It’s Thursday afternoon in the Loma Linda University Medical Center. I am down in the basement “A” level waiting for the staff elevator to carry me up several floors to a teleconference with a software vendor to discuss why its very expensive, top-selling program still doesn’t work for us after two years of frustrating effort.
The wait is long. Traffic is congested. Orderlies and transport teams are pushing a convoy of patients on gurneys from the Emergency Department onto the elevators. The door slides open to more patients on the ride up from being x-rayed or scanned a floor below. IV’s are pumping and telemetry is beeping.
There is an antiseptic reek to the air that always leaves me with the uneasy question of what exactly required the last wash-down of that strength.
Another car arrives full of a large and complicated piece of equipment being moved from repair to service by the Engineering Department. Slender medical students wearing their blue scrubs as a proud fashion statement crowd in wherever they can find a space.
Patient care and medical and nursing education are the core businesses of the Medical Center and take precedence over negotiation with a vendor. I don’t have any choice but to cool my heels.
I am possessed of a classic Type “A,” hard-driving personality. Waiting is not something that I do well and the elevator foyer of “A” Level offers no incentive to linger. It is simply a bare-walled, florescent-lit passage for medical professionals and employees to get from here to there in a hurry.
Anything spiritual in that space has to be carried in the heart of those passing through and carried right out again. At least, that’s the way it’s always been for me until today.
If you haven’t discovered it for yourself yet, I am telling you that grace is absurd. The Lord breaks into our ordinary days and expectations in most unreasonable and incongruous ways. My first published book, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places(Hagerstown, MD: Review & Herald Pub., 2002) was about this phenomenon. That’s “unexpected” places, not “extraordinary” places.
It’s been my experience that the ordinary places of our every-day lives is where we need grace. A place doesn’t get more ordinary than “A” Level. The walls were recently repainted an “earth” brown and the carpet replaced with a matching gray-brown pattern. It is the current thinking among design consultants that earth tones contribute to a healing environment, but in the absence of green, growing things “earth brown” looks like . . . well . . . dirt.
I notice that a few gurneys haven’t quite cleared the turn into the elevator on the first try. There are vivid white scratches and scuff marks where the metal has scraped through to the drywall.
Lifting my fidgeting eyes I am surprised to see what I first perceive to be graffiti. The “Mission and Culture” guys upstairs must have been at work. They’ve inscribed Psalm 46:10 in white calligraphy on the wall between two of the elevators — “Be still and know that I am God.”
My first reaction is to chuckle. This is a busy route to surgeries, colonoscopies, echocardiograms, angioplasties, and intensive care in the nine floors above me. Time is of the essence. Stillness is the last thing on anyone’s mind when they come through here. “What’s going to happen next?” is pretty much the question of the day.
No doubt prayers are prayed on the fly here. They are probably more of the “Help! Help! Help!” variety than any thoughtful reflection on the nature of the Deity. But I am a lawyer walking through on my own two feet with a briefcase full of contracts. What do I know?
I take another look. “Be still and know that I am God” is a succinct statement of hope. That thought is the seed of healing grace planted in the earth tones of the walls and carpet. It is the first element of worship, the idea of the Doxology —
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below . . .
Before starting that elevator ride up for work, for diagnosis, for treatment, for surgery, for the hospital stay that has an uncertain outcome, the one essential truth to think about is that there is a God in charge of everything and he cares about us. Other thoughts shadow us — our illness, injuries, work, budgets, what we’ve left back home or in the classroom — but this thought needs to stop us in our hasty, anxious tracks — “Be still and know that I am God.”
It is the absurd reality of grace that the busier the day, the greater the need for a stillness of heart; and the more responsibilities and concerns that cram into our thinking, the less we need to know anyone or anything else but God.
I make it into an elevator on the third try and go on to my teleconference, but the Lord was kind to me when he made me wait. As Jeremiah once observed during a particularly sad and difficult time —
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Who knew that the elevator foyer of “A” level could be holy ground? The Word of the Lord come to life in a waiting heart made it so.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,