Tag Archives: prayer

Sometimes between Life and Death a Baseball often Matters as much as a Prayer

I have had a number of patients in my ICUs who have been avid baseball fans.  Likewise there are a number of physicians and nurses who are avid fans of the game, or sometimes certain teams.  Like me they were members of the Church of Baseball.  Some even attend my parish, Harbor Park.  It is funny how in the intersection of life and death that baseball finds a place more than any other sport.  Baseball has a quality and nuance that is different from most other sports, save perhaps golf.  Baseball is not bound by the constraints of time.  It has an eternal quality that somehow transcends life and death and one can see that in the stories that we tell in film in novels, histories and our own narratives.

There is a scene in The Babe Ruth Story where a critically ill child asks the Babe to hit a home run for him.  The Babe then went out and hit two.  Later in the movie when the Babe is dying of cancer he is given a Miraculous Medal.  The film was rushed to completion before Ruth died and the scene at Yankee Stadium was filmed shortly before a game and Ruth came from his death bed to be there.

In Field of Dreams the spirits of the 1919 White Sox who were forced out of baseball in the Blacksox scandal.  The Pride of the Yankees deals with the life of Lou Gehrig, baseballs original Iron Man and his battle with ALS.  His speech at Yankee Stadium when he retired from the game is classic.  It is a reflection on life well lived and thanksgiving for what he experienced.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” – July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day

These are intersections of life and death.  In the ICUs I have a surprising amount of dealings with baseball.  In one ICU I had a lady that was very sick with chronic and apparently terminal heart disease.  She was a delightful woman with a wonderful husband.  I had met them and while she had struggled she looked like she was on the uptick. She was delightful to spend time with and in those pastoral conversations when I had the overnight duty we found that we shared a common passion, baseball.

We agreed that the Biblical writer’s description of heaven was inaccurate being that they were unaware of the Deity’s love of baseball. We agreed that heaven had to have not streets of gold, but the most amazing turf and most immaculate infield which one could imagine and foul lines that went into infinity. She and her husband were watching the Nationals and Astros play deep into the night but the following day she took a bad turn for the worse.

I saw her that day we visited again and she was struggling. I prayed and anointed her at her request.  And I asked her if she would like a baseball. Her eyes lit up and she nodded “yes.”  So I promised that I would get one from the stadium last night.  The game at Harbor Park was rained out that night so I went home and got a ball that I had received after throwing out the first pitch at a Kinston Indians game.  I inscribed it to her and took it to her room the next day. She was pretty heavily sedated and her sister was with her.  I spent some time with her sister to let her know that I had the baseball for her.  We then went to the bedside where I let the lady know that I had her baseball. She opened her eyes and I put the ball in her hand.  Her hand gripped it tight and I blessed her.

The lady did get better and about 8 months later following my “Christmas miracle” I was walking past the Medical Center Pharmacy and I heard a familiar voice. It was the lady’s husband and she sat beside him looking very well. It turned out that they had been able to correct the worst part of her condition through a catheterization after she had gotten out of the ICU. New medications were also helping but she was most thankful of my little visits to her and the gift of the baseball.

Her husband talked of how the ball seldom left her hand during her ICU stay.  As we visited they both told me how much what I did in the ICU meant to them, the prayer, anointing of the sick and the baseball.  She told me that the ball, an official Carolina League ball was now on her mantle.  We chatted some more and talked about all the prayer that had been made on her behalf as well as the hard work of the ICU and Cardiology teams to keep her alive and help her recover.  I mentioned that it was likely that the whole companies of baseball “saints” in heaven were praying for her as well and we all had a great laugh.  I had to leave and go to a call but we exchanged hugs and blessings.

Sometimes the miracle is not in the prayer but in the things that touch us and mean much to us. For this lady, her husband and I that was baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, film, movies, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle

Merry Christmas!

I do not throw the word miracle around lightly.  In fact I generally get irritated when I hear people calling things miracles that are no such thing such as giving God credit for the screw ups or successes of people.  I heard of a case recently where someone’s loved one had a preliminary test that showed possible cancer. Of course the person was upset and asked people to pray.  A second confirmation test was done and it turned out that the first was a “false positive.”  False positive tests are a part of the whole medical package, people and machines make mistakes.  The person sent an e-mail out to announce that the test had been a false positive and then proceeded to say that it had to be God healing the relative in question, not a mistake.  I think that to makes such a claim actually cheapens the term “miracle” and does God a disservice.  God at least to my understanding does pretty well on his or her own.   It is like in baseball where an infielder commits an obvious error that is glaring and the official scorer scores the play as a hit.  Now I rejoice that this person’s loved one did not have cancer, but the fact was that they never had cancer to begin with and thus to call the event a miracle is rather silly.  The same is true when a medical team works their ass off to save someone from death, does everything right and makes the save only to have people give all the credit to God.  Once again I have no doubt that God can be involved but to simply write off the efforts of dedicated people is to do a disservice to God.  I think that God is okay with people that he or she created getting credit where credit is due.

