If It Weren’t for CHI

by Rev. Christina Baxter

April 2009

Rev. Christina Baxter

I have been blessed with an innate love of cultural diversity and excitement to learn and explore different faith traditions. What the year-long program at The Chaplaincy Institute for the Arts and Interfaith Ministries (CHI ) did was to support these inborn qualities to blossom into a passion for ministering to others as an interfaith chaplain. This program equipped me to do this work with confidence and competence.

Sacramento, California is the most culturally diverse city in the United States according to the latest U.S. Census. This is reflected in the patient and staff populations at Methodist Hospital, where I am a chaplain.

From the nine months I have had the honor of serving the patients, their families, and the staff, I could offer many examples of how CHI has equipped me to function as an effective interfaith chaplain. Please allow me to share three of these experiences with you.

Throughout CHI ’s year-long course, attention is paid to the care of the dying and their loved ones; in general and within the various faith traditions. In the course of the two Jewish modules, we learned about the rituals surrounding death and dying, sacred texts, various siddurim (prayer books), and the branches of Judaism. I used the bibliography provided to purchase books for my personal chaplain’s library.

Several months ago Melody, our Palliative Care Coordinator, paged me. One of our patients had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She was Jewish. The family was from out of town, and although they had found a Rabbi who would do the memorial service, he was unable to come to the hospital today. Was there anything I could do?

I told her I would be able to help. I made copies of The Viddui, Dayan ha-Emet blessing, and The Mourner’s Kadish. I met Melody in the patient’s room, and she introduced me to the family.

I explained that I had copies of The Viddui, The Final Confession of the dying person. If the person is unable to say it, it can be said on their behalf by family. The Viddui contains The Shema, which should be said as a person dies.

I said I would be happy to say it in their stead, or with them, or they could say it by themselves. I stressed that they should do what was most comfortable for them. I further explained that the Dayan ha-Emet blessing is said when death is witnessed.

The Mourner’s Kadish can be used in one of several ways. Some people will recite it in a minyan group; some will say it daily or weekly at synagogue, and others will use it as a form of personal prayer or meditation. I gave them copies in case they wanted to use The Kadish in personal prayers and reflections.

When I had finished with my explanations, the family asked if both Melody and I would stay and help them say The Viddui for their loved one. We both said we would be honored to stay. Shortly after saying the Viddui, it became obvious their loved one was ready to die.

We softly said The Shema. A few moments later we recited:

“Baruch ata Adonai Eloheynu melech ha-olam, dayan ha-emet.”
Holy One of Blessing, Your Presence fills creation, You are indeed the Judge.

Melody and I told the family to take as much time as they needed to say their goodbyes, and we expressed our condolences at their loss. A little while later the family came to say they were leaving. Each family member hugged us and thanked us for helping their loved one die within the traditions of their faith. They said they weren’t quite sure what they would have done had that not happened.

It would not have happened except for CHI .

The Hindu faith tradition is full of rich texture and depth. It is said there are over 333,000 Gods and Goddesses! Needless to say, we did not cover all of these in CHI ’s curriculum; however, we did learn about the major deities and favorite sacred texts.

“When the body dies, the Self does not die.”
(Katha Upanishad)

When I visit Hindu patients, I inquire about their favorite God or Goddess. I offer them pictures to put on the wall of their room where they can see it. Now they can experience God seeing them and in that act of seeing know that God cares about them and what is happening to them during their hospitalization.

Once again, CHI made this possible.

I rarely get to visit with the parents of the babies in NICU. They don’t tend to be there when I am there because most work during the day. One morning while going over the patient census, I noticed a new baby had been admitted to our NICU; the religion listed was Muslim.

To be on the safe side, I tucked a couple of items in my “portable office”. When I got to NICU later that morning, the baby’s mother was there. I recognized her as the baby’s mother because she was wearing traditional clothing: head covering, long skirt, and long-sleeved blouse.

After I introduced myself, I took two items out of my “portable office” and asked if they would be helpful to her. The first was The Opening Verse of The Qur’an, in Arabic surrounded by a floral border.

“In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,
Those whose (portion) is not wrath,
And who go not astray.”
(Sura 1, “The Fatiha” or “The Opening”, tr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

Her face lit up. She took the framed verse, held it up and kept saying, “Thank you—Thank you.”

I also offered her a CD of readings in Arabic from The Qur’an. NICU has a CD player, so the CD could be played for her baby if she would like. No, she would pass on the CD, but she was thrilled to be able to put the Al Fatah on her baby’s isolette.

“I didn’t know this sort of thing was done,” she said.

“This sort of thing” wouldn’t have been done by me, if it weren’t for CHI .