Why Riley is a Holy Place
“Please heal my brother. He is my only brother and I need him to fill my heart with love. Thank you, God.” (Prayer of a young sister or brother of a Riley patient)
Someone said to me, “I think Riley Hospital is a holy place.” She got me to thinking about children, families and care givers I have known at Riley. It occurred to me that wherever children touch our hearts, there are signs of the Sacred.
A number of years ago I met a very young patient and his father, who had come to Riley from a Middle Eastern country. This boy had a life threatening heart condition that could not be treated in his homeland. His father was a devout Muslim. He prayed regularly everyday. During my daily rounds as the hospital chaplain this gentle and faithful man would greet me by placing his hand over his heart and bowing slightly toward me. Though we were from different cultures and different spiritual traditions, his greeting became for me a blessing and a sacred encounter.
I also remember an older patient. This boy was developmentally delayed and had long hospital stays because of his chronic lung condition. One way he enjoyed life was his fascination with Bob the Builder (from the children’s television show). His nurses and respiratory therapists came up with the idea to move him to a room where he could see from his bed the construction site of the new Simon Family Tower. He loved seeing all the workers, the machines and the dirt! The construction crew learned about this young man and arranged to visit him in his room. They brought him a hard hat and took pictures with him to keep in his scrapbook. The creative compassion of all of these care givers made an amazing difference for this patient. Though this experience was more earthly than the one above, in its own way it was holy.
I remember a newborn girl. She was at Riley the first five months of her life. Because of complications in her health the family had wondered, “If she survives, will she be able to live life fully? Will she be able to give and receive love?” She finally did get well enough to go home. One day (at eight months) her parents brought her back to Riley for a checkup. As often happens, her parents brought their daughter to see the hospital team members who had taken care of her. The parents allowed different ones to hold their beautiful daughter, and I got a turn! I noticed that she was a very curious little girl. She looked seriously into my eyes; then there was the slightest hint of a grin. As my heart melted, she laid her head down on my chest – for me – another sacred moment.
There is a book of prayers (Voices from Riley) collected from the Riley Hospital Chapel. These are prayers written by and for children, families and hospital care providers. Some prayers are from parents whose children were not cured but whose faith is that their lives are cared for in the arms of a loving God. These prayers point to the Sacred, too.
I love the prayer from the sibling of one young Riley patient. “Dear Lord – Please watch over my stepsister. You’ll be hearing from me tonight, when I go to sleep. So we’ll talk later.”
Such are the signs of the Sacred at Riley.
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