Recently David, a seminary colleague, invited me as guest speaker for the upcoming Master’s Recital Seminar his students are required to attend. The Master’s Recital applies to rigorous levels of physical work and intellectual dialogue. My seminary had a performance evaluation, thesis presentation, professors’ roundtable and dialogue about the thesis, and an observation of me leading a vespers program on Friday night and leading worship on Saturday morning.
To prepare for the speaking appointment, I go through old journals and find side notes of questions and Bible searches, comments on how important every translation and transcription are. I see the confluence of my research before and during seminary. I remember.
I sit in the airplane wondering: What will it be like? There is a schedule to follow; different professors and local clergy will observe my work. Will it go as planned? The title of a book of poetry comes to mind: Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, by Adrienne Rich. “How interesting: the calls we receive to serve in mission and ministry are not always easy to accept. Sometimes there is pause, regardless of previous studies; this is where you are called to serve. So pick up the phone, because the call is for you.”
We begin the preparation for service by going through experiences and jobs that inform the challenges ahead.
In the first hour at the hospital I am paged to three patient visits: The first requested a male chaplain; the second requested a Caucasian chaplain; the third invited me in, and I had the luxury of 45 minutes with family and patient before the patient’s surgery. After the first hour the hospital becomes familiar: code blue, visiting patients and families; charting; leading spirituality groups. My mentors follow, observing. Twenty-nine hours later I have a day to rest.
The following day is full of questions. What is the social perception of my church’s mission? My understanding of its mission? Questions on Scripture and specific Bible passages; Fundamental Beliefs; my church’s definition of chaplaincy and pastoral care, and examples of how I will serve within these guidelines. Then the personal questions: How did you decide to become a chaplain? Why is volunteering not enough?
When I finish the first part of the presentation, I hear a voice from the back of David’s classroom: “You passed the Master’s Recital. How do you feel?”
As if somebody placed a heavy backpack on my shoulders and opened a door into an unknown world. Uncertain of what is packed, my immediate reaction is to check the side pockets where I always pack a small weathered Bible; once I feel it there, I walk ahead.
“I feel blessed.”
During the break David thanks me for “keeping it real,” making the pastoral-care students aware that prejudice still exists in hospitals. “I heard the phone ringing in the labyrinth, questioned my ability. After teaching in the secular universities, you know, we have seen it all.” I smile, admiring his honesty, sharing that reality.
The Holy Spirit guides us through the journey toward service. We begin the preparation for service by going through experiences and jobs that inform the challenges ahead. I believe it’s mostly part of our prayer: “Here am I. Send me!”
And He does.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.