Aberdeen Presentation Sisters Respond to COVID with Centering Prayer

Reflection by Sister Mary Thomas

I have been serving at Avera McKennan Hospital for almost 14 years now. In the course of this time I have formed a strong relationship with many of our staff. So when COVID descended upon the hospital we were all unsettled by this new threat. We had seen many images of how overwhelmed hospital staff in other parts of the country were and concerns about the shortages of PPE. How would Avera respond?

Avera responded with a methodical, faith-filled response. Administration listened to physicians and nursing, to facility services and community leaders. Together a plan for formulated that would maximize the number of people we could care for as well as keep our staff safe.

At the height of this planning and bearing the daily burden of the unknown in this very fluid situation, how was mission services to be present? Usual rounding in the hospital would not serve as well. Staff were anxious and very busy. Yet we could not sit off in an “ivory tower.”

In my prayer I heard, “This kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting” Matthew 17:21. In the book, Transformational Presence Alan Seale asks, “What wants to happen here? And then, “How do I need to show up” to facilitate that happening? The response I heard was “centering prayer.” I checked with our nursing leaders and discovered that each unit had a “clean” area. I checked with the managers of those five units and all welcomed me to come into their space to do centering prayer.

Why centering prayer? To me, this form of prayer is about transformation. I wanted to engage the energy in each space whether the emergency department, or ICU or one of the COVID units. Was the energy in those spaces one of anxiety, discouragement, calm, supportive? I mostly wanted to engage the COVID energy with what I had to bring, a lifetime of prayer. How could this destructive energy be transformed into life-giving energy? Everyone was bringing a level of expertise. Prayer was what I had to offer.

Of course, I am praying daily for the staff and patients. From time to time, they also need to see me in their space praying as a reminder. I go the floors once a week. I “gear up” meaning I don my protective equipment, find an out of the way place and spend about ten minutes praying on each unit. I have sisters and hospital board members joining me in prayer from whatever location they are at. This prayer in unison is very powerful to me. Prayer back-up gives me courage, strengthens the prayer of the community and reaches beyond the hospital to include all – energies of light and healing, hope and life.