27 March 2008

Easter Aftermath

I'll write about Easter soon, before I forget it. Really. Although today is Thursday, it is my Easter Monday and I took the day off. I spent two hours this morning at a workshop on "Vicarious Trauma." Doesn't that sound like a load of fun?

The workshop was sponsored by the Domestic Violence Center where I volunteer a few hours a month as a chaplain to the clients (and sometimes the staff). The main point? People who work in helping professions have a peculiar hazardous condition that comes with the job: we tend to take on the suffering of others. That "taking on" can go in different directions. Either one puts up the wall and nothing touches the soul, and we lose touch with our humanity, or we go the other way and overreact to things without knowing why.

Why go to a workshop like this on a day off (when it was SNOWING, for heaven's sake, at least in and around the area!)? It actually came as a result of Easter, the day I juggled three church services and three death notifications. There were two more deaths on Monday and another on Tuesday. Wednesday I looked at the log I keep online at work of the death notifications that we do. From late February through yesterday, there were more than 2 dozen deaths. That included my good friend Paul and a woman who was on the custody staff for years who died after surgery.

I checked my innards and I said, "Self, it's time for a little outside help here."

And that's why I went to the workshop.

It was good. And I'm shaking off the stiff shoulders, listening to classical music so I don't have to strain to understand the lyrics, and reading through a pile of entries for a writing competition. The soundtrack of "Juno" is playing in the car--and I love those lyrics.

Wednesday in my office, I pulled a CD off the shelf and set it to play. Several times over the next few hours, men appeared at my door, puzzled looks on their faces. "It's a Meatloaf kind of day" was the only explanation I gave them. I got caught once singing along, "Life is a lemon and I want my money back!" Not that I was feeling that way exactly, but they were big loud words and I was having big loud feelings. (Same explanation I give to the guys who are deep in a conversation with me and swear, and immediately apologize. Sometimes those are the only words big enough to capture the feelings...)

09 March 2008

Just When I Think I've Seen It All

I've written before about the tattoos I see in prison. It's amazing what people will write on their bodies. Some of the work is wonderfully artistic. Some of it is cheap and looks scary. I'm always looking to see what might be inked around a man's neck.

I've seen the girlfriend's name, the gang nickname, a rosary (just how does one pray a rosary that is tattooed around the neck?)

Today, though, today was something else.

The man came to communion. "The Body of Christ," I said and noticed the ink around his neck.

Before he left, I was able to read: - - - - - - - - - - CUT HERE - - - - - - - - - -

I'm wondering what he's thinking tonight after hearing me go on about Ezekiel and that valley of dry bones, about Lazarus and his stinky tomb, about those places inside us we'd rather not explore or even name because it is just too nasty and we know that even God isn't going to take a chance on that toxic waste. "I have promised and I will do it."

Okay, God, surprise me.

06 March 2008

29 February 2008

Last Friday night, some friends and I were talking about a priest we know. His mother died on this day in 1996 and at her funeral, two of her sons, Frs. Jim and Paul, joked that it was just like their mother to die on Leap Day so they could only fuss about it every four years.

On Saturday night, one of those friends called me. "Paul is dead."

Saturday morning, he didn't show up for something at the parish and someone went to check on him. They found him dead at home, probably of a heart attack.

"We have another friend in heaven," was a message on my voicemail Sunday morning. It was Fr. Joe calling. Between Fr. Joe and Fr. Paul, I learned some of the best lessons about ministry. The overriding conviction that every person I meet is first and foremost a child of God--that's a lesson I learned from both these men.

Paul found great delight at every parish he served. He loved the people and made them part of his family, even as he and his family continued to love, play, and support each other through the years. I met Paul before he was ordained a deacon in 1977. Through his various parish assignments and my various careers in ministry, we talked often. He got to know a lot of the stories about my family and when my grandfather died in 1995, Paul was the natural choice to preside at the funeral. I think he was the only one who could sail the choppy dysfunctional waters that were my family in those days.

And after days of not wanting to believe it, last night and today we said the words, prayed together, and said goodbye.

There were many loving tributes last night and today, but one of his brothers said it best, "Paul's best work is right here, all these people gathered together." There were over two thousand people at the funeral, from every parish where Paul had worked, every group he'd given his time to, every walk of life. In Paul's life, he kept saying that the Church had to be big enough for everyone. There was room in his life for all of us and I know there's still room for more at God's great banquet table.