Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lenten Series #10: Tragedy and Compassion

So a few days ago, I had to do something that I have not had to do since being called to ministry. Something that was very difficult for me.  I had to deal with communal grief that came to our community because of the sudden lost of a staff member.  She seemed to have died in her sleep. Her coworkers were concerned because she is normally one of the first ones to work at 8am.  So my office’s administrative assistant called me and my other coworkers from the chaplains office to a brief meeting to give us the news and to say that her colleagues really needed and wanted us (the rabbi and myself, because the chaplain, our boss was out sick) to go down and be with her coworkers in the accounting and hr departments. This was tough on several levels:

First, she was young, only about 33years old! That hit many of us because she was not far from our age.  The night before, she was talking to some coworkers and friends on facebook. And I believe was going to watch some of the Olympics but did not feel well so decided to go to bed early. Who knew that that would be her last communication with the living. Some believed she had lived her life, touched many and has fulfilled her destiny, but of course for many felt that her life was cut short.

Secondly, the rabbi and I were the only men present. The two offices (hr and accounting) are dominated by women, and well, I grew up in a house of women, and many of my closet friends are women, so I have the inklings of when there needs to be “girl time”. Therefore, I believe the rabbi and I could not fully engage because they already formed a sisterhood.

Thirdly, I really did not know her and don’t believe I have ever met her except through email correspondences. The same could be said for the members of that office, because I only have had conversations with many of them through email/phone call about financial matters. So my being called to give pastoral guidance was difficult. I know that I will be called to do this often, especially being an ordained minister, so I know it is a skill I will learn and develop over time, but this doesn’t reduce the fact that it is hard. When I later talked this through with my boss, the chaplain, she fully understood that and even comforted me by sharing that it is only because of such situations and private tragedies, etc. that she has gotten to know members of that office on a more personal note.  She also acknowledged the difficult nature of such lost because a lot of our work is around students and yet we are called be the Chaplain/spiritual leaders for the entire community (faculty, staff, and students).

Before I was called down and given the news, I was in the midst of planning for our weekly Wednesday Praise and Prayer service.  It is interesting how our plans go on hold in order to be a presence for the community.  I won’t lie, at first my concern was on the service, will I have to cancel? How will they know (students/staff) if it is canceled? When will I have time to complete the planning of the service / what about the bulletin?  How do I get o the guitarist, who I have already asked to fill-in for our regular pianist?  Through the sincere concern and quick movement of my colleagues, I was reminded that these things will take care of themselves and right now we are called to be a ministry of presence down at the Old Glove Factory (the name of the building where accounting and HR reside).  And that is exactly what at we provided. We let them know the services our office provides, gave space for them to share their stories, their fears, their hurt, and finally we prayed together. We stayed around for little while after, and as we prepared to return to our office we reminded them to call us email us, if they need us, corporately or individually.

As I left the gathering, I headed to the chapel. I didn’t have time to print out a bulletin/program for the noon time service. But as the rabbi dropped me off in front of the chapel, I confessed to him that the hardest part for me was preaching to the multitude. I find it easy to deal with grief one-on-one, but in a group it is hard because each person’s needs are different. I continued to think on this as i waited for people to come for the service (I had about 20minutes to spare).  So there seated in the chapel, I flipped through my bible and stumbled across the story of Jesus feeding the multitude.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’
And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthews 14:13-21)

What intrigued me was that Jesus was exhausted tires, probably just wanted to get away and retreat. But tragedy struck, the people were hungry. The disciples wanted them to go home and find their own food, but Jesus commanded that the disciples feed the people. When we read this passage I think too often we get stuck on Jesus feeding 5,000 with a just a few loaves of bread and some fish. We get stuck on “the miracle”. But I think some thing deeper happened even before the miracles. It was the compassion that Jesus had for the people that we ought to admire and emulate. He was tired, I know it had been along few days, but the people were hungry, needed food, it was the compassion that met the need of the multitude. The food provided temporary relief. But the outpouring of Jesus’ love is remembered for generations and generations to come!! Also, it was Jesus being present that allowed him to see and serve the needs of the people, the multitude.

I don’t want to be a mere Christian (cuz Christians, like the disciples, can send you home hungry), but instead, I want to be like Jesus, in my heart!!

Peace, Love, and Prosperity,

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