Recently in Healing Category

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

| Comments
They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Our Hope for New Life

| Comments

Our Hope for New Life

A sermon on 1st Corinthians by Debbie Humphries

The text we read this morning was from First Corinthians (1st Corinthians 15:12-19).  This is a letter that Paul wrote to the members of the church at Corinth.  He had visited Corinth some time earlier, and stayed for a year and a half to establish the church at Corinth.  Paul mentions that he had received at least one letter from the church at Corinth, and had also received messages from members of the Corinthian church with questions and concerns.

The epistles to the Corinthians from Paul that are in the New Testament are one side of a correspondence.  This morning I'm going to share one way the other side of that conversation might have gone, in an epistle from the Ministry and Counsel committee of the church at Corinth to the apostle Paul, following the receipt of what we now call the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.

To our beloved Paul, called to be an apostle.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  We send to you with gratitude for the love you have shown us.  You came to us and brought God's message of hope, the message of Christ Jesus that invites us to enter into the kingdom of God.  We lived in the world, as part of the world, knowing not the reality of God's world.  Your teaching has brought us to be infants in Christ.

You taught us of gifts of the Spirit.  We see in our community people with many gifts of the Spirit.  There are those with gifts of wisdom, whose insights open our understanding.  There are those with gifts of teaching, whose lessons we try to live.  There are those with gifts of music, where we hear the eternal in their songs.  There are those with gifts of generosity of heart, where we feel God's love through their actions.  There are those who care for our children where we watch our children come to feel God's love.  There are those who care for our building whose work supports and holds our community together.  We see so many gifts among us.  You remind us that all of these gifts come from the same Spirit.  That there is much work to be done in building God's kingdom here on Earth, and it requires many different gifts.   And we have each been given some of those necessary gifts.   You caution us about eyeing the gifts of another, and lusting after those gifts in our hearts.  You tell us that all of our gifts are needed.   We give thanks for your teaching.

And you taught us of love, telling us that the most precious spiritual gift we should aspire to is love.  That without it we are nothing.  That whatever work we do in this world, however beautiful our music, our art, our writing, our teaching, our food, that if we do it without love, we are but a clashing cymbal.  That if we give shelter to the poor, food to the hungry, care for the sick, give away everything we own to the poor, but do not have love, we have gained nothing.  We give thanks for your teaching.

We cannot describe all the ways our lives have changed because of your work among us, as you shared with us the power of the Spirit as it calls us to be more wholly God's people.  Before your journey we did not know that every day the Spirit invites each one of us to listen, to come to know that Spirit at the center of the universe, that holds each one of us.  And through your preaching you have brought many to that center.  We give thanks for your teaching.

But we must also speak plainly, and seek to settle our disagreements with you directly, as you have taught us.  Parts of your most recent epistle have led to dissension among us.  As ministry and counsel we have struggled with your message, and with how best to help our community understand that message.  In your letter you remind us that when you came to us you came in weakness and fear and much trembling, and your message and proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power.  And we heard and recognized the spiritual power in your message.  That power is what brought us together with you in Christ.

But in your writings to us on the resurrection you give us subtle arguments:  You say if there is no resurrection, then Christ cannot be raised.  This is true.  If there is no resurrection then no one is raised from the dead.  And if there is no resurrection, as you and some of us have said that God raised Christ from the dead, then we have lied.  That is also true.  If there is no resurrection those of us who have said there is, have lied.  And then you go on - If Christ has not been raised, then empty is your teaching and our faith, and our faith is in vain, and we are still in our sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.   We so value and trust your guidance that we hesitate to speak.  But we struggle to understand this message. 

Within our community there are many different understandings of this resurrection from the dead.  Some say there is no resurrection after death, that when we die that is the end.  And they say that the stories of the sayings of Jesus speak to a new life now.  That they can live as Christians, believing in the teachings of this Jesus, without saying there is a resurrection after death.

Others say there is a resurrection only of the just, and for the unjust, death is the end.  They say that when we die, those whose works of righteousness outweigh their sins, will rise again into eternal life with God.  They believe that the teachings of Jesus call us to works of righteousness, so that we may come into eternal life in the company of saints when we die.

Still others say there is a resurrection for all.  That God's love for each of us, as demonstrated in the love his son, Jesus Christ, has shown us, could not rest with anything other than the resurrection of all.

Among those who say there is a resurrection, whether of the just or of all, some say it will be a resurrection in the Spirit - that our spirits will continue to exist in some manner after we die.  Others say it will be a resurrection in the flesh - that our bodies and spirits will be reunited after we die, and our bodies will be renewed into an eternal flesh. 

There will be a resurrection.  There will not be a resurrection.  There will be a resurrection for some.  There will be a resurrection for all.  There will be a resurrection in the Spirit.  There will be a resurrection in the flesh.  These are very real differences and when we come together to convince each other of the truth of our own beliefs about the resurrection, it leads only to dissension and argument.

