Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2003

Slowing down and celebrating the little things

by Bob Waterman, master of arts student

I must admit, I was not thrilled at the prospect of returning to Luther Seminary this fall. My friend, Sharon Larkins, died just days before students were to return to campus and my friend Mary McAvoy was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota while campaigning a short time later. In addition, I had begun my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota and had moved on to the final stretch of my academic career. Add to that the notice I received in the mail that I would have to endure an entire year of Discipleship II and began to consider whether I needed
to complete this degree with just three courses remaining. "Oh and don't forget about CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education)," the registrar smiled.

How could it get any worse?

Of course, just when you are not watching, something wonderful happens. The predictable and mundane transforms into the creative and energetic. I began my CPE experience, as a chaplain intern, at the University Good Samaritan Society in Minneapolis.

Initially I was concerned I would not pass muster. Unlike my Master of Divinity counterparts, I am not a tremendous Bible scholar. Oh sure, I know enough to pass the Bible exam and can talk reasonably intelligently about JEPD in Pentateuch, but did I know enough to serve effectively?

Nevertheless, I quickly felt right at home with the Alzheimer's patients on the fifth floor. My initial fears dissipated when suddenly I realized my counterparts knew a lot about the Bible but I brought to the table a knowledge of seniors. After all, I had been studying ministry to the aging for the last few years. I was able to utilize methods taught by Frankl and Kimble in speaking easily with family members about ambiguous loss. I was able to create stage appropriate programming for persons with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of cognitive decline like frontal lobe or visual variance dementia.

I recently read Jean-Dominique Bauby's book, "The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly." Bauby is the former editor of the French "Elle" who suffered a massive stroke at age 43 leaving him completely paralyzed, a victim of a rare neurological disorder called locked-in syndrome. It occurs to me that much of the pastoral care piece of ministry brings hope to those who are "locked-in" like Bauby. Certainly, not all are locked-in through paralysis.

Some are locked-in through cognitive decline, depression, frozen anger, addiction or domestic violence. The challenge laid before each of us then is that when circumstances alter even the best laid plans, we remain present with Christ's invitation to a new life.

Suddenly it occurred to me what a gift this final year at Luther has been. Here I was slowing down and celebrating the little things in life. There is nothing quite like watching the face of an Alzheimer's patient light up with joy and knowing that God has utilized you to make that happen. There is nothing quite like having family members come up and tell you that they were able to do an activity with a family member for the first time in a long time and know you facilitated that. There is nothing quite like being in the middle of a room filled with persons facing significant challenges in later life and knowing that you are home. Fulfilling Christ's call in whatever form it comes seems to be what Luther Seminary has been all about.