By Elaine Chan
While I was making rounds, a nurse I know asked if I was praying for her. I said “yes.” Another nurse, overhearing, asked if I was praying for her too. “Yes,” I said. “I pray for the all the staff, the patients, their families, friends, the volunteers …” As chaplains we are often called upon to pray for others. But to sustain and nourish ourselves in our work, we also need to take time for reflection.
The day of reflection at the NACC annual conference offered a unique opportunity to pray and reflect with colleagues. This year’s event was titled “Take Twelve Today: The Art of Listening for God.” It was facilitated by Kathy Anderson and Susan Boruff, who trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington. Coincidentally, in Washington I stayed overnight with a religious sister who is currently taking an online Shalem course, so I knew something about presenters’ work on prayer and meditation in advance. The presenters encourage individuals to take 12 minutes a day in prayer. They run program of the same name, offering retreats and meditation exercises.
Ms. Anderson and Ms. Boruff began by discussing Desert Fathers such as St. John of the Cross, as well as a contemporary figure, Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist who promotes centering prayer. The facilitators led us in prayer exercises, including breath prayer and centering prayer. They also spoke about different forms of prayer, including lectio divina, guided imagery, body prayer, walking meditation, chanting meditation, and the Jesus Prayer.
The day of reflection was held at the Washington Retreat House, a well-furnished building with many comfortable and inviting rooms for prayer. Snow was gently falling, so we did not venture outside. However, during our breaks several retreat participants took pictures of the beautiful snow-covered scene outside the retreat windows.
Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, who staff the retreat house, were most hospitable. The day included an opportunity for Mass, concelebrated by one of the participants; others served as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. During Mass we were introduced to an amazing Yamaha piano with prerecorded music on a thumb drive. A Franciscan sister played along with the music from the piano. She told us that this feature is most useful when there is no pianist for a service.
The day was a good reminder of the need for silence and prayer and the different forms of prayer. It gave chaplains an opportunity to meet and interact in a relaxed setting and in a smaller group than the larger conference. We had an hour of free time, as well as frequent breaks. These times gave participants an opportunity for individual prayer and relaxation as well as getting to know each other. One participant told me that the free time was his favorite part of the day. Another told me that she did not feel the retreat offered any new information but nevertheless appreciated the opportunity to be in prayer.
At the end of the workshop the facilitators challenged us to take time in our day for prayer, choose a type of prayer that we are comfortable with, and decide on where and when as well as how long one wants to pray. Prayer is as essential as breathing. Taking time for prayer, aside from what we do in our professional capacity, gives us an opportunity to recharge and connect with God, ourselves, and others.
Elaine Chan, BCC, is a chaplain in Queens, NY.