Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Hospital Chapel: 30 Minutes

Today I spent thirty minutes--praying, memorizing, and reciting Scripture--in a hospital chapel. It was small, seating about thirty people. It was empty, and remained so the entire time I was there. To the left and right of a large nature photograph (no Cross was in sight) were the mission and value statements of the hospital, neither of which mentioned God, the Bible, or the soul. I could find no Bibles. It was clean. It appeared to be new or seldom used (or both). There was a small, modest, but attractive lectern in the left corner. I wondered who said what and when. (Most every time I see a lectern or pulpit, I imagine myself speaking there.)

I sat for about ten minutes, praying about a doctor's appointment going on upstairs, seeking God for divine newness and restoration and illumination. I later knelt for the rest of the time. (There were no kneelers.)

It was somewhat quiet, but the sounds of the hospital intruded a bit. It was not the hub of the hospital, but the on the margins, it seemed, humanly speaking. One could read a long list of doctor's offices near the entrance of the hospital, but there was nothing on the chapel that I could see. But someone at the information desk knew where it was.

Later this struck me: A hospital is a place of illness seeking healing, a place of fear seeking consolation, a place where death can become more real, a place fear and darkness in many ways. Yes, one can pray anywhere--and one should (1 Thesalanions 5:17). Yet how often and how biblically do people pray--together or separately--in this small place? I do not know; but given its diminutive size and pristine appearance, I wonder if it is neglected, if prayer itself is neglected, if the Great Physician is ignored in favor of the MDs...

Many years ago, I occasionally prayed in the large chapel of a hospital near the University of Oregon-Eugene campus (Sacred Heart). After the expansion and renovation of campus, the chapel was scrapped and replaced by a small room. Archetecture speaks.


Abu Daoud said...

This is especially ironic when one considers the origins of what are now called hospitals. Their very existence is intertwined with Christianity and Christian piety: the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the command to look after the least of these, the exortation to hospitality, and Catholic religious orders.

D. A. Armstrong said...

Wow, I feel almost lucky about our local hospital. It is a Catholic Hospital and there is no way it will lose the chapel any time soon. The chapel has mass everyday and one of the local priests is there every morning. I stepped in the chapel a few weeks ago, when my wife was in the hospital related to some pregnancy complications.

I think there are two reasons why chapel's don't seemed to be used.

1. The modern Christian naturalist worldview. I talk to many Christians who say they believe in prayer, miracles and the supernatural, but their actions are not consistent with their beliefs.

2. Formal prayer is unheard of in so many churches. It's the idea that prayer is just a conversation with God and God is my best friend. So I can talk to him in the car, just as well as in the chapel.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


You are right on target. May God have mercy and renew his works in our day, showing a sign of his goodness.

Robert Velarde said...

Good point, d. a. Your comment reminded me of a quote from Harold Netland's book Encountering Religious Pluralism: "Too often Western Christians have adopted a functional naturalism that, while theoretically acknowledging the supernatural dimension, in practice ignores it" (p. 337).

Jeff S. said...

I could not tell from your post if you were at the hospital for any reason other than visiting your chapel. That being said, I have found some of my most meaningful prayer times are when I purposely get up and go somewhere to do it. There is something to be said of the small pilgrimage to seek out a quiet place, a chapel, a retreat center, etc. that heightens the depth of prayer.