A few days ago I picked up a minister-friend of mine in my car and we drove together to a local hospital where she has been part of a rotating group of clergy who do a regular spirituality group in the mental health ward. Together we spent the better part of an hour with some of the people who are patients there, talking with them about life and God and spirituality and whatever else entered the picture. We read a couple of psalms together (100 and 121, for those who are curious -- and I sang the first few verses of psalm 121 in Hebrew, which seemed to go over well.) In coming weeks, I'll enter the regular rotation, and will probably lead this spirituality group once a month or so.
I'm so glad to be doing this. I've missed hospital ministry. And while I know that if I were a fulltime chaplain I would miss leading liturgical davenen, and I would miss the experience of working with people with whom I can develop long and deep relationships, this feels like the perfect balance: a congregational rabbinate, some time for my child and my writing life, and a regular periodic dip into hospital work again.
There's something about hospital ministry which lifts me out of myself, more than any other kind of pastoral work tends to do. That feels like a funny reason to offer for my love of hospital work; surely the work matters because of what it is, not because of the impact it has on me and my own spiritual and emotional life! But all the work I do shapes my life, on all levels and in all worlds, and I've found that hospital chaplaincy work (of whatever form) tends to uplift me. Even when the work brings me into contact with tragedy. There's something about being able to be there for people in moments of extremis which helps me put my own narrative and my own stuff into perspective. I almost always come away from the work feeling changed.
I'm especially glad to be ministering to those in the mental health wing of the hospital. Longtime readers know that I wrestled with postpartum depression after Drew was born. I also have dear friends who have been hospitalized for mental health reasons, and in my extended family there are people who have suffered from mental illness, too. This doesn't make me unique -- far from it. Pretty much every family is touched by mental illness somewhere. I'm glad to have an opportunity to care for people who are struggling with mental illness -- even if it's just a single spirituality group meeting once a month.