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The Spirituality of Illness – Gestures of Hope

June 9, 2008

I don’t feel like someone who is about to undergo open heart surgery. It’s not that I have no symptoms, or that this thing isn’t constantly on my mind, it’s just that I don’t think I look like nor, as far as I’m able, act like it. (To be honest I’m not sure how I’m supposed to act.) I think it’s probable though, that when this is done, and I’ll have recovered sufficiently to be active again, that only then will I know how much of a limitation this has been. I’m a master at adaptation.

Till then I try to do what I can. I’m back on the bike, riding 30 miles last Sunday, in pleasant weather with a (nervous) friend. It was done at a nice gentle pace, but I couldn’t resist a wee burn every now and again, getting rid of 8 months of frustration since the last ride.

And recently, in wonderful summer weather, the kids and I body boarded at White Rocks, played beach rugby and generally larked about. And on Monday, Christopher and I cut down a small tree which had died in the garden and which we weren’t confident about lasting through another winter without large branches falling on someone. Working closely together, with many laughs along the way, we toppled the main branches then set about chopping them into logs. It made me think that that cutting down a tree is one of those things fathers and sons should do together at least once !!

So as the window for a surgery date gets ready to creak open I’ve been active and busy.

I’ve just taken a week off as leave in part to begin a process of slowing down and extracting myself from work. I’m trying to also to rest up to build some reserves for the journey on the other side of the mountain.

But I’ve also been learning the value of laying down some stuff in anticipation of a new order of things, a bit like Jeremiah digging a hole and burying the deeds of land ownership in the face of the rising threat of Babylon. He did so even though the land was occupied by his enemies. He had the deeds placed in a clay jar so that they would last a long time. He did so, anticipating a time when those forces which enslaved the land would be broken and the land would be free again, saying,

houses, fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land
Jeremiah 32:15

So. I’m back on the bike, not to train, but to do so in anticipation of that day when I’m free of this limitation and I can ride again. I’ve even been planning a return to the Alps next summer to ride up Alpe d’Huez, which I did for the first time in the year I turned 40. Back then it was a feeble attempt at a declaration of triumph over encroaching age. This time, it will be statement of return. And I hope to do it in the company of some friends and family who will share the moment of release.

Christopher and I, when we were felling the tree(!), and laying down some logs for the winter season, we talked about what the weather would be like when we’re burning these logs. What would we be feeling? What memories they would recall? And we left an exceptionally big one to be our Christmas Eve log. This would be the one we would burn when everything was locked down for the season, the doors were closed, the tree shining and the fire burning warmly and with welcome. We would bring out this ceremonial yule log to remind us of sunnier days.

It will also be a reminder to me of the pre-op days and of what I endured to get to Christmas, and of all that is still to come, and, I trust, of the faithfulness of God through it all.

These gestures of storing up, of anticipating, of promise, are little acts of rebellion and defiance against the way things are now. And stored up signs of hope for the dark days that will inevitable come.

From → Formation

  1. I imagine that while there are similarities across illnesses in how we adapt, there are also differences because of how different the experience of various illnesses can be.

    I’m now mostly bedridden and have been in increasing and now really very bad pain for sixteen years. Whatever I have is beyond diagnosis, even at NIH. It affects no vital organs but is near the point where I’ll no longer be able to feed myself or use the bathroom.

    Until about six years ago, precisely because it affected no vital organs, I didn’t have to live with the threat of sudden death, but that’s now been added – at this point the ostoporosis across my low back and in my left hip is at the severe fracture risk level, so one fall and it’s likely over.

    You do learn things from stuff like this, but there have to be easier and less risky ways of learning!

  2. Paul, I’m so sorry to hear of your suffering and I have prayed for you. I agree that there should be easier ways to learn the lessons we learn in these circumstances. But maybe there aren’t. Maybe this is the way the world is, and the way we are. I dunno, and it is confusing and so apparently unfair.

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