By The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
[Canon Gerns, rector at Trinity Easton, was invited to speak to the volunteer clergy, volunteer chaplains and lay pastoral visitors and office volunteers of the pastoral care program at Easton Hospital at their pastoral care week luncheon today. This is his talk. Also present were community clergy, hospital senior and middle management. Easton Hospital is the only (explicitly) for-profit hospital in the Lehigh Valley.]
I have 166 friends, according to Facebook. I mention this to say we live in a culture that aches for connection and will do just about anything to connect.
Facebook allows me to have some connection –– many fleeting, some fun, a few intense –– with people around the globe. Depending on how a person uses this social network, I can know their little peeves. (One fellow said this morning that he wished that people knew about ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’ There is no doubt a story behind that!) or their trials (A woman asks for prayers for her husband) and their whimsy (Someone else just poked me and my niece in Vermont just threw a sheep at me). We are every bit as creative in finding ways to build connection (not all of them healthy) as we are in building protective walls and safe distances.
All of us embody the contradiction of “come closer” and “stay away.” Very few of us keep our balance. We can be like Ebenezer Scrooge who, before his conversion, was described by Dickens as a man whose very mannerism telegraphed to strangers and even dogs: “keep your distance.” Literature ancient and modern describes the pitfalls of uncontrolled intimacy. We need and crave connection, and spend a lifetime learning how to navigate it.
It’s easy to see why. Connection brings intimacy and relationships, our sense of self, dignity of life, purpose in living, meaning we make of and draw out of our lives. The list goes on. What Frederick Buechner once said about sex is true about our quest for connection and so for the ministry of health care: like nitro-glycerin, it can heal hearts and blow up bridges.