But when we sit together and listen for the wisdom and power in your message and in the living Spirit that guides us, we know that how the living Christ has come to be is a mystery.  Whether it is by resurrection of the Spirit, resurrection in the flesh, or some other way, we do not know.  Perhaps as infants in Christ we are not ready to understand the mysteries that you write of.

We also know that even if Christ has not been raised, the teachings and path of Jesus called Christ, shown to us by you and other teachers, are not empty.  Your teaching is not empty, our faith is not empty, and our faith is not in vain.  We speak of that power that brings us to new life every day, as we heed the promptings of the Spirit. 

What we believe and share together, is an awareness of how our lives have been made new through your ministry.  We have been taken from our lives as natural men, and shown a new vision of the world.  We are come into a world where love is the first movement in our hearts to our brothers and sisters.

There was a man, a shopkeeper, who worked each day seeking to get the greatest advantage for himself in every sale or purchase that he made.  He worried that he would not have enough to care for himself in his old age.  His days were full of arguments, anger and jealousy as he worked to be sure that whatever happened, he came out ahead.  And then one day a child came to his shop, a child who shared her story of need with such gentleness, hope and love that the shopkeeper's heart was touched.  His eyes were opened to the emptiness in his own life.  And his heart was moved and his life changed.  So, also, are our lives changed when we are touched by the love and grace of God.

You say that if our hope in Christ is only for this life, then we are a most pitiable people.  And yet we find that our hope in Christ is realized in this life, when we find our lives made new, through the gentle workings of the Spirit in our hearts.  Our hearts are touched, not through the arguments, but by the transforming power of love and of the living Christ.

We testify to you of how our lives have changed.  Each one of us has stories to tell, how once we would have responded with angry words and bitterness, and now we can respond with love.  Stories of how once we would have argued, and now we can listen humbly, and hear the good in the hearts of those with whom we disagree.  We know that their hearts are human and frail as our own, and they too can be brought to rise again through the Spirit that calls us all.  We have stories to tell of the forgiveness that we find in our hearts for those that have harmed us, of the love that we feel through the power of the Spirit that you led us into.

We know that we are yet infants in Christ.  That every day we fail to live up to your teachings.  And every day we fall short in living what we have heard of the teachings of Jesus.  And yet every day we try again, resolved anew with each daybreak, to hold in our hearts the love and life shown to us by the power of the Spirit.  And we hold tightly to our hope that our lives will continue to be made new, through the transforming power of the living God.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Our love to you in Christ Jesus.

This was a sermon given at Allen's Neck Monthly Meeting, located in Dartmouth MA on February 11, 2007.  It was reprinted in Quaker Life in May/June 2008.

QPCC Healing Bibliography

| Comments
 We Shall All Be Changed: Experiencing God's Love through Health Changes

Quakers in Pastoral Care & Counseling Conference

Quaker Hill, Richmond, Indiana  March 30-April 2, 2006




Quaker Perspectives

Living & Health: A Personal Account by Bill Ratliff

Bill originally wrote this account for his family about his experience with cancer and the approaches he has been using to deal with it.

On Praying for Others - and Ourselves by Peter Blood

Willingness and Health by Peter Blood

Holding One Another in the Light, by Marcelle Martin

Praying for each other - intercessory prayer - deepens our connection to God and helps bring healing to individuals & communities. Marcelle's pamphlet is a personal account of her discovery of & experiences with intercessory prayer. It describes the many forms this takes among Friends today, from meetings for healing to a prayerful witness for peace on earth. (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #382, 2005)

4 other Pendle Hill Pamphlets dealing with these issues:

Profession and Practice: Quaker Perspectives on Healing as Ministry, by Maureen Flannery MD (#363, 2002)
Gift of Days: Report on an Illness, by Mary Morrison (#364, 2003)
Sickness, Suffering, and Healing: More Stories from Another Place, by Tom Gates (#341, 1998)
A Song of Death, Our Spiritual Birth: A Quaker Way of Dying, by Lucy Screechfield McIver (#340, 1998)

George Fox's Book Of Miracles

Edited by Henry Cadbury, Foreward by Rufus Jones. The founder of Quakerism was a healer as well as a powerful writer, preacher & religious leader, manifesting this gift in over 150 recorded instances of cures. These miracles were critical to spreading the word about Quakerism in the initial years. New introductions by Paul Anderson and Jim Pym help readers appreciate the place of this material in the overall understanding of Fox's contributions to Quakerism.
Available from QuakerBooks.

Christian Perspectives

Living Through Pain: Psalms and the Search for Wholeness, by Kristin M. Swenson

Bill Ratliff writes that "This is the best book I have found on pain and suffering. The first three chapters deal with the problems of pain and understanding it. Then she looks at six Psalms in successive chapters and draws out the various ways that the psalmists dealt with this difficult subject. Surprisingly, but realistically, the Pslams contained no common approach." (Waco,TX: Baylor U. Press, 2005, hardcover).

