Holding Space for Truth to Bloom
Content Warning: This reflection refers to the loss of an infant.
There is a moment—a moment when all eyes turn to you: the minister, the lawyer, the teacher, the surgeon. It will happen thousands of times in a career. Years in, I surely can’t count how many. But no one forgets first time: the first argument in court, the first class, the first cut. There is a moment after all the training and practice when we have to move out of the abstract and put what we’ve studied into concrete action.
The wee hours of the morning were dark and still when I was awakened by the jarring and incessant beep. It was the very first page of my very first overnight on call as a hospital chaplain. I composed myself quickly and made my way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where a set of prematurely born twin girls had been living for several months.
One of the girls had taken a turn; she was not expected to survive the night. Medical staff rushed back and forth, trying everything they knew to keep her alive. Eventually, it was time; there was nothing more they could do medically. The baby was wrapped in a soft blanket, a rocking chair moved out of a corner. Mom and dad wept and cradled her as she slowly faded away. All I could do was watch and pray: I had no medical expertise, and the family was tangled in that faraway place of shock and grief.
After a while, the parents handed their little girl back to the nurse, who reverently placed her back in the bassinet and wheeled it over to her sister’s side, arms waving and legs kicking energetically. “They should be together for this,” she said, to nobody in particular. Slowly, everyone on the unit circled around the two sisters, their parents, and me. Everyone had a hand gently touching someone else. It was silent, save the distant beeps and trills of medical machinery.
Someone whispered to me, “Can you pray?” All eyes turned to me.
I had no earthly clue what to say. It was a profound gut-level panic, the knowledge that nothing I could say could alleviate the indescribable wrench of losing a child, a patient, a sibling. It all came down to a single empty moment of inexplicable loss.
There is a moment. For me, it was the moment I learned to tell the truth. A space opened in my heart and in the room, and the light of truth shone in. “Lord, we are lost,” I prayed. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t bring her back. I couldn’t do anything but name the pain and hold space for it. I don’t remember anything else that I said that night, but what I learned in that moment has remained the foundation of my ministry: To name and hold space. To speak the truth as best I understand it, and to hold space for it to bloom.
Holy One we call by many names, and sometimes by no name at all, surround us with love and compassion, with comfort and strength. Remind us that there is no place we can go that you have not already been. May we speak your truth when we are called. Amen, and blessed be.