Hope in Waiting

Hope in Waiting at Evenings at the Hospital

Rick Durance, Spiritual Care Intern

As an evening shift chaplain, I see a lot of waiting. By the time I end up walking the floors, the day is almost over. Our day-time staff are busily finishing those last visits or last emails before they leave. Many of our families are packing up to return home. Even our cafeterias begin to empty out. And that leaves those of us who remain, patients who are here for the night and those who work these strange hours.

It can be disquieting or anxiety producing, this sitting amidst the unknown. And so, I see restlessness in folks trying to find something to watch, or frustration trying to settle into their beds. In such moments, just a night’s sleep can be a challenge or uncomfortable.  

Yet also I hear people’s hopes. I hear hopes for test results (maybe a cancer screening, something from a blood test taken earlier that day, or another opinion from a different doctor). I hear hopes for new medications (something that works quicker or maybe just has fewer side effects).  Sometimes, it’s just hope that tomorrow is when something changes or even brings the possibility to go home.  

And so, we wait together. It is one of the joys of my job, to be able to wait with people and witness to the fact that we are not alone, even in these moments. For we are always surrounded and supported by whether by our healing bodies, our busy doctors or nurses, and even just by our God.

Hence, I believe that this waiting, hoping, and just holding on amid all that we are going through is enough.  It is holy and blessed, even as it feels infinitely long and indescribably difficult. For as I hear from St. Paul in my Christian faith: I am convinced that nothing present or anything that may come separates us from God or each other. For God, creation, and all of those around us are here with us in this expectation and longing. It is heartening to not be alone.

It is why Lutherans pray: “God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Amen”

[Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Evening Prayer: A Simplified Form (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006)]. 

It is not an easy calling to be the ones who have to wait and hope. But God is with us, leading us and supporting us. We are not alone, no matter what may come in these evenings or even in the days to come. There is hope in waiting.

Joy is a Radical Act



“Art is a radical act. Joy is a radical act.”
—Rebecca Makkai, The World’s on Fire. Can We Still Talk About Books?

A few weeks ago, my fiancée and I re-watched the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out, where anthropomorphized emotions work together and compete to control the feelings and actions of an 11-year-old named Riley. One of the primary lessons is that unchecked “Joy” cannot by itself bring true happiness or properly prepare us for handling life’s more difficult moments. Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust all play a role in making us who we are, and we ignore those emotions at our own risk. As someone who strongly identifies with Amy Poehler’s peppy and unrelentingly optimistic “Joy” character, this message is both sobering and powerful.

However, after re-watching the movie in 2020, I was forced to wonder if our collective pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. The last six months of uncertainty and fear have been so devastating that even as a naturally jubilant person I am hesitant to speak out on behalf of joy. The challenges we face today are both so great and so evident that we can recite them by rote—every article, sermon, and conversation is framed by a litany of disasters. I have noticed that even when feelings of joy do come, they are often accompanied by guilt. But it is not in spite of everything happening around us that I speak of joy this week; it is because of it.

Twice in this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, (weekly reading) we are commanded to be joyful: we are instructed to be joyful in our bringing of the first fruits along with the Levite and the Stranger (Deut. 26:11) and we are to also be joyful after offering up—and eating—sacrifices of well-being (Deut. 27:7).

These instances of joy are tied to specific actions, and the Sages of the Talmud use these verses to establish that joy is experienced when singing (BT Arakhin 11a) or when eating meat and drinking wine (BT Pesahim 109a).

Joy appears for a third time in our parashah in the midst of the tokhehah, a long collection of curses meant for those who do not obey God’s command:

Because you would not serve your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything, you shall have to serve—in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything—the enemies whom God will let loose against you. God will put an iron yoke upon your neck until God has wiped you out. (Deut. 28:47)

Here the expectation of joy is not tied to a specific action or a specific time. We are warned that if we fail to be exuberant when serving God, calamity will befall us. Tucked into the middle of one of the most difficult passages in the Torah is a huge and timely blessing, the necessity of joy in our daily lives.

The lesson here, just like in Inside Out, is that one emotion cannot be compartmentalized and only experienced when we feel it is warranted. Even as we grieve for friends and loved ones lost to COVID-19, fight for justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Americans, and work to save our environment from those who would destroy it, there must be room for joy in our lives as well.

Yehudah Amichai appreciated the impossibility of compartmentalizing and separating our joy from our pain. In his poem “A Man in His Life,” Amichai writes:

“Kohelet was wrong about this [that there is a time for every purpose].
A human must hate and love at the same moment,
To cry and laugh with the same eyes.”

