by Ralen M. Robinson

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

The sun slowly crept into the room as I held her frail bony hand, pierced with needles and festooned with tubes. As the light cascaded into the sterile, impersonal room, it highlighted her sunken face. I peered into her half-closed eyes as low murmurs, beeping machines, and soft weeping filled the air. I tightened my clasp as my prayer joined the sorrowful hospital orchestra.

For a year, I had held grieving women and men as they cried out for their loved ones to come back. I had held weak hands that grew cold as life slipped away. For a year, I had shuttled between hospital bedsides and the family consultation room, accompanying people as they transitioned into death, as they grieved the loss of a loved one, and as they encountered the true darkness of the world, perhaps for the first time.

This past year, I walked the hospital halls as a chaplain for a major hospital in the inner city. I saw brokenness consume families and witnessed grief so overwhelming that it took my breath away. I walked with people as they experienced the most devastating moments of their lives, moments that left them only a fragile shell.

Early one morning – or was it late one night? – I was called to accompany two young adults who were losing both their parents to their father’s violence. That morning, I sat with the brother and sister as they held their dying mother’s bloodstained hands.

The young woman, through tears, said goodbye to her mother. She would have to finish growing up without her mother’s guidance. Her brother was filled with rage at his father’s unimaginable act. I sat with these children and saw them became parentless young adults in this broken grim world.

I had no words to console them. Words were so inadequate. The usual cliché phrases like “You will get through this” or “She is in a better place” would not, could not possibly suffice. In this moment, as sorrow and anger and horror choked the people around me, words seemed obsolete.

There are times in life when we confront real devastation and brokenness, times that are so hard that we cannot see the light. But even then, even through the most difficult times, God is still with us. God is that much more present with us as the light that holds back pitch-black despair.

I learned that for us mere human beings, simply being present and holding people in their grief is all that is needed. There are no right words to say, no quick fixes. Words cannot ease the pain that can overtake someone so completely that life seems like a dim light. It is in these dark and sorrowful times that, through silence, people can simply be. No one has to name it or express how it feels – people can just feel. People can let the diagnosis sink in. Silent moments are imperative for people to face the horror, experience the sorrow, and begin to heal. Death is beyond our human understanding. People need wordless moments to grasp that.

This past year, I silently walked with parents as their children’s lives were cut short, with people as they were told that their cancer has come back, or that their time on this earth would come to a far too early end. The hospital houses the sick, the lost, and the despairing. Yet, within these walls, God brings comfort, strength, and solace. As chaplain, I stumble, cry, and joyously witness the brokenness of the world. The hospital is a holy place, and there I find and experience the beauty of sacred, wordless moments.

Ralen Robinson is a seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia seeking a call to be an ordained minister. She will be going off on her Internship year this fall at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in Center City, Philadelphia. Ralen believes her faith and a good pair of shoes can take you a long way.