Project Canterbury



Rector of Calvary Church, New York.

Delivered at the Graduation Exercises
of St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing,
in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
at 4 P.M. on Thursday, May 19, 1949
on the




Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

How can religion help a trained nurse? You have to face life at its times of physical suffering. Sometimes those are the glorious hours of life, and you see it in all its nobility. Sometimes those are the meanest hours of life, and you see it in all its quaking cowardice. According to what you bring to the things which you must see, and try to remedy, you develop a greater faith or a greater fatalism. I am not going to blame you if you are turned to a greater fatalism by some of the things you see, like crass selfishness, and the fear of death. But I am going to say that, if you can find faith yourself, and keep it, and live by it, you will do a far more creative job with your patients, and you will get a lot more out of life.

I face every day something very like what you face. I see and talk with people who are sick in their souls, sick with fear, sick with resentment, sick with futility, sick with dishonesty about themselves. They come to me with problems I cannot solve, as they come to you with sickness you cannot heal. The first thing I have to do is to get their confidence, so that they can tell me the things that are really on their hearts. And often [1/2] then I have to reach into my own experience for something like their problem, so that they know I have faced a similar thing. And then I begin telling them what I, and others, have found as a way out. That brings us right back to Christ. Because, while I cannot answer their problems, He can. There is no joy in the world like watching Him begin to come into somebody's life through the contagion of one's own faith, and then watch them begin spiritually to get well. That is the thrill of my job, as watching them get well in health is the thrill of yours.

But my job isn't just confined to the soul, it has to take in the mind and the body. The other day I sent a friend of mine to one of this city's great-hearted psychiatrists, because I knew he could help in a way I could not. And I am constantly working with medical doctors, so that we can heal people all round. In the same way you cannot confine your healing to the body only. You know how much the mental attitude has to do with getting well, how fear, or not wanting to live, pull people down, and how wanting to live and be well, and faith, pull them up. Sometimes it seems that these attitudes are determinative in what happens to sick people. What do you feel about them? Can you do anything to help? Are they just chemical reactions? Or does the power of suggestion lie very close to faith, and is that power in the hands of everyone who sees a sick person, especially in the hands of the persons who see them most, namely, yourselves?

Now you can make suggestions to them without any faith behind them, just nice little Pollyanna things you have been [2/3] taught to say to them. Even they can help some, because they are positive. But when you have got real faith behind them, when they come up out of a faith that is your own, they go home. That kind of faith is very contagious. I venture to say that the medicine you give, and the hundred kind and professional things you do for your patients, are no more important than your spirit while you are around them.

I talked to a man who said he was a skeptic about religion, he could explain it away. I believed that that man could believe. I told him stories about other skeptics I had known, like a sportsman in this city who some years ago lost all his money and had nothing else. I told him I thought God could help him; he said he didn't believe in God; I said why should he, when he had lived for nothing but a good time all his life, and dared him to make the experiment of getting on his knees and saying out the real truth about himself to whatever is the truth about the universe; and he said, "O God, if there be a God, send me help now, because I need it. Amen." God answered that prayer. That man found faith. He was a vestryman in my church when he died some years afterward. My skeptic friend said, "I guess I am missing something." You know why I was glad to have him say that? Because I know I had got his imagination. It's no use to try to persuade a man's mind, or move his will, until you have got his imagination. That's what faith touches in all of us, when we see it in somebody else. We begin to think it would be good to have it, and then that we might have it, and then that we will seek it. And at that point God meets [3/4] everybody half way.

I have a friend who is a great orthopedic physician in another city. Some years ago that man found a rich and deep experience of Christ. He knew that the Great Physician could help him with his patients. He began to talk a little with each one of them, not as a physician, but as a man, telling them of some of the needs in his own life similar to those he saw in them, and asking them if they would like to try prayer themselves. He told me that he recorded the results, and it increased the number of cures and shortened the convalescence by an average of three days, when he had established a real spiritual relationship with his patients.

