This past Friday, February 26, I went up to Gainesville to visit my dad during his recovery from a grueling surgery. For the preceding week, I had felt apprehensive about spending Friday night and Saturday with my parents. Yet, my musings upon the mythological example set by Athena set my heart at ease. Being the eldest daughter of Zeus, she never failed to fulfill her duties to her Divine parents. When, or if, my parents find out my Neo-Pagan persuasions, I’ll mention the example set by Athena as my guide to family commitment.
I arrived at his room in the South Tower of Northeast Georgia Medical Center around 5:30 pm to find him fully awake from anesthesia and talking with mom. He was sitting up on the hospital bed with some discomfort from having been on his back in a 45-degree, upside down position for the nearly 5-hour surgery. Yet, he was back to his dry sense of humor, but somewhat labored, periodically exercising his lungs using the “hookah” (i.e., incentive spirometer) the nurse gave him. True to his habits of coping with discomfort through reading, he had the TV turned off and a book on the WWII German dissident pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, propped open at his side.
Before 7 pm, mom went home, leaving me alone to talk with dad. Since my gender change, conversations with dad have remained awkward. Despite my best efforts to share a few jokes and funny stories, he barely cracked a smile. Looking towards him, I was sobered at how this was the first time that I have seen my dad in such a fragile state. Around 7:30, my aunt and her husband came to the room. The halting, labored conversations between me and my dad gave way to my aunt’s dramatic sagas of the many surgeries she’d endured. For instance, she related how she had felt “blown up like a balloon” for one surgery. I related a few CDC microbe outbreak stories, such as the largely self-inflicted Salmonella infections people catch from pet turtles. Then we got on the topic of colonoscopies and why there can’t be an easier way to check for intestinal cancer. Dad mentioned that there are large, transparent capsules containing tiny cameras which people can swallow. Unfortunately, these capsule-cameras are only useful for checking the stomach and upper small intestine. Somehow, the possibility of the capsule-cameras taking selfies next to great-gushing stomach ulcers got mentioned. Everyone, including dad, finally shared a hearty laugh. By 8:30, I had to leave for mom and dad’s house. Mom had a pot of cheese ravioli in a spicy sauce waiting for me.
On Saturday morning, after my private prayers outside before the mountain, I went back into the house for breakfast with mom. Her and dad have been together for 47 years and they have lived in the same house now for 39 years. In this setting, I could not help but fall back into my old routines. This past Saturday, I thus reprised my role of supporting my mom in her chaplaincy and outreach ministries. For the past twenty-one years, my mom has engaged in outreach to residents in nursing homes and personal care homes. Ten years ago, she was commissioned as a nursing home chaplain. Over the past year, dozens of volunteers from her church have stepped forward to assist in leading weekly church services for nursing/personal care home residents. Now that my mom’s long-term calling to build a nursing home ministry is now self-sustaining and fully-supported, she now feels a new calling to serve firefighters, police, and other public first-responders. She had written out a list of scripture verses as devotional readings, but needed a typist. As a labor of love, I typed out the scripture references (albeit not the full text). Many years before, I would often feel a twinge of annoyance at my mother’s spiritual callings towards outreach. Not so this past weekend. This time, on a deep, visceral level, I felt mom is doing the right thing for the Divine Spirit in her life.
As I agreed to type up the devotional reading references, she tried to recruit me into her new outreach to first responders. I did not agree, but nor did I completely dismiss mom’s suggestions. Instead, I offered to go back to participation in outreach to nursing home residents as I did in my early twenties, when I still embraced evangelical Christian faith. Though my belief was strong in those days, my heart was hurting at the prospect of an uncaring Father-God who would condemn mortal lives to lingering sickness followed by judgement for “sin”. I inherited my earthly mother’s passion for ministry, but I lacked the certainty of her convictions for effective outreach. My mom’s motivation for ministry is to “save souls” for Christ. Her clear-cut faith-message is highly effective at comforting elders of my late grandmother’s generation. Perhaps, my growth into the “family business” of ministry will depend upon opportunities to build connections with people of my own generation or younger. I would imagine my generation-X-and-Y neighbors have taken faith-walks through similar minefields of questioning and doubt as I’ve walked.
In my faith-walk through the minefield, I have vacillated between belief that all souls are saved versus doubting whether or not people have eternal souls. Recently, I’ve become convinced that every human being carries a spark of the undying Divine “fire”. Rather than being an evangelist trying to save souls from hell-fire, I feel a calling to strengthen each persons inner “soul-fire”. After my rationalistic, rebellious young adulthood, I’ve reached a point where I’m more willing to take things on faith. However, I cannot abide by a faith based upon Christian doctrines and their punishing Father-God. I choose a faith of deeds, not creeds. My deeds include meditation, ceremonial drumming and other activities intended to create personal closeness with the Divine Spirit as I understand Her. While I cannot evangelize, I may be able to assist young and middle-aged resident’s of personal care homes each in the discovery of his or her own spiritual path. The ability to meditate upon Nature or a personal God(dess) could make a tremendous difference for a person stricken with paralysis or other mobility limitations.