In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ Luke 1. 39-45 (NRSV)
I have never liked hospitals. The way they smell like cleaning products and watered down gruel. I have never liked the way shoes squeak on the linoleum tile or that the hallways are cluttered with space age machines and gurneys and bed pans. Never mind the fact that the inhabitants of the hospital are sick folks, which makes the whole experience like descending into a universe of perpetual germs.
For my familiarity of hospitals, and for many other things, I blame my mother. A woman who was ever eager to visit hospitals and nursing homes and places where mentally handicapped kids lived, my mother spent most of her life loving old people or sick kids or needy friends. One year she told me why it was so important that we visit the sick and needy at Christmas.
She had married her first husband, Leonard, when they were both very young. He was in the service so they lived on the military base, away from her family and most of her friends.Not too many years into their marriage, they had learned Leonard had an inoperable brain tumor, and so, they spent many, many weeks in and out of the hospital. As if being far from family and friends at the holidays was not enough, my mother found herself preparing for widowhood, sitting over her husband who was in rapid decline when she received a call that their home had burned down and all their possessions had been lost. Broken, grieving, weary, my mother counted the hours by which her husband's life ebbed away and vowed she would never leave his side.
Difficult days to be sure, filled with darkness and the heaviness of loss, but my mother says at some point a beam of light shone into that dark hospital room where she felt so alone. She had first been aware of this light when she had been stirred by the sound of jingle bells down the hallway. She heard shoes squeaking on the linoleum and the rustle of coats and snow pants in the hallway and she heard the voices of singing children who were making their rounds to bring the good tidings of Christmas to the folks who were confined to the hospitals walls. My mother said that she had never heard voices so clear, seen faces so precious or felt an embrace that was more needed than those that the carolers offered that winter's night.
So. I grew up caroling in hospitals, taking Valentine's treats to kids in sick wards and adopting grandparents from the nursing home and therefore learning how important a visit, a song, a card, a moment of time can be to those who are in need.
Today I am a member of the clergy, and so, there are still a lot of hospitals in my life. The difference is now, I have a reserved parking space and get a free stamp on my parking ticket. What is the same is the reason I visit hospitals in the first place, I go because I believe in the gift of sharing life together, the good and glorious and the awful, unexpected and worst possible. I go because life is hard and God is near and we fellow creatures know this most profoundly as we share life together, hand in hand, through it all.
The same reason, I think, Mary visited Elizabeth, the truth of the human predicament…we need each other-- in good times and bad. We need each other to speak life into cold and lonely hearts, to sing hope into broken, weary souls. We need someone to wrap their heart and head around the dream that has come to us or the miracle for which we wait.
Expectancy isn’t a reality known only to pregnant women, though they feel this no doubt, expectancy lives in the heart of every person who is waiting, hoping, believing the dream of God for healing, wholeness, redemption or reconciliation. So go, put on your snow shoes and scarves and mittens, recruit some friends and pick up some fresh oranges at the market, and sing…sing a song of hope to the people while they wait.