People exclaim about the beauties and wonder of ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’, but perhaps it is possible to draw inspiration also from ordinary people doing . . . ordinary things.
The chapel at Middlemore Hospital has all the spiritual and aesthetic magic of an old dentist’s waiting room. It obviously has at some time been two smaller rooms that have had the dividing wall removed, it is still fairly small, has a strange low-lying sink with a tap in one corner, is painted a dull institutional hospital beige, has a few windows framed by dreary curtains giving a view out onto corrugated iron roofs.
Last Sunday morning the patients came slowly in - some in wheelchairs, some walking, some accompanied by volunteers from the local Methodist church.
The service itself - how can I describe this accurately but politely? - it was dreary.
I saw video footage once of the great Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of the Missionaries of Charity - the two great saints of the twentieth century - together in a Calcutta hospice for the dying. Everything was poor and squalid and bare and yet it glowed with the divine light of love and goodness.
Here at Middlemore I failed to see any comparable splendours. Here at Middlemore everything seemed . . . terribly ordinary.
And yet . . . and yet . . .
Were these not too the sick and the dying, was not the chaplain in that dull room in that dreary service dedicating her life to that same outpouring of love, that same divine flood of compassion that was found in the Calcutta slums? What did I know - walking in all healthy and proud - of the solace brought to hearts racked with pain and sorrow, solace brought by the smallest, most humdrum demonstration of God’s infinite compassion.
In the end I could only be honoured to be there, privileged to, in my own small way, contribute.
Some day we must take mint tea together and eat a little Turkish delight and I shall tell you the story of how my friend John and I ended up founding and leading a music group. Suffice it to say here that I find myself in the unlikely position of directing and playing harmonium for a group of singers. And now each first Sunday of the month we trek out to Middlemore Hospital and sing at the Sunday service in the chapel.
I think we add a certain dimension to the service; I think we are inspiring; people say so - but in the end we are definitely also just ordinary people doing . . . ordinary things.
Chatting with the Chaplain
Links:Out little music group is formed of members of the Auckland Sri Chinmoy Centre
and sings a small - though ever expanding - selection of Sri Chinmoy's large output of songs.