Friday 30 October 2009

A Blessing-of-Hands During Pastoral Care Week at The Canberra Hospital

You are invited to view the photo album I posted on 'the web': "Our Blessing-of-Hands Ceremony 28 October 2009 at The Canberra Hospital" which was held in a courtyard just outside our chapel. This turned out to be a very significant highlight during our celebration of International Pastoral Care Week this year -- a "first" here at TCH.

I originally designed and coordinated this multi-faith service, but the event included the preparation and involvement of approximately 30 to 35 others chaplains and volunteer pastoral carers in our department - as well as a dozen or so colleagues from many other parts of the hospital. (I had earlier "bribed" the hospital staff to come by putting a little advertisment on the top lid of 25 tins of cookies, and then we took them around to various parts of the hospital to let them know what was happening during Pastoral Care Week here. Obviously that strategy worked - that, plus offering the food after the 15-minute service!)

Among some other things that were first said or shared, the ceremony included a couple minutes of reflection about the nature of pastoral care, utilizing a piece I'd adapted from something Dr. Alan Wolfelt had originally written about "companioning" and which is now entitled "Pastoral Care is..." :

Pastoral care is about honouring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.

Pastoral care is about curiosity; it is not about expertise.

Pastoral care is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.

Pastoral care is about walking alongside; it is not about leading.

Pastoral care is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

Pastoral care is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling every painful moment with words.

Pastoral care is about listening with the heart; it is not about analysing with the head.

Pastoral care is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about directing those struggles.

Pastoral care is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.

Pastoral care is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.

Pastoral care is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

Pastoral care is about being with someone as they seek meaning, purpose and hope on the journey of life; it is not about imposing easy answers.

We then invited everyone to join in this litany:

Blessed Be These Hands:

Blessed be these hands that have touched life.
Blessed be these hands that have felt pain and tiredness.
Blessed be these hands that have lovingly embraced others with compassion.
Blessed be these hands that have been clinched in anger, or been withdrawn in fear.
Blessed be these hands that have drawn blood and administered medicine, written policies, protected patients, made progress notes, and cut through red tape.
Blessed be these hands that have cleaned bodies and beds, and disposed of wastes.
Blessed be these hands that have anointed the sick and suffering, offered blessings and prayers.
Blessed be these hands, some still smooth with youth - some that have grown stiffer with age.
Blessed be these hands that have comforted the dying and held the dead.
Blessed be these hands and all the creativity they engage.
Blessed be these hands, for with them we hold the future.
Blessed be our hands, for they are the work of your hands, O Holy One.

After that was read, all who wished could come forward to have their own hands anointed with oil, with the words of assurance: "May what is soiled be cleansed. May what is wounded be healed. Go in the strength of this blessing!"

All - including some patients and family members nearby in the courtyard who observed all this and said they, too, felt touched by the experience - were invited to join in with our special Morning Tea afterward. Many said they would like to see this experience repeated again next year - or even more often!

The collection of 21 photos were taken by Aili O'Flaherty, pastoral carer practitioner on the Uniting Church Team at TCH. Not all participants are pictured, obviously, but these shots are representative of activity that occurred.

Simply move the "slider" at the top of this collection further to the right if you want to enlarge the photos as you view the collection - or click on them individually.

I made some laminated bookmarks after the event to give to the many chaplains and volunteer pastoral care practitioners in our department, utilizing one of these photos and including the following prayer of "Blessing For the Work of Our Hands":
May our hands and all that they do be blessed.

May they be strong, creative, and gentle.

May the Spirit guide them.

May they provide comfort and healing.

May their touch remind patients of God’s divine grace and mercy.

May they work with compassion, and may they also play and rest in good measure.

May they feel beauty, create peace, and clap with joy.

May our hands and all that they do be blessed.

Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:17)


"War Made Easy" & Speaking Out Against the Afghanistan Quagmire We're Into

For powerful insights into the contributions of mainstream media in America, and those it serves in promoting militarism and war, you might consider watching the video "War Made Easy" online (the last link in the list below.)

War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death - Featuring Norman Solomon and narrated by Sean Penn - Media Education Foundation 73 minutes 2007

Home Page and Trailer


About Norman Solomon

* Don't miss checking out this video copy on the web!

