At the hospital where I delivered my second child, they had a practice of allowing the spouse or supporting person of the mother push a button that would play a tinkling song throughout the hospital marking the birth of a child. The practice has many wonderful implications. One, it makes room for joy – joy that can be experienced throughout the whole hospital community. For those of you who have spent much time in hospitals, you know joy can be lacking. Two, it creates a sense of mutuality between the birthing mother and her support team. When the mom is doing most of the hard labor, it is nice to have tangible ways for the supporting team to participate. Three, it creates little moments of celebration for the hospital staff – something they need too when bogged down with the work of health care.
But what felt like a wonderful, life-giving gift as I was delivering has taken on new layers of meaning as a pastor who visits hospitals. More often than not, I have heard that song played while sitting with someone with a serious illness or who is approaching death. The sense of irony about the circle of life is never lost on me, the patient, or their family. It still feels like a gift, but a bittersweet one nonetheless. I have also wondered what that song does for women and men in the hospital who have struggled with infertility or who have just lost a child. That song represents so many unfulfilled dreams and heartache.
That being said, I do not think the disadvantages of the song outnumber the advantages. I think the song actually does for everyday people what those in healthcare and pastoral care experience everyday – the thin spaces between life and death. I cannot tell you the number of times when I have experienced life and death in a matter of days, hours, or minutes. I have written about that here. In a given week, I can hear the tinkling song while I sit at the bedside of a dying parishioner. In a given day, I can hear elementary children playing and laughing, and then sit with a family member who needs a good cry. In a given span of hours, I can bury a parishioner and then counsel a parishioner who is burying a marriage, birthing new love, or celebrating a new beginning. This work is such that life and death are thinly separated.
The consequence of that thin space is that I get regular reminders of the enormity of God’s presence. If I find the experience of celebrating life and watching life pass away in a matter of minutes, how much more infinitely does God experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the human experience. The God who created us and the world about us and called it good, and yet stood by as we sullied that creation has seen much. The God who took on human form to experience for God’s self the complexity of the human experience knows much. The God who breathes through life, death, and vocation in between feels much. As we celebrate Trinity Sunday this weekend, I wonder how your appreciation of the three-in-one Godhead might help you appreciate both the promise that God is with us always, but also help you name God with us always for others.