But long ago I found you can't give away what you haven't got. If we are to have this added strength of faith, which you need in your job just as much as I do in mine, if we really are going to help people, then we have got to be living it ourselves. You can't hide the conflict in yourself when you have just lost your temper with somebody down the hall, you put on a smile when you come in the room, but the patient knows it is "put on". When you have had a night out and done some things you wouldn't quite want your family to see you doing, you can come in in the morning and put on a spruce white uniform and walk into the room as demure and as innocent as a monument, but your mind will be straying off, and you can't give yourself as you would have done if everything had been all right. I can dress up in white, too, and look terribly good in a pulpit; but if I have [4/5] been peremptory with somebody on my staff, or not had enough time for real prayer, or been inconsiderate of people in my home, what I say is just words. You know the story about Mark Twain and his wife. Sometimes he used to swear. And it troubled his wife, and one day she said, "Sam Clemens, next time you say a thing like that, I am going to repeat it over just as you said it, and let you see how it sounds." That kept him still for a week or so. Then something hit him on the raw, and he let out a string of them, and she did just what she said; she repeated them back to him word for word. And Mark Twain said, "My dear, you have the words, but not the music." Now that is the trouble with a lot of religious people, and I suppose with a lot of medical people too: We have the words, but not the music.

How are we going to find the words and the music, the work and the spirit, of true and all-round helpfulness to the people to whom we minister?

First, we must give ourselves to Christ in full self-surrender and so find faith. Faith is not believing in a lot of propositions, so much as it is giving yourself to a Person. You can find faith by the experiment of facing anything in your life that God, if there be a God, would not allow; and surrendering those things to Him once and for all on your knees. Repentance is the gateway to a new life in Christ. And self-surrender is our part in our own conversion. God's part is forgiveness and grace, and He always does His part if we do ours.

Second, we must come back to Christ every day in prayer. [5/6] I talked with a very intelligent man who has a problem. I asked if he ever prayed about it. Yes, he said, he did. I asked what he did when he prayed, and he said, "I just keep telling God over and over. what I want." I said, "Did it ever occur to you that God might some time ask you Which of us is God anyway? Are you telling ME, or am I telling you?" We need to listen when we pray, seeking to find God's will, rather than to influence it. It is one thing to "say our prayers": it is another to pray and ask God really what He wants us to do.

Third, we must let this influence and transform all our human relations. A man in my parish really found God awhile ago. He and a neighbor had growled at each other for a long time, but my friend went to him and said, "I think it is foolish for us neighbors to get along so badly, and I want to make right any wrong on my side." They became friends. If God is in our hearts, He must be also in our human relationships, all of them. Human relations are usually looked at like dots at the end of a line, you are here and the other person there. They should be looked at as base-angles of a triangle, you, and the other person, and then God at the apex.

Fourth, we must let Christ express Himself through us in our daily work. If we pray, talk to Christ before we come to work, and as we work, if we are trying to keep in touch with Him ourselves, it is bound to show itself in our work. We shall not lose our tempers and get ruffled, we shall not be unwilling to go the second mile to help someone, we shall react with faith and not [6/7] with fear when any emergency arises, and we shall thus share our faith inevitably with the person we minister to, and it will help them not only to get well, but to know how to live.

I know that trained nurses are not generally supposed to "talk about religion" with their patients, unless they are asked to. Some time ago I was talking with a friend of mine who is a trained nurse. She has done a lot for alcoholics, one of those people who is fifty per cent policeman and fifty per cent archangel. She is a good Christian woman, but she had never witnessed to her patients about her faith. I told her I thought she could do it. "How?" she asked. And I said, "by living out your faith with so much love for them, and with so much creative imagination, that they see you have something they want, and they ask you about it." She said, "Well, I guess I've had opportunities and did not take them. My patients often ask me how I keep so spruce and cheerful on my job, and now I'll tell them!"

Christians who talk without living are hypocrites; but Christians who believe without witnessing are cowards. The world we know may be taken away from us by the Communists; and if it happens, it will be because Communists have a faith they will die for, and so many Christians just have a faith they ask questions about. We need to surrender our lives without condition to Jesus Christ. We need to pray. We need to let Christ come into every human relationship. And we need to witness for Him in our daily job, witness by courtesy and good manners, witness by work well and carefully done, witness by cheerfulness and good [7/8] humor, witness by faith when the going gets hard for us, and witness by the words through which a Christian gives voice to his faith.

God bless you, and give you His faith and joy in your hearts, and His healing in your hands, that as you pray and work for the people to whom you minister, they may be drawn through you to One greater than you, that through you the Sun of righteousness may arise with healing in his wings!

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