As human knowledge has grown, we have come to know the immensity of the universe. The universe is big and we human beings can seem infinitesimally small. The hurting in the world, our community, and our families seems huge, and we can feel as though there is little we can do. There's so much that needs care and compassion, so much pain and suffering, and so much hurting and injustice.
It's a lot to wrap our brains around, to think about, to try to understand and work to solve. It's a lot for our hearts to feel, to keep open and sensitive and responding. It's a lot for our hands to try to do. It's more than any of us can do on our own.
How do we keep ourselves from being overwhelmed? How do we keep our spirits from sinking into the pain and staying there? How do we keep ourselves going? How do we link with others in our efforts?
Ritual can be a powerful tool for raising our spirits and building our capacity for compassion. A story from one of our congregations offers an example; The Rev. Jurgen Schwing is an ordained United Church of Christ minister who is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley in California. He works at a nearby hospital, where members of the congregation also volunteer, offering spiritual care to patients. As they worked with patients, they noticed something: the patients and their families weren't the only ones needing spiritual care. The hospital's doctors, nurses, social workers, and other health care staff were often looking weary and stretched. Rev. Schwing could see how the constant care of patients was draining the staff, both emotionally and spiritually. He talked with the Unitarian Universalist volunteers and decided to offer a ritual for the staff: a ritual blessing of their hands.
It is a secular hospital. Many of the staff have no religious affiliation. The hospital administration initially had concerns about having a "blessing of the hands," even if it was designed to be both voluntary and interfaith. But they gave their consent, mostly because they didn't want to un-invite the clergy and volunteers whom Rev. Schwing had already invited!
The team thought thirty or forty participants might come to the ritual. Yet, when the day came, one hundred fifty nurses, doctors, and other staff lined up to receive a blessing of their hands.
Each participant was invited into the meditation room, where a member of the team spoke to them. "What is your name?" "What is your role in the hospital?" "May I hold and bless your hands?" The team member then held their hands and spoke words of blessing created for that individual.
For example, a phlebotomist, who takes a patient's blood, received this blessing:
Susan, may your hands be blessed. May they be calm and steady. May you be able to induce confidence in the people you serve. May you provide great health care, and may you also share of your heart and of your compassion. May your work contribute to the detection of diseases and in this way contribute to health.
Susan, may those who come here for healing be touched not just by your work, but by your being. May you find wholeness, and may you go home at the end of each day feeling blessed and feeling that you have contributed to the healing of the world.
Since that first day, Rev. Schwing, his staff, and volunteers have offered thousands of those blessings. Hospital staff arrive stressed out, with jaws set, and very much in "work mode." By the end of the blessing, there are tears or smiles or both. The staff are renewed, strengthened, and ready to bless their patients with attentive and compassionate care.