Re: "War Made Easy," below find Harvey Wasserman's take on the New York Times and Pentagon's attempts to sell an escalation of troops in Afghanistan to the public:

Beware a Times/Pentagon 'Virtual Coup' on Afghanistan - Harvey Wasserman - CommonDreams 10/25/09

And this is Wasserman's take on Tom Friedman's recent reversal of support for an escalation in Afghanistan:

Is This Tom Friedman's 'Walter Cronkite Moment' on Afghanistan? - Harvey Wasserman - CommonDreams 10/29/09

So, what can people of conscience be doing and saying right now? Well, here are a couple of good examples:

Below find a link to Ann Wright's excellent article on "government employees who have the strength of character and courage to tell [the public and] their Presidents and Prime Ministers when they and their policies have no clothes.

"An American Diplomat and a British Soldier Tell Their Leaders They Have No Clothes: No to the Afghanistan War Strategy" - Ann Wright - CommonDreams 10/28/09

More Schools, Not Troops - Nicholas Kristof - Op-Ed, New York Times 10/29/09

A brief excerpt from Kristof provides a taste:

[Dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban. In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.

It’s hard to do the calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years — well, we could just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.

The hawks respond: It’s na├»ve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It’s impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up.

In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there’s a strong “buy-in” from the local community.Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea,” has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan — and not one has been burned down or closed.

The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban.

The Afghan Institute of Learning, another aid group, has 32 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with none closed by the Taliban (although local communities have temporarily suspended three for security reasons).

In short, there is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which, in fact, have a pretty dismal record.]

(I do want to provide attribution to friend and professor at St. Mary's in South Bend, Indiana - Joseph Miller - for alerting me to all this "good stuff" which I deem is quite important for us to be passing along to our own networks of communication and circles of friends.)

It all gives me great pause and wonderment: Who is doing the parallel work, offering critique in the Australian context and especially within op-ed columns of this nation's newspapers as witness to the Rudd administration -- giving prophetic warning to NOT following the leader (America) straight into this quagmire? (If you know of good examples - and especially if you can provide some good links - please post them in the comments section below.)

Australia got out of Iraq early, and it can and should get out of Afghanistan on its own, as well.


Wednesday 28 October 2009

Freeing Up The Saints From Their Hallmark Holidays!

You may be asking yourself "OK, Halloween is just around the corner again, so how am I going to deal with it THIS year?" Well, here's a stimulating resource I stumbled across this evening providing some "grist for the mill." It's written by Christine Sine, a member of the Mustard Seed Associates along with her husband Tom.

The last half of the article addresses a creative alternative way to get to the real meaning behind Halloween (All Hallows Eve) into which our culture is about to descend.

Also, here is a link to the MSA "alternative" calendar, described thus:

The events on our new calendar are divided into three general categories:

-Religious Observances: Deeper exploration of the Christian Liturgical Calendar.

-Celebrations: Innovative ideas for communities, local churches and families to celebrate in fun, whimsical, life-affirming ways, involving food, creativity, sharing and engaging with others.

- Activism: Suggestions and information about how to engage in global and local justice and need.

I think this is quite relevant as general guidance for families and individuals seeking to deepen their spiritual life during holidays -and fill those holidays with real meaning!


Saturday 24 October 2009

Seeking to end the ‘ancestral fire’ of violence in Africa...

One man's vision for Africa as the future land of peace - Titus Oyeyemi leads APPLI (African Peace and Love Initiatives) in Nigeria.

Read all about it in this week's online edition of Mennonite Weekly Review. More board members and funding are being sought. I know Titus and his family personally and have been supporting this important outreach for many years. Here is one thing in Nigeria that DOES have integrity! If reading the article sparks your interest - or if you want more information, just ask! -Clair

Monday 19 October 2009


This powerful poem was sent to me by a colleague I was collaborating with while pulling together material for an interfaith "Blessing of Hands" service we are having here at the hospital. I've issued an open invitation for any staff from any department - and any religious background - who want to come to feel free to attend. This is a special ceremony we are trying for the first time this year during International Pastoral Care Week. (We will be using the photo you see below on the front of the service program - though the poem doesn't quite fit. But if anyone wants to see the outline and script I designed for this, just ask!) -Clair


GRANDMA'S HANDS by Melinda Clements

Grandma, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. She didn't move, just sat with her head down staring at her hands.

When I sat down beside her she didn't acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if she was OK.

Finally, not really wanting to disturb her but wanting to check on her at the same time, I asked her if she was OK. She raised her head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking," she said in a clear voice strong.

