I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Frank Faine’s reflection God’s invitations.
There she sat in a bright pink flowered dress, with a beige knit hat, thinning white hair underneath. Pulling over a chair beside her in the day room of her assisted living facility, I spotted the vacant smile of many of the Alzheimer’s patients I spend my days visiting as a hospice chaplain.
Making direct eye contact I introduced myself to Gertie in simple words to tell her who I was and why I had come. I then went on to explain I had spoken to Rachel, her daughter, who thought her mother would appreciate talking to someone who might possibly connect Gertie with her Jewish faith and tradition during this season of life.
“I come from a Jewish background too,” I said in a pleasant and reassuring voice. Then I asked, “Would it be all right if we talked some about being Jewish when I visit?”
I watched Gertie’s face slowly brighten like the sun coming from behind a cloud as her eyes met mine in recognition.
“Yes I would like that,” she replied in a warm quiet tone.
These simple words, her gaze suddenly became holy ground for me. A moment of God’s chesed, loving-kindness, unexpected grace, I’ve continued to ponder.
If my experience of twenty-five plus years as a chaplain, pastor and spiritual guide to folks with chronic and terminal illness has taught me anything, they have schooled me in the many ways to hold space for such folks. I have struggled, learning mostly by trial and error on how to be welcoming by getting out of the way. Often this meant opening my heart to embrace their illnesses and disabilities, along with their individual situations or circumstances, all the while holding myself, my personal identity in careful check.
Yet this encounter with Gertie began to reveal such hospitality may be incomplete. While I want to believe both my desire and my experience are sufficient for creating welcoming spaces with intention and compassion, something in Gertie’s quiet reply suggests otherwise. Her words stirred questions, unsettled my certainty.
Could they be an invitation, God’s way to beckon me to cross a threshold into a deeper sense of hospitality, one rooted in who I am, rather than my skills or my professional role as a chaplain? I wondered are they a summons to “take off my shoes” as God directed Moses as he stepped closer to behold God’s presence in the midst of the Burning Bush? As Moses drops his sandals, he uncovers his feet in an act of vulnerability and welcome to his true self, the one rooted in God revealed in that very moment.
As I continued to ponder this invitation in Gertie’s words alongside Moses shedding of his shoes as acts of hospitality, I also found myself struck by the timing of my visit with her. I don’t believe it was coincidental we had our conversation on that late August morning, just barely weeks before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. During these High Holy Day Jews everywhere enter a time for renewal and repentance of—Teshuvah— a return to the true self, the one founded on God’s lovingkindness to each and all of us. This Teshuvah calls us to embrace God’s eternal welcome to us, as we practice that same welcome to each other.
Gertie’s warm and quiet affirmation of our shared Jewish faith and heritage also confronted me with my tendency to ignore, downplay, or even push into the shadows this essential part of who I am. Here, too, I must acknowledge again this very Jesus I’ve embraced, I seek to follow was himself, first and foremost a Jew. His mission was to proclaim God’s chesed and shalom—God’s lovingkindness and peace in their fullness to all people, then and now. This message, the very Gospel which I seek to incarnate into my life and ministry rests on Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism—the wisdom of Torah and Talmud—which birthed and raised me
I’m now beginning to recognize this invitation to a deeper inner hospitality in Gertie’s gaze and words; this is Teshuvah, a return, welcoming more openly my Jewish faith and tradition as a core part of my true self. As my naked feet feel the warm soil, I remember again these words from Mark Nepo, a poet and teacher who also comes from a Jewish background, “The soil of life in which we grow speaks in a different language then we are taught in school…Truth and love and he spirit of eternity are rarely foreseeable, and clarity of being rarely comes through words.” (The Book of Awakening, page 274)
Here, too, as I take the risk with these same naked feet to tread onto such sacred ground hallowed by inner hospitality and Teshuvah, St Benedict whispers, “Frank as you welcome Gertie, you welcome yourself.” In that moment we hear, as Moses did, God’s eternal I AM, and together Gertie and I may listen again to our true selves boldly speak.
And we rejoice.
Frank Faine is a hospice chaplain, spiritual guide, and labyrinth facilitator and writer living in Orlando, FL In addition he leads groups and retreats on men’s spirituality. Frank is also completing a forthcoming poetic memoir entitled “A Fierce Tenderness: A Gay Man’s Journey into the Authentic Masculine”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org