Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hospitals and (Paris) Hiltons

In the wake of our classroom discussion of the 88th Psalm, one of our student chaplains commented to me about the juxtaposition of the psalmist's sense of the the intensity of his suffering and of the closeness of God to him. The student said the psalm reminded him of how immediate God's presence can feel to a person who suddenly finds his or herself in the hospital.

Reading the psalm through the eyes of a patient, we find illness compared to the experience of being in prison (verse 9). One thing that hospital patients and prisoners surely share is predilection for suddenly embracing religion. The latest "jailhouse convert" is socialite Paris Hilton. Writes the Associated Press:

"I'm not the same person I was," she said [to Barbara Walters]. "I know now that I can make a difference, that I have the power to do that. I have been thinking that I want to do different things when I am out of here. I have become much more spiritual. God has given me this new chance."

It would be easy to ridicule Hilton's sudden references to God in her public statements. And, certainly, many jailhouse converts have gone back to their previous ways soon after their release. But we should not let these disappointments make us cynical. When a patient (or prisoner) speaks to us of their faith, we owe them our trust and attention. If we believe in a God who loves God's creations and wants them to make תשובה/teshuvah (repentance, return) to God, then -- especially if we are chaplains -- we must model for the person the possibility that their faith will indeed be accepted and embraced.

May you it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that you will be a light unto others and show them the love and acceptance that will help them find their way to Torah and faith.

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