One of my biggest tasks when I was working as a chaplain in the hospital was to hold space. The hospital is a place a efficiency; the hospital room is not designed for comfort not for a long term stay. Conversations that happen in a hospital are also efficiency driven, as they should be. When a nurse or a tech comes in to draw labs, they don’t begin with small talk or pleastries, nor do they feel the need to know who the patient is before they draw blood or check the IV drip. This is, of course, necessary to the function of a hospital, but the gift of the chaplain’s role in the hospital is that you get to help hold space.
As a chaplain, you do not serve an immediate role, your purpose is not transactional like many roles in a hospital staff. At my hospital in Texas we had a system in place for immediate, but not life threatening events. If a patient fell or had a severe drop in blood pressure a Rapid Response was called, and a rush of hospital staff came from all areas of the hospital: the lab sent a tech, someone in red scrubs arrived with an EKG machine, one of the ER docs would come, respiratory health, etc., etc., etc. It was always a lot of people, but there would also always be a chaplain. Our work in that moment of crisis was not to help in the immediate crux of the concern, but to be a calm presence in a frenzy of action and to hold space for the reality that life goes on.
We chaplains hold space, we acknowledge that sometimes you need to take a beat even as life marches on. To be able to hold this space is a gift; it seems to be a combination of practice and God-given ability to be non-anxious when everything around is leaning into the anxiety that saturates big transitions. This space is metaphorical, of course; it is sitting quietly in prayer for 20 seconds or for 20 minutes. Holding this space is sacred because it is in this space that we have to acknowledge that life is fragile and lovely and painful and beautiful, somehow all at the same time. Holding this space is sacred because it is a privilege to sit with people in the in between times; it is a gift to get to quietly acknowledge that we are somehow both stronger and weaker than we previously thought possible.
I’m learning that being a campus chaplain provides a similar opportunity to hold a sacred space. It is different than holding it as a hospital chaplain, but sacred nonetheless. It is sacred to hold this space with our students because, just as in the hospital room, life changes in some big and unexpected ways, and in these moments each of us needs someone or something to help us to hold this space. We need someone who helps us realize that our quiet moments are sacred opportunities to catch a glimpse of who God may be calling and shaping us to be.