By Allison Beck
CHICAGO, IL (April 16, 2010) – In her first month as a hospital chaplain, Kari Lindholm-Johnson witnessed a family grieving the death of their infant. The tragic loss affected her deeply, and Lindholm-Johnson began to struggle with how people cope with suffering.
The next day Lindholm-Johnson, who is a chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital and member of North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, drove home from work praying and crying. In the midst of her prayer she felt like God was speaking to her, bringing to mind an unfamiliar Hebrew song that included the word hachna’a. The term relates to the concept of submitting one’s will to God—in Lindholm-Johnson’s case, submitting her grief to God.
“In the act of submission you are also confronting your suffering,” she explains. “You are allowing yourself to go through suffering instead of fighting it.”
Lindholm-Johnson realized that by releasing her struggle, God could turn it into something much more positive: hope. She decided to organize an art show.
“An art show places the emphasis on narrative and provides a tangible way for people to express their emotions,” she says. She hopes that the process of creating a work of art will both help participants to acknowledge their suffering in new ways and help them to work through it.
The first art show, titled “Through Suffering to Hope” and held in October 2008, in many ways embodied the call that Lindholm-Johnson felt in her car that afternoon.
The hospital’s second art show, “Dreams of Healing,” opened Friday. Sponsored by the hospital’s pastoral care department, this show invites artists to consider the question, “How do people’s dreams change when faced with illness?”
“The idea was that the two shows are connected,” Lindholm-Johnson explains. “It’s a journey of healing. There is movement from acknowledging suffering to a place where healing can happen.”
Current and former hospital patients, their family members, and hospital employees were encouraged to participate, as were professional artists. The art created by those with connections to the hospital was automatically accepted; other applicants were admitted through a jury process. Approximately seventy pieces will be displayed in all.
Three winners were chosen from the entire collection: Clare Rosean, first place; Hilesh Patel, second place; and Janet McKenzie, third place.
The show follows a path that takes viewers through parts of the hospital, mirroring the journey that patients and their families undergo as they enter the hospital, are treated, and hope to leave healed. The display culminates outside in the hospital’s garden of compassion.
Patients’ expressions of their struggle and healing through art invite hospital staff to interact with patients in a new light. “In some ways the show has changed the way we work with patients,” Lindholm-Johnson says. “It changes how we see them, their experiences, and how we understand our shared humanity.”
“Dreams of Healing” is on display in the hospital from April 16 to May 2. If interested in purchasing a high-gloss paperback book featuring pictures of all the works with artists’ comments, email Lindholm-Johnson.
David Westerfield, art director for The Covenant Companion, designed the book. The accompanying photo shows Westerfield’s oil on canvas, “Dreaming,” that is part of the show. “As a parent your heart always breaks when one of your children is sick or injured,” Westerfield writes in the Dreams of Healing book of his painting. “We do whatever we can to make it better. You hope when they are asleep they are at least escaping their illness for a while and dreaming as if it didn’t exist.”
Editor’s note: Allison Beck is a senior at North Park University and an intern for the Companion.