A Praise Report from a Prison Hospice

by Rev. Keith Knauf
Chaplain at the California Medical Facility
Vacaville, California

May/Jun 2004

The name of the prisoner has been changed to protect his privacy.

There were many things they didn't teach us in my seminary. Personal prayer was one of those things. Another was death and dying.

I have had the honor of working, the past eight years, as a hospice chaplain in the prison hospice at the California Medical Facility. I minister to inmate patients who are suf­fering from terminal illnesses and have a prognosis of six months or less to live. John, cur­rently one of our patients, is suffering from metastatic colon cancer. The cancer is causing him to experience great pain, discomfort and embarrassment; even so, he also has a strong faith in God. John's greatest challenge of faith began about three weeks ago. His lower colon became impacted. Pain and discomfort reached their highest level, requiring more morphine. All the medical efforts brought no relief. His abdomen swelled and the pain levels became excruciating. John's face was contorted with pain. The medical staff were convinced he was in the end stage of his illness.

John and I prayed for the blockage to be removed. The blockage was finally re­moved and John experienced comfort and relief.

Seminary training does not prepare ministers for such visceral experiences. God, however, does not limit our care to the higher ethereal and spiritual levels; he also cares for us on the most base levels of our existence.

I think the ancients had a good working balance between the physical and the spiritual. An ancient Hebrew morning prayer of blessing pointed up God's care for our basic human functions:

Praised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe, fashioning the human body in wisdom, creating openings, arteries, glands, and organs, marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them fail to function by being blocked or opened, it would be impos­sible to exist. Praised are You Adonai, healer of all flesh, sustaining our bodies in wondrous ways.

I gave John a copy of this prayer. He thought the prayer was written just for him. Through John's experince, God has taught me what they didn't teach in Seminary-that the acred and the secular are one and the same. Everything is sacred.

May/Jun 2004 Issue