Yesterday, I discovered the pediatrics acute care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. It is a beautiful floor, painted brightly on all the walls, as an aquarium. If you happen to be visiting, on your way to a patient’s room, you pass paintings of waving kelp, all kinds of fish, in every color and size, including Nemo look-alikes, sea-otters, diving seals, a few rare sea-turtles swimming above. It’s a gorgeous experience, and it’s comforting, humorous, and does what it’s intended to do: takes one out of oneself and into a magical undersea world. I was grateful for the person or persons who had come up with that idea, and I wondered if they had imagined themselves as a sick child, and thought about what they would like to see.
Lent in children’s ward takes on an urgency; one remembers, urgently, the importance and frailty of every human life, and that children are the most vulnerable among us. A child-centered world would be safer and more loving for everyone. And I think of the Good Shepherd, who loved children, and preached to and for them, when his disciples would have kept them away. Imagine church and faith from the point of view of the least among us, the most at risk, always children. What would church be like if we carried them, as Jesus did?
One of the best parts of a pastor’s work is visiting patients in hospitals, but such visits take on extra intensity when the patient is a child. You imagine what the parents are feeling, you imagine the child, you pray with wordless passion, with a simplicity, “Please, Lord, let it be all right, let all be well, let there be healing.” You spend time waiting, aware of what’s happening behind closed doors, the careful surgeries, the monitors, the minute-by-minute changes that sometimes are life or death shifts. It’s a place where everyone feels vulnerable, even the doctors and nurses. I can tell, because, to a person, when they see a chaplain or pastor coming, they let us know they are grateful for the spiritual support.
This week, as Holy Week approaches, I’m aware of that vulnerability, not just in the children’s ward of Mass General, but for all of us, here on a fragile planet, with its beauty, its amazing life, the fragile eco-systems, undersea and above ground, the continuing creative lively world that so needs our care and compassion.