Saturday, August 23, 2008

Visiting Gertrude

(St. Philips Church, Barbados)
(it's the only picture I could find. I know it is small!)

So, the other day, I was sitting in my office, working on a huge filing project. (o.k., so I haven't filed a thing in 18 months, what's the big deal, right?) and my phone rings.

It's the new activity director at the nursing home facility where we do a protestant communion service once a month. We don't have congregational ties to this place, but this service has evolved over time. Any way. The AD, whom I have never met, said that he had a resident that was asking to speak to a Priest, whoops, a Reverend, and could I visit her. Her name is Gertrude. Sure, I said. Could I come this afternoon? (Note: it was already "this afternoon") Of course, I said. I will be over in about 30 minutes. But I don't look much like a reverend today, I mention. (I am in hiking capris shorts and a silk funky tunic) He laughs. Doesn't matter, he says, and hangs up.

Dude, I think to myself, could ya give me any more information? I am wondering, is Gertrude dying? Is she expecting like, a Catholic Priest to do last rites? Is she agitated? Obviously, I am not going to find out until I get there. So, I dig around on the shelves and locate my tiny bible, pop it into my purse, and drive over to the nursing home, praying for awareness and presence and for Gertrude. When I arrive, I am directed to the memory care unit. When I pass through several locked doors, I am directed to a little living area, where several elders are sitting around a table, "watercoloring"--entailing a cup of watered down paint, and a coloring book page of flowers. Gertrude is sitting quietly, painting her hibiscus flowers a pepto-bismol shade of magenta.

"Ms. Gertrude?"
She looks up at me.
"I am Pastor Karla. I am the reverend. I am here to visit you."
"You are the reverend?" She smiles. "oh, how nice!"
"Gertrude, someone told me you wanted to have a visit with a pastor. Would you like to visit for a while with me?"
Gertrude is focused on her painting. "No," she says, "I don't think so."

So, I watch her for an eternity of seconds. Then I try to make some small talk. Not much luck. I try to get some information out of the staff person at the table, but she isn't very communicative. Obviously, since this is the memory care wing, I don't really expect Gertrude to remember that she was wanting a "reverend" but don't you think the staff might give me a clue?
"Gertrude, would you like me to come back another time?"
"Well, I am going to pull up a chair here and watch you paint"
"That would be nice."

I ask her some questions and through the course of this, she tells me her church is St. Philip's parish in Barbados, and she proceeds to list all of the parishes of Barbados (11 in all) and repeats them several times. Then she starts to sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" and I sing with her. We sing it three times. She sang another hymn, but I didn't know it.

It is time for me to go, so I ask her if we can pray together. I ask her if I can hold her hands. She reaches out to me. So I hold Gertrude's hands and I pray for her, knowing nothing, but knowing that the Spirit knows it all. I finish, and say, do you want to say the Lord's Prayer together? She nods, but then instead of praying the Lord's Prayer, she begins to pray for me. In her dulcet west indian accent, she prays for blessings on my ministry, my soul, my family, my congregation. The words, you could tell, were called forth from deep within, words she had prayed over and over for her other pastors, for her children, for her friends, phrases that were familiar, in a candence of prayer that only a long time fervent prayer would have.

My heart caught.
It broke open.
I soaked in the balm of prayer in every pore of my skin and bones and muscles.
Breathing in, and out...listening to her repeated phrases over and over and over.
And then she said Amen, and so did I. Amen.

Instead of being the pastoral vistor,
I was visited.
By an angel named Gertrude.



revhipchick said...

absolutely beautiful, you and Gertrude have brought tears of joy and wonder to my eyes.

congratulations doesn't seem right and i don't know what else to say--you've been quite blessed. absolutely lovely. thank you so much for sharing!

jesswilson said...

that was so moving and beautiful . what an incredible gift ..

for both of you i'd imagine ..

you know, today i posted 'namaste' ..

the thing i love so much about the word is its recipricol nature . i understand it to mean three things, among others: 'i see the Divine in you' 'i see the beauty in you' and 'i recognize (and defer to) you as a teacher'. but the best part of that is that the response to namaste is namaste. we see the beauty in each other, we see the Divine in each other and most importantly, we LEARN from one another.

Namaste, Rev Karla, Miss Gertrude, and all who come into our lives when we didn't even know we needed them.

with love.