself, hanging out there for everybody to see.

“Hey! Lady! I want to marry you,” he said.

Just at that second, Frances Parkinson exited the elevator. Quickly she assessed what was going on and sprinted down the hall toward Marvin.

“A little help here,” Frances shouted. 

Orderlies and CNAs rushed into the hallway from rooms where they had been attending to other patients. One of the orderlies got a hold of Marvin. Another one pulled up Marvin’s pants. Then, together, both of them rushed the panting man away to a private place out of sight of Angela Martin, whose eyes were tightly closed.

“I’m so sorry!” Frances said as she approached the visitor. 

Frances held out her hand as a gesture of peace. Spurning the handshake, Angela rushed off in the direction of the rest room. 

“Oh, my!” Frances said, trying to suppress her embarrassment and a chuckle at the same time.
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English: Histopathogic image of senile plaques...

The next day when Michelle arrived at work, she had just put her purse on the desk in the office when the nurse came in and told her that Mabel Foster, Miss Mercedes’ good friend, had died earlier that morning from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The family had already arrived at the Hospice Center, and others were on their way. Mabel’s eldest daughter had requested the presence of the chaplain.

When Chaplain Michelle got to Mabel’s room several family members were still inside, while others had spilled over into the hallway. Mabel’s youngest daughter was overwrought and appeared to be on the verge of passing out. The nurse went to get a wheel chair for her as Michelle helped this daughter’s husband take her back into the room. Others in the room were also crying. Michelle’s instincts told her that nothing could proceed until those tears had been spent. So she handed out tissue and facilitated the process, helping the calmer family members comfort those who were distraught. Reminding them that Jesus had been a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, a man who cried on more than one occasion when sadness reared its ugly countenance, she gave them permission to entertain their sorrow for just a little while. And so they let it out, let it go, let it evaporate so they could get on with the other matters of the world. After about five minutes, everyone had calmed down enough to do what needed to be done next.

Michelle escorted the family to the lounge and told them that the nurse was going to take care of Mabel so the family could spend some time saying goodbye to her. As the nurse prepped the body in the hospital room, Michelle circulated among family members to share words of comfort and support.

The nurse finally ushered them back into the hospital room. Mabel’s body had been washed. All tubes and devices had been removed. Her hair had been combed and a clean sheet was draped across her lifeless limbs. Hospital equipment had been set outside, and the room had been sprayed with an air freshener to enhance a mood of serenity. With her hands folded across her chest, Mabel looked very peaceful.

After the family had filed into the room, Michelle asked if they would like to join her in a word of prayer. As they held hands around the bedside Michelle prayed for Mabel’s life, for her family’s strength, and for their peace. The family remained on the unit, taking turns sitting with Mabel, until the funeral home arrived to remove her remains. 

Michelle busied herself with writing up the details of Mabel’s death. She had no time to add her own tears to the ever-flowing river of grief she encountered on a daily basis. She was the chaplain; she had to be about the work of the living.
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