God, Art, and Waiting by I the Mike

Where is God? Before I attempt that question I, first, must explain my current surroundings. I am warmed to a constant 72°F because the hospital stays constant. That is pretty good for such a large building. I am tucked into a corner of a triangular cubby that is just large enough for me and three others, but I sit alone. I face a 20’ x 8’ mural of ceramic tile, created by artist Dit Wah Deng [of COSACOSA art at large, Inc. with patients at the hospital]. It is brightly lit by a yellow sun and rainbow of blue, orange, and brown. Three red-tiled children share the privilege of holding up large tiled hearts by a green tree with heart shaped leaves that are gold and red. This mural is adorned by a poetic line that tells me that, “a child’s heart is eternally loving and true.” I am tucked into the opposite corner, just five feet away, and can look out though my reflection and see a small part of Philadelphia. And if I turn the other way I can see the sources of the crying.

Two women embrace tightly by the elevators, and though I don’t know who just lost what, I recognize the sobs. Even against that bright yellow sun, there is a presence of sadness. I know that sadness. Their tears remind me of a twenty-nine week ultrasound, when my wife and I were handed the initial heavy news by a good doctor who knew how to deliver what bad things he had to say. Seeing their embrace helped me remember when I was first here after our daughter's birth. Our daughter, the mystery, was here for months after she was born, in order for us to watch the patient doctors slowly find other things that were changing our lives bit by long...slow...irritating and painful bit. And hearing one woman say to the other, “No one can stand this pain alone,” sent me to a memory from only just days ago.

I woke up on Wednesday morning at 4:00 a.m., though I normally wake at 5:30 a.m. during the week. I had been dreaming about my daughter's next surgery, and I was scared. I have sat in many different parts of this building, looked out many different windows, and been escorted by many different personalities to many different consultation rooms. (I’ve always been impressed how such a similarly purposed room can be so different one to another, how even the different placement of tissue boxes can so dramatically change the atmosphere.) I have anticipated surgery before, but had never felt the fear I had for my child in that early morning hour. Where did this fear come from? Why was it so different from the other times? Where did my confidence in surgeons go?

I went downstairs and put a log in the wood stove. I looked through the charred creosote at the glowing embers and new sparks. I got up and had a short glass of water and then another, and then I went to pray. I moved the cat from the ottoman and I prayed; silently and aloud, and let a few tears come to my eyes. Then I went up stairs and looked in on my son to see him sleeping in his lamplight. I opened my daughter’s room and saw her still covers. Then I went quietly into our bedroom where my wife lay bundled on her side of the bed while my daughter rolled in her sleep in the crib we keep by us. I crept past the IV pole where her formula is slowly pumped into her through the night and I patted her back. And I prayed for my child, and as I did, I looked for more than tears. In that dark room, with just the light from a small hallway sconce, I was looking for God.

I finished my prayers unsatisfied. I very much dislike being late for my work, or anything for that matter, so I moved through the rest of my morning, my mind and heart still adding weight to my school bags. Once in my car I continued my standard morning with a search for something to satisfy the hearing part of my mind, but the stations were about as empty as its sky. Adding to the selection dilemma was a static...truly bothersome. But I couldn’t be alone. I needed something to listen to. Ultimately the unintelligible sounds were too much, so I decided it must be God telling me I needed to talk some more. So I did.

“God, why am I so scared? Is there something wrong about to happen this time? Should I call off the operation? Can you give me a sign? Let me hear your still, small voice, Lord. I need to know what to do.” I prayed these thoughts, and waited in near silence for a few moments, and then searched again for a voice on the radio. I settled for one that was not my first choice, but was clear. I listened through one sponsor, and then with the return of the broadcast, I heard what could be a promising listen, as it started with the “therapeutic benefits of art in hospitals”. It got better because it began to discuss the quality of hospitals in Philadelphia. And before the end of the report I had heard the most convincing case for CHOP’s recovery rate for children that I could have heard. The hospital highlighted in this report was familiar to my experience intimately, as I have sat in its pre-op rooms that were so accurately described to me. I have heard the dings and dongs of the touch-activated living sculpture in the hospital’s atrium. I have seen the colorful glass panels, and large art displays throughout the buildings. But what I heard most clearly was the reassurance from God that he is listening, and he is present with us.

Where is God? He is not limited to radio shows or car rides. We know by scripture that God was hovering over the earth even when it was formless and empty, yet he is not restricted to being uniquely in heaven. God’s presence is moving amidst the earth and he is interacting with his creation. “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. God’s presence and watchful eye never leaves us. Speaking through the ceramic tile mosaic is God. In the loving embrace of crying women searching for shelter from their pain, there is God. I realized Wednesday morning, again, that he is present with me everywhere.

This blog entry was written by a parent of a pediatric patient at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a long-time COSACOSA partner. The artwork described by the writer is part of Growing, Rising, Exploring, Loving, Sailing, Soaring, a seven-story high poem with mosaic illustrations created by COSACOSA co-founder Philip Dit Wah Deng Tang with hospitalized children and their families as part of our Healing Art Project.

Artolatry bread image after Salvadore Dalí's Basket of Bread (1926).