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From Summer 2007 Issue

Swallowing One’s Own Words; Or A Taste Of Ones Own Medicine!

Hip replacement operations are very common these days and, thankfully, they are generally very successful. Well, such a major operation was experienced by myself when I was a patient in Abergele Hospital this July. It has also been said with some justification that hospital staff are themselves, frequently, the most anxious of patients; and as one whose past ministry has very largely been spent around hospital wards, I was no exception.

Indeed, over many years, I had accumulated quite a few positive phrases which I used to dish out first in St. Luke’s General and Psychiatric Hospital in Huddersfield and then, much later as a Senior Chaplain for the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney. Indeed, I would pray and remind patients that good can come out of evil, that sunshine can come out of suffering, and – the most frequent saying of all! – God does not will it, but temporally allows it that we end up on our backs so as to be able to look up to Him! Yes, upset for a time to be set up for eternity!

Well, the night before my operation I realized that I must swallow my own words which were never offered glibly though they might have appeared that way. So – it was no use sweating and turning! The evening was a most pleasant one and I have always felt the closeness of God while walking along hospital wards and corridors late on at night. Words of S. Baring-Gould’s hymn came to my mind: “Comfort every sufferer lying late in pain” yes, and another verse as well; “Jesus give the weary calm and sweet repose, with Thy tenderest blessing may their eyelids close”. Indeed, as yet other verses of hymns flooded into my soul from past memory it began to appear as if there was a tremendous sense of illumination all over. Yes, and not least when I walked near the woods outside.

Indeed, to those of you familiar with such an ethereal setting as Abergele Hospital you will appreciate the calmness I felt on that late summer evening where wildlife is so close, and in the words of the same hymn, “Birds and beasts and flowers soon will be asleep”. But then for some reason I couldn’t understand, a section of scripture kept coming back to me. The words were those attributed to David before the temple in Jerusalem was built: “I have loved O Lord the beauty of Thy House and the Place where Thy glory dwelleth”.

Well, I thought, the outside of the hospital chapel nearby, might do well with a few buckets of paint, and the interior is hardly – with all the best will in the world - a place of beauty, so I made my way back in the late peacefulness of the night and prepared myself for the surgeon’s knife, as well as the anaesthetist’s epidural, to occur first thing the next day.

Indeed, on being wheeled down to the theatre I suddenly found myself overcome with deep emotion. The assurance from so many who had previously assured me of their prayers was somehow reflected through the members of staff whom I passed on my way down. Indeed, the wards and corridors appeared spiritually aglow and recollections of words on an illuminous gift box of the war years flooded my soul: “Put me in the light all day and I will shine for you all night”. Yes, if you put Jesus in full light as your Lord in the day, when darkness comes He’ll never forget you! ‘He’ is true to His word.
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And then, the final recollection of consciousness followed; on being manoeuvred into the theatre itself I was aware of genuine folk who were true and humble people of heart. “Do you mind sitting up forward so that our friend the anaesthetist can put the needle into your back?” asked a gentle lady. Well, I must admit I didn’t fancy the idea, and said quite humorously, that as a past Chaplain I’ve been telling people that the Almighty allows us to get low that we might look up to Him, that now its happening to me I sense I’m quite a coward at heart! It was then the words from this sweet lady, were to the effect that the blessings I had given out to others were now flooding back this hour to bless me! Then an icy cold spray was felt on my back - enough to make one jump out of the trolley! - and then she smiled and said in utter sincerity “God Bless You”. ‘He did’, and I entered the Land of Nod.

Indeed to ‘come round’ with such a dedicated staff caring for one’s every need – and nothing too crudely basic being any trouble for them! – brought me to realise that the quotation of scripture which had kept coming to me on the previous night was not
referring to some hospital chapel adjacent but rather to the very staff themselves. Yes, inflated hierarchic structures of past chaplaincy memory from the 1970’s and 80’s - which I’d known only too well - were clearly absent in Abergele. There were no inflated egoists of western tradition instilling fear into patients, as well as giving staff nightmares through self assuming the role of God! On the contrary, from the most gracious of senior consultants to the humblest of orderlies I sensed a mutual respect: a loving spirit that was confirmed in my mind by an awareness of the numinous which, as a Christian, I chose to call the radiance and blessing of God the Holy Spirit.

Members of other Faiths have, of course, every right to chose a different terminology. I only know that wise men once came from the East in quest of spiritual illumination concerning the Christ child: and I believe they are still as curious today, and amongst their gifts to the western world are those of compassion, courtesy and humility which our western medical heritage has so frequently abysmally lacked to its shame. As the world shrinks, I love the words of a hymn by the spiritually perceptive yet physically blind George Mathieson: “Gather us in thou love that gatherest all; gather our rival Faiths within thy fold” Indeed, I chose it at my first ordination into the Christian Ministry in 1964, loving its universalism. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but appreciate it when in the late evening hour two fellow patients opposite me in Ward 8 began to sing “One day at a time sweet Jesus, is all I’m asking of You”. Yes, and then four or five hymns followed, some in the euphoria and language of “God’s own country”.

Abergele Hospital is, undoubtedly, proud of its Welsh heritage; and to awaken in the early morning with the greeting of ‘Bore da’ and offers of ‘Paned o de’ was, I sense, the final cherry on the cake. Like many more who cross over its illuminated bridge and enter it’s ethereal setting I will never forget this haven, and all who have been making it what it has become today. Of such a spot I can truly say: ‘I have loved O Lord the habitation of Thy House and the place where Thy Glory Dwelleth’. (Psalm 26 v8).


P.S: I wish to thank all those many well-wishers who either contacted Doreen to enquire about me, or who sent me a ‘get well’ card while I was in hospital. You changed what could have been a most arduous experience in to a blessed one; and I am forever grateful.

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