I was as unprepared as any of us ever are; I was as prepared as all of us are. A seminarian doing CPE, serving the sick, the dying, the struggling.
In CPE, sometimes you stumble across people who needs you and sometimes someone (usually a nurse) will page you for a patient. I don’t remember how I wound up sitting up with one woman. But I remember her.
I remember her story and her tears. I remember the depth of her insanely tragic grief. Of the loss so huge it consumed both of us.
And so I sat there with this woman, held her hand, prayed with her, and prayed silently for the words I needed, she needed. I sat, I listened, I prayed.
I don’t know if my faith, my presence helped her, but I know that her grief, her impossible, tragic grief leached into my life. When I hear similar stories, I remember her, I remember that grief, and I still mourn. I mourn, for her and for all loss like hers. For all grief too big for words.
And I remember. I remember the nurse’s note that she left the Hospital happy. I remember the words that did come, informed by study but inspired by the Holy Spirit, when I was asked how God fit into all of this.
“I find it comforting that the God who sits in Heaven walked on this earth as Jesus and had dusty feet, stubbed toes, and knew suffering. And that the Jesus who walked on this earth sits in Heaven.”
It was the first time that I had been asked to express complex theology on the spot, for someone who needed An Answer, not a conversation or a “let’s have coffee later and talk.” It was one of the first times I saw, raw and up close, that theology matters. Understanding Jesus’ relationship to us, suffering, and God made a difference.
That answer, my answer, might not be The Answer, your answer. It isn’t perfectly parsed out with every term defined for theologians; it doesn’t address the how of the mystery. But for me, and I pray for the woman I was talking to, it brought theology into the grief, made God explicitly present in that room with us.