© Imelda Maurer, cdp August 19, 2015
The Pioneer Network, on its Facebook Page, posted an article this morning from McKnight’s online publication. The article is entitled “Spirituality in long-term care” by Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D. Pioneer Network asked if there were any comments. Oh, yes, I have a comment!
Dr. El, as this PhD. psychologist refers to herself, gleaned from Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” the message that the question of the negative events of our life should be not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” Dr. El uses this insight to “help people come to terms with their experiences.” “Come to terms”----hmmm --- Does that mean I should accept my situation without any positive expectations? I’ve seen this attitude of ‘coming to terms’ addressed by priests and other ministers who advise elders in nursing homes to practice patience when they have to wait endlessly for their call bell to be answered. I wonder if that minister, before s/he leaves the building, addresses the issue of call bells not being answered promptly. Or is the message that is implicitly implied, as those of us in the Catholic tradition used to hear so often years ago: Just “offer it up.”
Another “spiritual aspect of long-term care” according to Dr. El is “the need to cope with the rules and regulations of an institutional environment.” The task, she says, is to “stay serene in the face of these challenges.” Another example of ‘just offer it up.’ The prior question, however, must be asked: WHY are elders forced to live in an institutional environment?
Many years ago I gained an insight about this “offer it up” message. I heard a zealous Jesuit priest in New Orleans say that as religious with a vow of Poverty, we should live like poor people. That included, he said, using the services of Charity Hospital when medical services are required, just like poor people are forced to do by necessity. I took the words seriously and when a minor incident prompted my need for emergency care not long thereafter I went to Charity Hospital Emergency Room in Lafayette. It was late afternoon on a Saturday. The only details I remember are seeing the large number of people coming in with all sorts of emergencies. I remember waiting for hours in the large waiting room with so many obviously poor and overwrought families. I left Charity Hospital with a new insight: my role is not to endure Charity Hospital services, but to work to change the system so that no one has to endure those conditions. I must work for the presence of conditions that honor my and every other person’s dignity and rights. After all, this is what God wants for each of us. Such scenarios reflect the Kingdom of God among us. This is what we work for, the presence and lived experience of all that God wants for each of us.
Sister Carol Zinn, in her Presidential Address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 2014 spoke of precisely these kinds of issues and conditions using a stirring metaphor: God's wish for all that is good for us as the music that is in God’s Heart. Carol noted many ‘lamentations’ in today’s world: war, poverty, hunger, persecution. And she repeatedly asked: “Are we standing in the lamentations singing the music that is in the Heart of God?”
The lamentations of our elders who live in institutions are so obvious: task and schedule taking priority over person-centered living; resultant boredom, depression, withdrawal, loss of self. Many of these losses are due to the effects of ageism throughout our society. Ageism which is so deep and so pervasive that we – even many of us dedicated to aging services – succumb to its lethal consequences to our elders and our staff. We wear blinders so close to our eyes that we fail to imagine there may be another way to serve our elders.
Our task is not to tell our staff and elders, in effect, “offer it up.” We are impelled to change the system, to bring forth the Kingdom of God among us. More beautifully stated by Sister Carol Zinn, we are called to stand in these lamentations and sing the music that is in God’s Heart.
Let us sing! With loud, determined and persistent voice, with courageous and compassionate hearts!