It just made sense. Inviting people to share Christmas playlists, shouldn’t I invite someone who spends her days welcoming newborn babies — each one beloved of God, all of them bearing eternity in their hearts?
“On an average day,” says Claire Nieman, “I’ll be the primary nurse for two mom-newborn pairs, but it varies.” Claire is a registered nurse who works in Maternal and Infant Care at a Seattle medical center. They work with high-risk pregnancies, and they deliver babies who need to go directly to Seattle Children’s Hospital for surgery. “My hospital delivers a lot of twins and triplets. A reasonable estimate would be that I care for about 40 to 50 babies, from 40-50 different families, a month. For new parents, I have to basically teach them what babies are.”
While her work has often placed her right on the scene for all kinds of crises, from medical emergencies to emergencies of failing hope, Claire has found strength and guidance in ways you wouldn’t expect. A 2014 graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Claire was a nursing major and a University Scholar. Talking about her education at Seattle Pacific, she wrote about reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov for the first time. She said,
Out of its many interweaving plotlines, I found that I connected deeply with the story of Father Zosima, a Russian Orthodox priest. There are long passages in the book where Father Zosima discusses the mystery of faith and what it means to live in a world of all-consuming suffering but also profound hope.
As I continued to work as an ICU nursing assistant that year, I began to notice the same longing in my life and my patients’ lives that I saw in the characters — a longing for joy, for renewal, for peace despite everything. The idea that it was perfectly okay to live with these unresolved feelings was totally new to me, and gave me great comfort. It was a powerful example of how literature ‘tells us the truth about the truest things,’ as one of my professors likes to say.”
This Christmas, remember Nurse Claire and her team in your prayers. They will be handling — literally, and with care — some of the season’s most valuable and vulnerable gifts, and working hard to help fulfill hopes and dreams for families.
I should also note that Claire is one of the most irrepressibly joyful people I know. And I suspect she’ll break into song from time to time as she works.
Here’s Nurse Claire’s personal Christmas playlist.
“We Found Love” – Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris
This has been my favorite Christmas carol ever since it was released — “We found love in a hopeless place” is, to me, the central theme of Advent, and the source of this song’s joy.
Half Acre – Hem
There’s no way around it — sad things happen in hospitals, even when the rest of the world seems to be celebrating. But just like the songwriter’s memory of home contained on a torn piece of a big map, there are small things we hold onto that ground us even in great sorrow, when “every hour our hearts [are] broken.” A “scrap of paper / that can crack the darkest sky wide open” — that kind of sounds like the Gospels to me. Just a few paragraphs on flimsy paper can hold a message of hope for the whole world.
“I Pray on Christmas” – The Blind Boys of Alabama
“I pray on Christmas / that the sick will soon be strong / I pray on Christmas / that the Lord will hear my song”
“Pale Green Things” – The Mountain Goats
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston. Advent contains both the beginning of our church year and the conclusion of our calendar year, which makes it especially suitable for reflection. 2014 has contained a lot of complexity for me, not the least among them the fact that I graduated from SPU nine days after a student was killed and two students were wounded by a man who just wanted to see what it would be like to shoot up a school. I love this song because it captures the feeling of remembering things that were both deeply tragic and deeply redemptive. I wish that the events of June 5th were not part of my story or the story of SPU, but I think we are gradually finding the beauty in the decay — a process that will bring up new questions year after year, certainly beyond my lifetime.
“Eyes to the Sky” – Joseph
As someone whose work isn’t confined to the Monday-Friday week (or even daytime hours) I’ve always weirdly identified with the shepherds in the Christmas story. They don’t get to choose when to work because the sheep need help all the time! The thought of angels suddenly appearing to them is a compelling one to me — who knew how worn out they were, how isolated they felt, or if they even thought it were possible for light to find them way out in the fields.
“Oculus non Vidit” – Rihards Dubra, sung by the National Lutheran Choir
This is a setting of 1 Corinthians 2:9, which echoes back to the promises of Isaiah. When Christ was born into a world of violence and oppression — the “land of deep darkness” — I doubt anyone figured he would show up as a baby. Advent reminds me to look for light in unlikely places, and to trust that somehow it has found us already.
Eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man,
The things which God hath prepared
for them that love him.