By Christina M. Mitchell/staff • • What’s this?

STAUNTON — Syndicated columnist and the Rev. Norris Burkes is entertaining crowds in the Queen City this week.

On Sunday, the “Spirituality” columnist spoke with a group at Second Presbyterian Church in Staunton. This morning, he’ll be at Mary Baldwin College’s Miller Chapel for another public presentation.
Burkes pulled stories and insights from a selection of columns as he talked Sunday about hope — finding it, keeping it and giving it away. His tone slipped from humor to seriousness as he shared some of his stories from life as a hospital chaplain.

“What should we hope for? Sometimes we can only hope that our patients and their families will find the resources they need to make it through tragedy,” Burkes said.

Sometimes, he said, he’s watched families confuse hope and denial, such as the case of two parents praying over their dead teenage son’s body, asking God to revive him.

Other times, however, hope has sprung up in unexpected ways, such as the case of a two-week-old infant who recovered from near heart failure.

“The staff and the parents saw the substance of things that they had hoped for and the evidence of things they had not previously seen,” Burkes said.

For Christians, he said, hope comes from Jesus Christ — not just recognizing him, but striving to know him through prayer, Bible study and church attendance. It’s a basic three-part formula that other faiths share as well, he said.

But once you have hope, how do you give it away? Be present.

To explain, Burkes shared the story of a woman who was sitting in the hospital waiting room as her mother bled to death on the operating room table.

“I said, ‘You and I both know that there’s nothing I can say to make this moment better, but do you mind if I sit here with you while your mother dies?'” he recalled.

“God helped me be there for that person and stay there, and the only way we can share our hope is … just by being there.”

Most people attend church just because someone they know asked them to, Burkes said.

“I think we like to explain our faith to people, but I don’t really think that’s the way it works … (Jesus) said, ‘Follow me,'” he said. People respond to those who live what they believe, as Jesus did, he added.

“I think that’s why the column is popular, because I try to show people that I make mistakes,” he said.

Burkes also spoke at the beginning and the end of his talk about the role of a chaplain to encourage people to follow their faith, whatever faith that might be. Sometimes his readers don’t understand why he’s not more direct in using his writing to preach about Jesus Christ, he said.

“You have to understand that I’m trying to reach a broad base,” he said, adding that one of his best reader e-mails came from a person who said they decided to return to church after reading Burkes’ writings.

“My column can only say, ‘Why don’t you guys look over here in this direction,'” he said, later adding: “I don’t want to be religious, but I want to point people toward faith.”