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The blessing of the quilt

Last Modified: 2/21/2020

Donated quilt

This post was written by Jon Swanson, PhD, chaplain, Parkview Chaplaincy.

Much of healthcare work happens when people aren't watching. Or at least not people who can remember what is going on. As a chaplain, from time to time I like to invite people into seeing what happens during those behind-the-scenes times.

The card says that the blanket has been blessed by a chaplain. The blanket is part of a bereavement program at our hospital, a way to offer support to families and friends who are walking out of the hospital after watching someone they love die.

A blanket, a hand print, a memory of the heartbeat doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t do the one thing that deep down we all want, for people to be fixed and not die.

But this bereavement process reminds staff to slow down for the family’s sake and their own. And it gives a family, if they want it, something to hold onto.

So how does a chaplain bless a blanket? Are there magical powers that can infuse the blanket like lavender essential oils? Am I creating a holy object that, when it touches the person, heals them? (That was happening in a town called Ephesus during the Apostle Paul’s work there. People would take handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him to people who were sick and they were cured.)

When I touch blankets, I don’t expect the same result as Paul got. But a couple times I’ve had the opportunity to bless a pile of blankets, made by people who care for people who need care.

As I touch each blanket, moving it from the "unblessed" stack to the "blessed" stack, I say something like this: 

“God, the next time a Chaplain sees these blankets, a person will be dying. These will be touched by patient techs and nurses, family members and respiratory therapists, and a person who will not live much longer. God, will you care for each of those people as they offer care, as they wrestle in these moments? Will you direct this to the person who will smile most at the pattern, who will be comforted most by the color? Will you give them peace that passes understanding, courage for loving one another? And will you let people know that you love them? And God, would you bless the hands and the time of person who made this blanket, out of compassion for a person they will never see? In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The blankets aren’t more holy perhaps. But the situations in which they will be present have been mentioned to God. And that is holy.

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