As a staggering 40 percent of US adults surveyed by the CDC in June reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, it is critical that we tap into Judaism’s directives for infusing our lives with joy. We must utilize the tools at our disposal to allow our crying eyes a chance to laugh.

Thankfully, we are entering a time of year when our tradition places an added emphasis on joy and happiness. In the next month we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot—respectively, the birthday of the world, a day of forgiveness and renewal, and the holiday when we are supposed to be אך שמח, entirely happy.

While it is true that these holidays ask us to tie our joy to the calendar, our tradition also recognizes that one cannot set a timer and say “this will be my joyful moment.” These holidays ask something of us that is more difficult: we must actively set the stage for joy and allow ourselves to revel in it if and when it arrives. We cannot force joy, but we can beckon it.

Our Sages prescribe certain things to help bring joy: eating meat, drinking wine, singing songs, and Torah study were all ways various rabbis brought joy into their lives. During the coming holidays we traditionally dress in white, eat meals with guests, engage in small construction projects, and experience long periods of prayer and quiet contemplation. Hopefully one of those practices sounds compelling to you and has the potential to spark your joy.

Beckoning to joy can also require assistance. For those struggling with their mental health or with substance abuse, setting the stage for joy can include a call to a mental health professional.

In Inside Out, Joy has to learn to step back and make space for Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. As the latter emotions take hold of our national psyche, let us remember the words of Psalm 30: “One may lie down weeping at nightfall; but joy comes in the morning.” Let us collectively embrace the radical Jewish call to set a spot at the table for Joy, and to welcome her with open arms.


By Rev. Christina L. Wright, Ph.D, Associate Director of the Department of Spiritual Care at Michigan Medicine

Over 600 years ago, the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote her now famous words, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I have repeated these words countless times to ground myself in difficult times, and so it is not surprising that these words have offered me comfort and a foundation as we journey through the uncharted territory of the covid-19 pandemic.  The words are so simple, but one of the things I love about Julian’s work is that these words are not offered as a platitude meant to gloss over reality.  Indeed, she continues her writing by arguing with God about how things actually aren’t well.  Julian fully understands the depths of life’s difficulties and yet is still able to proclaim that “all shall be well.”  How?!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write a devotion to be included in a book of prayers and devotions.  As I re-read the devotion, I am reminded that the lessons in her words apply just as much today as they ever have.  The world feels anything but “well.”  We crave certainty and the familiar, control and normalcy.  And yet a virus with no yet known cure has ravaged our lives and worlds, which will likely never be “normal” again.  How can we possibly find peace? How can anything be well in this time?  I offer Julian’s words and this devotion as one path. 

Excerpt from We Pray With Her: Encouragement for All Women Who Lead.  Peck-McClain, E., Trexler, D., Tyler, J., Boyer, P., and Sullivan, S.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018:

As a hospital chaplain, I spend a lot of time with people for whom all is not well.  Their stories are often heartbreaking: their bodies are not well, and frequently ,as a result, their emotional lives are not well, their relationships are not well, and their souls are not well.  To say to them, “all shall be well,” feels insensitive to the pain they are experiencing.  And yet, those are precisely the words that Julian of Norwich heard from Jesus in a vision during a time when she suffered from a grace illness and was prepared to die.  Instead of death, she experienced God speaking to her, offering visions or unending love.  God reminded her that although there are reasons to worry, reasons to feel exhausted by life’s struggles, God will provide for us.

                The first time I heard these words was in a song we performed in my church choir.  From the moment I first sang her words, they struck a chord deep within my soul.  It felt counter-intuitive to say “all shall be well” at a time in my life all was very much not well.  But something was grounding and affirming in repeatedly singing that phrase against a simple yet powerful melody.  Julian’s visions remind us that amid all our struggles, God provides us unending love, hope, and peace, no matter what.  Indeed, all shall be well.

                We all have those moments, seasons, and even years when all is not well.  We face struggles that churn up those gut-wrenching feelings of unrest, times when we cry out to God for peace and wholeness and rest amid pain, uncertainty, and chaos.  One of the hardest things to do is to sit with that “unwellness,” to realize we are unable to fix it and, yet still, to find some measure of peace.  Julian’s visions remind us peace isn’t the absence of struggle; rather peace is remaining grounded in the strength of our faith, in a belief that tells us God is our ultimate source of peace and that, through God, all shall indeed be well.