As a farmer with only four cows and a calf, I find that sitting in the tiny barn while they masticate, belch and chew cud is something that enables me to be aware of many things: especially what might be termed the pulse of creation.
Some years ago, my full-time dairy farmer neighbour was getting his cows in for milking at about 5:30 a.m. in mid-winter when he noticed that the northern lights had not simply “pulsed” but formed a dome, from the four corners of the earth, as it were. I happened to be awake and outdoors one mile away and saw the same thing. Later, we both somewhat hesitantly mentioned that thoughts about “second coming” flashed through our minds. In retrospect, I think perhaps we experienced the reality of the presence of our God already here.
Betsey and I just returned from a Christmas Day visit to the nursing home where we sang Christmas songs – lots of hymns and then the fluff (“Frosty”) as well. It struck me that one of the biggest tragedies of living in a nursing home is being cut off from the pulse of creation. House plants abound. There are occasional meals on the terrace, weather permitting. Some folks have good friends or relatives who “take them out” for a walk (a push in the wheelchair) or by car to church or to McDonald’s for coffee. There are some garden boxes for flowers and a few tomatoes and in this nursing home (unlike many retirement homes, residents are allowed to hang a bird feeder outside the window of their rooms, filled by staff members occasionally for the benefit of house sparrows and chickadees)
But they don’t get to regularly feel the wind at their backs; the humid smells of decomposing litter in the spring; the shadow of raven’s wings or a raven’s marble-in-a-tin-can rattling call. No cows belching in the barn or in the concentrated silence of the boreal forest. Instead there is the hum of fluorescent lights and the non-stop rattle of fans, air conditioners or furnace fans. Clinks from a distant kitchen, perhaps.
You are Adam
Why should you visit people in nursing homes or shut-ins in their own homes? Not because you can sing a song, read a Bible passage or bring a card, although all of those are important. You should visit because contact with you (and your dog!) is direct, unmediated contact with the creation and – therefore – the Creator of all. You are not an image on television or a voice on the radio. You are Adam and you are visiting Eve. You are Sarah visiting Abraham. Better yet: you are those three “men” visiting Abram and Sarai. Rufus, your golden retriever, intent on scouring the floor for spilled lunches, is a creature who looks back to Day Six with unfallen interest. He revels in getting and giving attention, hardly sensing a handicap but seeing human beings.
You: your hands, your voice, your smile or tears. You, your love and concern are the pulse of creation, an incarnation of the real stuff, void – if you’ll allow yourself to be revealed – of sham, artifice and distance.
My friend and rector of our Anglican parish, Wilfred Alero, comes to the nursing home when while we are singing. He offers a blessing to all the residents when we are finished singing at the end but mostly just sits with the residents. He calls this the Ministry of Presence.
Should you visit those unable to travel about freely but confined to buildings in one way or another? How can you deny them your self, your presence complete with breath and bone. How can you deny them another reminder of the Creator and Redeemer, with or without words or song?