Miracles are rare and not everything is a miracle.  So when I say that I am experiencing a miracle I am certainly not doing so just to make me look deserving or extra spiritual.  Anyone who knows me knows that such a claim would be fraudulent.   I think that miracles related to one’s spiritual and psychological condition are rare and since there is no lab test to prove that you are all better that they are difficult to quantify.  When I hear people talk about being completely “healed” in such matters I am a wait and see kind of person, as Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust but verify,” especially in regard to anything to do with me, simply because I don’t want to look like an ass or by my claims make God look stupid when they do not pan out.

The past couple of years have been the hardest of my life.  I have talked about the effects of PTSD, issues with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, my own sense of alienation and isolation, anxiety, depression and the crisis of faith that I experienced quiet a few times so I will not rehash them in this essay.  The reality is that they are a reality that I have had to try to come to grips with.  For most of this time I have existed in a world where everything hurt and I struggled to believe.  Imagine having to pray for people when you are wondering if God even exists at times.  To put it mildly it sucks.   That has been my world, despite my expertise at what I do and the pent up knowledge that exists in the gray matter mounted in my bald brain housing group it has been a struggle to keep going.

While PTSD, anxiety and depression are major issues I think the thing that made them worse was how alone I felt and how it seemed that God had abandoned me.  I think that was actually more frightening than the nightmares, insomnia, fear and everything else associated with my experience in and return from Iraq.  I believe, at least from my experience that a crisis of faith and feeling alienated and abandoned by God is one of the most frightening and dehabilitating things that can happen to a Priest or any other minister.  In fact I am pretty sure that when you ask ministers who have left the ministry that somewhere in their experience is a crisis of faith. That might be hidden by other circumstances but I’m pretty sure that it is there.

Christmas in Iraq…The Last Time I Felt the Presence of God…until Now

The past 22 months since returning from Iraq have been a terrible ordeal in an emotional and spiritual sense, however something has begun to happen and I cannot place my finger on it but somehow I am beginning to feel touched buy the grace of God again.  It actually began quite unexpectedly.  I came home from a disastrous trip to visit my parents in November completely wiped out and depressed.  It seemed that I had crashed yet again and I expected that this Christmas would be no different than that of last year where I left Mass before it began and walked for an hour in the dark and cold wondering where God had gone.  So when things started to happen, beginning ironically with the experience of performing the last rites for a patient in our ER and experiencing a number of other situations where I again felt part of something bigger than me I was surprised.  Lo, even astonished at events that I couldn’t explain were happening as well as the fact that people care for me, all kinds of people, co-workers, friends from baseball, friends from Gordon Biersch and friends from church.  I think that is where I began to realize that God might just care and maybe that there was hope for me again that maybe what I did mattered.

Today was a busy day as I walked about the medical center.  I saw the work of my physician, nurse, corpsmen and technicians of various sorts as they fought to save the lives of people.  I spent time with our staff as they worked to stabilize a very sick child for transport to another hospital in a last ditch attempt to save the child’s life as the child’s mother looked on.  I watched our ER team assisted by one of our anesthesiologists from the ICU work to save the life of an elderly man and get him to the ICU.  I saw surgeons and neurologists evaluating and working with a fairly young man who is in dire straits.  For all of these folks Christmas Eve and Christmas day are days that they are “in the fight.” They are days where the miracle is real, but not evidenced to all.  I am amazed by the skill, dedication and care of all of these folks who are attempting to ensure that Christmas does not end badly for others, both the patients in their charge as well as their family members.

Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different.  It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God.  I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace.  I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now.  I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses.  I was too far gone to do those things.  It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.

Now I know that I still have some hurdles in regard to my PTSD and that I am still not a “full up round” spiritually, but I have hope again. I am not the same Christian or Priest that I was before Iraq.  I have changed in a lot of ways, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know I have a long way to go, but for the first time in this see that I might actually get there.

I guess that is the miracle. Last year I dreaded the very thought of Christmas and this year I look forward to the Advent of Jesus, the Christ.  That in the middle of life and death, experiencing pain, alimentation and all that I have described that something has touched my life and I have hope again.  Tonight the Abbess is singing at her 5 PM Mass while I attend the 6 PM Mass over at Saint James Episcopal on my way home from work.  When we get home we will have dinner together, open presents, watch Molly open her presents and probably if I have my way watch funny Christmas movies and specials as we spend the night together.

I pray that you will experience some measure of grace this Christmas, or whatever you celebrate.  I do pray that God will protect us all and that we will be able to experience together the grace, mercy and peace of God.

Merry Christmas my friends, thank you for being there for me this year.

As Tiny Tim said at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “May God bless us all.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion