Advent Devotion: December 25
The Memory of a Song
Read Colossians 3:16
A number of years ago I enrolled in a chaplaincy program with a hospital in Chattanooga, and during my time there I worked closely with a pastoral care supervisor named Keith. Keith turned out to be a mentor and a friend who had a large and lasting influence upon my life.
One day the chaplains were discussing the difficulties of serving individuals suffering from dementia, and Keith told us about an experience he'd recently had. He had visited a nursing home where he encountered an older lady who had Alzheimer's Disease. This lady was seated in a wheelchair in the common area of the nursing home, but it had been a while since she had spoken with anyone.
Keith tried to talk to her, but he knew before he started that the effort was in vain. And finding this lady altogether unresponsive to his presence, Keith wondered what to do next. Was there any point in being there? Should he simply give up and move on, and check this woman's name off the list of people he had to visit? Keith didn't want to rush off. He wanted to be present, even if his presence seemed to make no difference. He settled in next to this lady, and after a few moments he began softly to sing a Christmas song.
"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright?" Keith is a person who loves to sing. Among other roles he plays, he is an Elvis impersonator. But he was completely surprised when he realized that the voice of the person softly singing along with him was the lady he had come to visit. And not only did she sing along, her voice rose and rose, until she was singing loudly and clearly. And she sang the whole song. Those were the only words they exchanged that night, but when Keith told us that story we felt we had learned something very important about the ways we may communicate love to other human beings. Keith had gone into that place hoping against hope for the tiniest fragment of a conversation, and he had come away with a duet.
Let us not pass by too quickly when we have the opportunity to be present with another human being with whom we might connect. Do we have something of value to offer our neighbors? If we bring only our presence, our attention, and our care, then we have brought something of great value. And it may be that the person before us needs great amounts of time and energy. But it may also be that he or she only needs a smile, a hug, a listening ear, or a song.
Prayer: God of the unexpected and the unknown, during this season of waiting and expectation, as we remember Christ's advent with us and among us, we pray for eyes to perceive your grace in unexpected places, for hearts open always to your divine presence in the people and circumstances of our lives, and for a willingness to take part in the lives of others, as you have taken part in our lives. Help us to find our song in this season of Advent and Christmas. Help us to sing together with all our hearts. Amen.