The Absence and Presence of God

My first on-call shift at CHOA began with an admission, through the Emergency Department, of a 19-month old whose life ended in death about 9.5 hours later. All night, the family vacillated between uncontrollable sobs and resignation to exhaustion and denial.

I saw a baby on life support, code for about an hour, then be pronounced dead. I saw a family fall apart in despair.

I felt the palpable absence of God.

A few weeks ago, while on call, I was called to the room of a patient. Doctors were sending patient and mother home with little hope and many questions.

I saw a mother, eyes brimming with tears, groping for some kind of comfort to hold onto. I saw an 11 year old beyond those years, try to use the sparkly vividness of the child’s own eyes to comfort the mother.

I felt the isolating absence of God.

Yesterday, I heard tell of the bombing in Boston. I saw panicked faces. I saw people with missing limbs.

I felt the dread-instilling absence of God.

The absence of God instils a longing for hope, a need for comfort, a yearning for something more.

But look more closely.Is it really absence?

Amidst the trauma of a tragic loss of a child, an aunt and uncle hold the tired mother’s hand and bring food to the father who hasn’t eaten yet. I see the family comforting, nurses caring and doctors reflecting.

In comfort, care and reflection, I feel the tangible presence of God.

As I place my hand on the 11 year old’s arm and begin to pray, the child, despite severe limitations, recognizes that something sacred is happening and places a hand on mine.

In a shared prayer, a mother’s tears, a child’s wisdom, I feel the comforting presence of God.

I learn that my cousin crossed the finish line 30 minutes before the explosion. He, his wife and daughter are safe.

In safety, the kindness of strangers, and the prayers of a nation,

I feel the merciful, hope-giving presence of God.

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