The article “Praying with Those Who Might Forget: Pastoral Considerations with Memo Impairment,” by Ericka L. Sanborne in Journal of Pastoral Care Counsel, vol. 62, no. 3 (Fall 2008):207-17 reverberated for me.
Mom is 2nd from the right
You see my mother is in mid-stage elderly dementia. For me, it has been a long painful journey that began in 2004.Today in 2011 my struggle continues. At the same time, I am grateful my mother is still with me.
In the article, Sanborne notes that ritual is a good way at helping a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient sustain their spiritual life. She says, “Because ritual is communication it could definitely be integrated into or even used wholly as prayer, meeting the needs of someone who might forget by involving more parts of the person’s being than just the thinking aspects. After all, we don’t ‘think’ God nearly as much as we feel, experience, work for, and find hope with God.” (14)
After reading this passage, I suddenly remembered how my own mother went into auto-pilot during a ritual. My mother, father, brother, a friend, and I were at the service that was part of graduation activities for my M.Div. During the service, several people were standing at stations in the sanctuary for communion. I took for granted that my mother would stay seated and not step forward, particularly since she came from traditions where the juice/blood and bread/body were passed along the pews where congregants were seated. Well, I was wrong. Mom often moved suddenly and swiftly. We were all paralyzed because we did not know if she was headed towards something or someone. In this large gathering, we had no idea if she was headed to the door or elsewhere. I was the first to jump up but looked down realizing she went to a station to take her communion. She found her way back to her seat on her own. I was grateful that my mother was still connected to God through the ritual of communion imprinted on her from childhood, even in the midst of ever-increasing suffering memory loss.
That was a beautiful day I will hold onto . . .
Photo by Dianne Glave
Ending. My friend said, “In your meditation you shared about the overpowering winds and water of a terrible storm because you are feeling overwhelmed. Did you know there was a connection between choosing natural disaster for group meditation and your emotional state?” I thought for a moment and responded, “Yes, you are right.” Lately, I have been feeling buffeted. Serving as a chaplain in a residency program has been challenging beyond anything I had imagined or expected.
Beginning. In the theophany, God manifests in a physical form for people say in the rumbling of a mountain or burning of a bush. The Bible is filled with these and other examples of theophany including Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 (NRSV):
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’ ” 24 The LORD replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
Considering the theophany, God can be the frightening rumbling and shaking much like what Moses experienced on Mt. Sinai. God is also in relationship much like what we see in the passage in the Exodus.
Middle. In my meditation, I thought about the terrible natural disasters that have devastated the landscape and people’s lives over the last several years: Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami Japan, and the Joplin, Missouri tornadoes to name just a few. There is the rough and tumble of that rumbling in the mountain that is God like these disasters. Yet there is also relationship with God and other people. Consider Kirk Franklin’s “Are You Listening?”, a song in solidarity with the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti:
Ending. Life often feels like the theophany as metaphor: the fearsomeness of God’s rumbling–life is scary and the comfort of God on the mountain–God is relational.