"I didn't mean to disturb you, grandma, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to her.

"Have you ever looked at your hands," she asked. "I mean really looked at your hands?"

I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point she was making.

Grandma smiled and related this story:

"Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.

"They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.

They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child, my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband and wiped my tears when he went off to war.

"They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son. Decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.

They wrote my letters to him and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and spouse.

"They have held my children and grandchildren, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn't understand.

They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken,dried and raw. And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.

"These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of life.

But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ."

I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my grandma's hands and led her home.

When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and husband I think of grandma. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God.

- Author Unknown

Thursday 15 October 2009

Footprints - or Buttprints - in the Sand ?!

FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND - By Mary Stevenson, 1936

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life
when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, "You promised me, Lord,
that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one set of prints in the sand.
Why, when I have needed you most, you have not been there for me?
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have seen only one set of footprints
is when I carried you." (Source)

I'm quite confident that our Lord who invites us all to come to him when the load is heavy can help bear us up (cf. Matthew 11:29-30) and that he did indeed inspire Mary Stevenson to pen such a beautiful poetic reflection. So many people the world over have been inspired by it.

However, I am also sure that my Lord, who cleared the temple and chastised the leaders of the children of God, also inspired the following "companion piece" by an unknown author (as yet - I'm still seeking that out.)


One night I had a wondrous dream.
One set of footprints there was seen,
the footprints of my precious Lord,
but mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared
and I asked the Lord, "What have we here?
Those prints are large and round and neat,
but, Lord, they are too large for feet."

"My child," he said in sober tones,
"For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
but you refused and made me wait."

"You disobeyed, you would not grow.
The walk of faith you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up,
and there I dropped you on your butt."


Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Fabulous "Floriade" in Canberra - last Saturday

One sample from a whole collection of shots we took of these amazing flowers and bonsai trees gracing our neck of the woods — at the annual (month-long) “Floriade” right here in Canberra. Enjoy our whole set here.

Sunday 11 October 2009

My Response to President Obama Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

I've been reflecting in response to the relentless drivel coming from the hard right.

Why can't we take the pronouncements of the Nobel Committee at face value: "The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee - four of whom spoke to The Associated Press, said awarding Obama the peace prize could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration. They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen its role in combating climate change."

(For more on this read/watch...)

I resonate strongly with the comment an observant American friend with a good global perspective shared today by email: "Let's face it, the United States is still the dominant power in our world; I think it must be very hard for many people in the United States to understand how much the rest of the world appreciates a US President whose first reaction to an international problem is NOT to draw a gun -- in the image of the mythical cowboy; but rather to talk and negotiate."

That correlates with the general impression I get when conversing with just about everyone I've encountered here in AUS since this announcement broke -- it's evoked a mood of great celebration!

I also liked the way Michael Moore put it today in his newsletter:

Many, for the past couple days (yes, myself included), have grumbled, "What has he done to earn this prize?" How 'bout this:

The simple fact that he was elected was reason enough for him to be the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Because on that day the murderous actions of the Bush/Cheney years were totally and thoroughly rebuked. One man -- a man who opposed the War in Iraq from the beginning -- offered to end the insanity. The world has stood by in utter horror for the past eight years as they watched the descendants of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson light the fuse of our own self-destruction. We flipped off the nations on this planet by abandoning Kyoto and then proceeded to melt eight more years worth of the polar ice caps. We invaded two nations that didn't attack us, failed to find the real terrorists and, in effect, ignited our own wave of terror. People all over the world wondered if we had gone mad.

And if all that wasn't enough, the outgoing Joker presided over the worst global financial collapse since the Great Depression.

So, yeah, at precisely 11:00pm ET on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. And the 66 million people who voted for him won it, too. By the time he took the stage at midnight ET in the Grant Park Historic Hippie Battlefield in downtown Chicago, billions of people around the globe were already breathing a huge sigh of relief. It was as if, in that instant, one man did bring the promise of peace to the world -- and most were ready to go wherever he wanted to go to achieve that end. Never before had the election of one man made every other nation feel like they had won, too. When you've got billions of people ready, willing and able to join a cause like this, well, a prize in Oslo is the least that you deserve.

