If you or a loved one has ever faced any medical issues that landed you in the hospital, you’ll know what a trying time that can be. But one of the people who can bring spiritual comfort in that situation is a healthcare chaplain who offers prayers, guidance, or the willingness to listen.
Marianne Sailus has served as an interfaith health care chaplain for more than two decades, and she joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below) to discuss her work, as well as her latest book “Paschal Ponderings: Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles.”
“I had been a hospital patient,” recalled Marianne about how the seeds of her career were planted, “in and out of hospitals for 26 years of my life due to uncontrollable epilepsy from which the Lord cured me on the operating table in 1994. And thanks be to God, I never had a seizure from that day forward. My background was already in theology, and I just felt called to being at the bedside of others who were struggling.”
One of the first patients Marianne ever visited as a chaplain was a Christian. Since that was Marianne’s personal faith – she is a Ukranian Byzantine Catholic with Roman Catholic roots – she felt comfortable with how it went and a little prideful as a result. The next day, she visited with a Hindu patient and admitted, “I choked.” Marianne’s response was, “Okay Lord, you’re teaching me a lesson: humility is very important.” The experience led her to start praying the Litany of Humility.
Since those early days, Marianne has been a comfort and guide to many people from all walks of life, so she’s learned how to read the situation and what approach is best to take. Sometimes, there are no words that will help, so in those cases she practices a ministry of presence, of “being that person who’s showing Christ’s love to the person by the touching of a hand, the humming of a hymn. That sometimes is just enough. Other times, you need to share some words of encouragement, some words of faith. Especially if the person is a person of faith, they want to hear the Lord’s words on how to deal with that situation. One of my favorite passages that I share is from the gospel of St. Mark, where Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus. And when everybody tells Jesus, ‘Don’t bother the master any further, the little girl is dead,’ in the new American Bible, Jesus’s answer is translated this way and I love it: ‘Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.’ That became my motto.”
As an interfaith chaplain, Marianne has been trained to connect with any patient, even those who don’t follow a specific faith tradition. She points out, “We all have a spirituality and that person might find their spirituality through something else. It might be through nature [or] music [or] photography, whatever. But somehow or another, it gets them to that center point of their life that helps to ground them and helps to support them…We try to reach people wherever they are, not where we are.”
One of the focuses in Marianne’s latest book of reflections “Paschal Ponderings” is the resurrection of Jesus, a topic she often addresses with patients at low points in their lives. She says, “It’s important to remind patients that right now they may be stuck in the Garden of Gethsemane, they may be stuck even on Calvary – or a family member may be that Mary or John beneath the cross at Calvary – but not to give up hope because in Christ there is resurrection and new life. And care and cure are two different things. Oftentimes people want cure, but sometimes God’s purpose for them is care and to make sure that they are comfortable of body, mind, and soul…When I’m with hospice patients…the patient, if they’re conscious, knows that the end is coming, the family knows that the end is coming. But that they have people there – nurses, doctors, social workers, and chaplains – who are giving support and being that hope in even what seems to be a hopeless situation is very helpful.”
Offering readers spiritual hope and help are two of Marianne’s goals with “Paschal Ponderings,” as it has been with the lover-of-alliteration’s other books, such as “Java with Jesus,” “Cappucino with Christ,” “Latte with the Lord,” and “Tea with the Theotokos.” In an online review, a reader once left the comment, “Boy, we Byzantines sure like our caffeine, don’t we?”
But just as caffeine wakes us up in our daily lives, Marianne’s work is meant to wake people up in their spiritual lives. And one of the ways she advises others to do that is by calling on the Holy Spirit.
She told me, “I believe the Holy Spirit should be a constant partner in our lives through calling down upon Him. In the Roman tradition, I know that the main prayer to the Holy Spirit that I learned was, ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love,’ et cetera. In the Eastern church, we have, ‘Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere present and fill all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stains and save souls, O Gracious One.’ So to call on the Holy Spirit with that prayer from either tradition, once a day, I think is a very helpful thing – and to ask Him to guide every action, every word, every deed of every day of our lives.”
Marianne’s hopes for those who read “Paschal Ponderings” are simple. She concludes, “As with all of my books, I’m hoping that it will draw them deeper into the sacred Scriptures and deeper into a personal relationship with the Lord…I don’t really think most people, and I say that of all people who read the Bible, really understand the beauty that is in there. That’s the word of God, and of course, Christ, we call the Logos, the Word – and that’s what it’s all about. Pick up that Bible. If you think that it’s helpful to have a book like ‘Paschal Ponderings’ or another commentary by your side, wonderful, that’s a help too. But get to know the Scriptures, get to know the Lord, the saints, the early church, get to know things better. This is a vital part of your life and the part of your life that will go on for eternity.”
(To listen to my full interview with Marianne Sailus, click on the podcast link):