Church of Our Saviour

21 Marathon Street | Arlington, Massachusetts | 781-648-5962

Tales of Hofmann

by Terry Hofmann, M. Div.

When I met the young man that I will call Matthew he was lying in a hospital bed in a darkened room, all alone. At first, I hesitated to step into the room because I thought that he might be asleep and even chaplains know that restful sleep ranks right up there with prayer in terms of healing power! But Matthew stirred and acknowledged my presence. I went over to him and, because I noticed that his face was bruised, I asked if he had been in an accident. Matthew nodded and hesitated. I then asked him if he was in pain and again he nodded. But this time, he smiled slightly and said, “it’s really not too bad.” I smiled in return, explaining who I was and why I was there. Matthew told me that he no longer went to church–this did not surprise me because many of the folks that I meet in the hospital no longer belong to a formal church. It was clear to me though that Matthew wanted me to stay with him. He told me that he was “marked”; he very proudly showed me a tattoo on his lower inside arm. It was a rosary with the names of Jesus and Mary in the center. He then pulled his hospital gown down a bit so that I could see that he had a Bible verse tattooed on the shoulder of the other arm. Matthew told me that he had chosen these tattoos a few years ago because they made him feel close to God whenever he looked at them.

I asked Matthew if he felt close to God lying in his hospital bed. He teared up a bit and told me about the accident which had occurred two days before. He had been attending an outdoor concert with a friend. At the end, as he and his friend were getting in the car to return home, a young woman asked for a ride part of the way. His friend who was driving agreed and off they went. The next details were quite fuzzy for Matthew–he recalled the vehicle crashing, then his climb out of the car, staggering down the road a bit where he found the dead body of the young woman. His friend was alive but seriously hurt and had been airlifted to another hospital. Matthew had been brought to the community hospital to have his injuries attended to. Although it was likely that he would physically recover completely, I realized that he knew that he had been “marked” again in a very special way by this experience. He told me that, since the accident, he now wanted to “do good” in his life (not that he had been a “bad” person before this). But now he felt close to a loving God in a new way and, as a result, he wanted to help other people; he wanted to make a difference.

Of course, I wondered if Matthew was simply responding to the trauma of the accident and the fact that his life had been spared while others had not. But, as I explored it further with him, I realized that this tragic accident was possibly a catalyst for a renewed sense of purpose and connection with the divine. Something clearly had shifted for Matthew and he knew it. We continued to talk and I gently suggested that he might explore church communities of faithful people who could support him on his quest. When it was time for me to leave, Matthew and I prayed together. I gave thanks for holy time in a darkened room now marked by new light.

Two days after my encounter with Matthew I drove to Duxbury, MA to begin my first three day Deacons-in-training retreat. Such retreats (on the third weekend of the month) will become a regular part of my life from September to June. Usually the retreats will be held at Bethany House (Sisters of St. Anne) in Arlington Heights. But this first one was scheduled for a retreat house operated by the Sisters of St. Margaret, another Episcopal order of nuns in the diocese. It was wonderful to be near the ocean and it was great to be able to spend time with the other six new Postulants to the Deaconate and two other Postulants who had started a few years ago.

These retreats are time for socializing, prayer, teaching/learning, and practicing the liturgical role of a Deacon. It is time spent in community where our call to be a Deacon continues to be discerned and we continue to be formed in our ministry.

For the Saturday session, the Rev. Anne Fowler from St. John’s in Jamaica Plain (official chaplain to the Deacons) joined us. Anne led us through a series of guided Bible studies. We reflected on particular passages that she had selected, sharing them with one other person in the group and then, as we were comfortable, with the group as a whole. She asked us to engage with each passage from our own experiences, providing us with a series of probing questions to help us go deeper. I found this to be quite a powerful way of being present to the Spirit and to each other. As I shared my own story and listened to the stories of my colleagues, I realized that each of us had been “marked” by particular life passages and circumstances which, though often quite painful, had “opened” us to the loving power of the Divine. Although the details were very different and personal, in many ways the essence of the experience itself was quite similar. Things had shifted for us and would never be the same. And, we all felt compelled to make a difference as a result.

Each of us, of course, at Baptism is “marked” as a child of God. But I am willing to bet that each of us also has “God-tattoos” acquired from those life experiences that made us realize in some new way that God loves us, no matter what. These are the times when things shifted and would never be the same. Sometimes though we get busy and we forget that we are “marked”–that is why it is important to engage with the Biblical stories and with our story and the stories of those around us. They help us to remember that, in the words of Paul, we live and move and have our very being in a God who loves us. And we must make a difference.

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