One other thought. The Peace Prize historically has been given to those who have worked to throw off the yoke of racial discrimination and segregation (Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu). I think the Nobel committee, in awarding Obama the prize, was also rewarding the fact that something profound had happened in a nation that was founded on racial genocide, built on racist slavery, and held back for a hundred-plus years by vestiges of hateful bigotry (which can still be found on display at teabagger rallies and daily talk radio). The fact that this one man could cause this seismic historical event to occur -- and to do so with such grace and humility, never succumbing to the bait, but still not backing down (yes, he asked to be sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama"!) -- is more than reason enough he should be in Oslo to meet the King on December 10. Maybe he could take us along with him. 'Cause I also suspect the Nobel committee was tipping its hat to all of us -- we, the American people, had conquered some of our racism and did the truly unexpected. After seeing searing images of our black fellow citizens left to drown in New Orleans -- and poor whites seeing their own treated no better than the black man they had been raised to hate -- we had all seen enough. It was time for change. (end of quote)


So, in response, I wrote today to congratulate President Obama on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, but I also encouraged him in specific ways to continue his hard work, to be a staunch advocate for peace as his administration considers difficult choices, especially regarding:

-- the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
-- how diplomacy can resolve tensions with Iran and North Korea through dialogue better than through military threats,
-- a distorted federal budget that devotes more money to weapons and war and less to families struggling to get by in this economic crisis, and
-- how to go beyond a limited arms control measure to create the nuclear-free future that Obama has already been strongly articulating.

I encourage all my friends to take a similar initiative -- to congratulate him, but to also share your own concerns about peace issues. If you would like to follow through on this opportunity, simply click on this link to a letter American Friends Service Committee has prepared online and which you can modify and personalize right here or, alternatively, utilize the international site of the campaign sponsored by Avvaz.


Wednesday 7 October 2009

Meditation on a Bone

Jim Barr, our pastoral team leader at the Canberra Baptist Church, introduced me to this striking poem during the conversation Carole Anne and I had with him over lunch on Sunday at the Iron Bark Restaurant - after being officially received as church members at CBC earlier that morning. (Now we are dually affiliated with the Baptists in Australia and the Mennonites in North America!)

Meditation on a Bone - by A.D. Hope

A piece of bone, found at Trondhjem in 1901, with the following runic inscription (about A.D. 1050) cut on it: "I loved her as a maiden; I will not trouble Erlend's detestable wife; better she should be a widow."

Words scored upon a bone,
Scratched in despair or rage --
Nine hundred years have gone;
Now, in another age,
They burn with passion on
A scholar's tranquil page.

The scholar takes his pen
And turns the bone about,
And writes those words again.
Once more they seethe and shout
And through a human brain
Undying hate rings out.

"I loved her when a maid;
I loathe and love the wife
That warms another's bed:
Let him beware his life!"
The scholar's hand is stayed;
His pen becomes a knife

To grave in living bone
The fierce archaic cry.
He sits and reads his own
Dull sum of misery.
A thousand years have flown
Before that ink is dry.

And, in a foreign tongue,
A man, who is not he,
Reads and his heart is wrung
This ancient grief to see,
And thinks: When I am dung,
What bone shall speak for me?


He sure had a bone to pick!

But the poem does pose a great question...

I wonder if my own thoughts and words - and occasional "deep grief" reflections, mostly saved in ethereal cyberspace at this point - will be around very long after I'm dead and gone?

Quite possibly, unless I do something about it, my "stuff" will all simply evaporate like ether - perhaps after only a few years much less a hundred or a thousand - overtaken by advancing technology and forgotten...or not?

What sort of legacy do I want to leave?


Friday 2 October 2009


I can always count on feeling either fascinated, intrigued or surprised by my Chicago-based daughter's stimulating writing, artistically illustrated with a well-crafted absorbing image or two (or three or four) she carefully selects from the many which document her life in the big city - and occasional adventures outside of it.

Megan frames her blog around the theme "Daily Pictures of Happiness!"

Though it's not quite daily anymore, due to her busy schedule as an art director, this proud papa experiences it like being offered a peek at her diary - a visual version of what we sometimes shared around the dinner table when she was young: "What was the best thing that happened to you today?"

Though I know, of course, she's not personally composing her posts for me, they are indeed quite personal, and at times emotionally evocative -- illustrative of what a very good blog can be. (Biased? Nooooo, not me!)

I'm simply proud of her, and very grateful to be getting such wonderful updates about her life half a world away, and be among a growing number of her followers over at MegaGood.