4 books by Gerald May MD

Jerry May was a psychiatrist on the staff of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation for many years until his death from cancer in 2005. His books are not on healing issues per se but they explore better than any other books I (Peter) am familiar with the ways that spirituality, mind & body are deeply interwoven - issues that are at the heart of the ideas I will be presenting at QPCC in March.

  • Will & Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (1982)
  • Addiction & Grace (1988)
  • The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need (1991)
  • The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness & Spiritual Growth (2004)

Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice, by Stephanie Pausell

The final chapter of this 2002 book by a Protestant theologian is on "honoring the suffering body." The book concludes: "Through the vulnerability of our bodies, God has given us into the care of one another. What tender responsibility. What joy, what pain. Thanks be to God."

Other Religious Traditions

Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Kabat-Zinn is founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society at U. Mass Medical Center. Workshops on mindfulness as a way to improve patient care, reduce professional stress and suppport patient healing are being taught at many medical centers around the country.

Other books by Kabat-Zinn:

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Here's the Buddhist book that Bill and I both like (he used it in his ESR death and dying course and I have given it to friends who are dealing with loss as well as used it myself):

Facing Death and Finding Hope: A Guide To The Emotional and Spiritual Care Of The Dying, by Christine Longaker (1997)

A Buddhist book that is helpful in dealing with losses and facing the possibility of one's own or a loved one's death. A good related website

A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last, by Stephen Levine

A friend of Maureen Flannery MD suggested that her friends read and meditate with this 1997 book as a way to support her through the process of living with and dying of cancer. Stephen Levine and his wife Ondrea have written many other books on dying and grief from a Buddhist perspective. The most recent is Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart (2005). He is also the author of Who Dies?.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner

This 1981 classic and other books by a liberal Jewish rabbi offer useful approaches to dealing with suffering and tragedy. Maureen writes that Kushner's emphasis on "when" not "why" has been helpful to her in dealing with pain and loss in her work and her life.

My Grandfathers Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, by Rachel Naomi Remen

Remen is a physician who brings to her work with dying patients her grounding in Judaism andher own experience of living with a serious chronic illness. Both this 2000 book and Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, her earlier 1996 book, contain wisdom about self-care for those of us involved in the work of care giving and healing.

Medical Science & Healng

Reinventing Medicine, by Larry Dossey MD

Dossey talks about our just entering into the era of nonlocal medicine where healing is done at a distance. Citing the 150 studies done on the healing effects of prayer at a distance, he posits a new paradigm for healing that takes seriously the human conscious and its participation in a universal conscious. This is beyond the mind-body paradigm and is exciting and challenging to conventional modes of healing. One physician, upon hearing Dossey speak, said, "If what you say is true, then we doctors could be sued for medical malpractice if we do not pray for our patients!"

Also by Dossey:

  • Healing Words: The Power of Prayer & the Practice of Medicine (1993)
  • Prayer Is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer (1996)

Speaking of Faith: Stress & the Balance Within

The American Public Media show Speaking of Faith recently featured a leading rheumatologist, Esther Sternberg MD, who has grown over the years to become convinced of the interconnectedness of spirituality and physical healing. You can download this show and listen to it from the show's website.

In her book, The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health & Emotions, Sternberg explores recent developments in science and medicine that provide support for understanding the ways in which bodies respond to spiritual work and issues. Here is a review of the book.

Love, Medicine & Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients, by Bernie Siegel MD
Another one of the "classics" of the field - this one from 1986. Siegel is a surgeon who was deeply moved by the emotional and spiritual transformation that many of the cancer survivors he worked with went through. My (Peter's) ambivalence with his ideas is that those with life-threatening illnesses may end up feeling they have "failed" if they do not experience healing through these approaches. Peace, Love & Healing: Bodymind Communication & the Path to Self-Healing: An Exploration (1989) is another of Siegel's books.

Here's an online article by Siegel entitled "Accept, Retreat & Surrender: How to Heal Yourself" that summarizes pretty well some of his basic ideas.

Getting Well Again by O. Carl Simonton MD, Stephanie Matthews Simonton & James Creighton PhD (1978)
Over 20 years ago, the Simontons (a physician couple at the time) began experimenting with using guided imagery, relaxation techniques & meditation as a way of fighting cancer. Carl Simonton's latest book, The Healing Journey, focuses heavily on the personal account of one cancer patient, Reid Hansen.

The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing & Regeneration, by Norman Cousins
This 1979 book by a well-known journalist on his successful fight against a cripplling disease was the first best seller on mind-body connections. Cousins used his body's own natural healing resources in overcoming his illness in close collaboration with his physician. One of the main things he did was watch hundreds of hours of comedy films.

Healing queries

| Comments

Reflection Questions

Experiencing God's Love through Health Changes



How do you understand the myriad of changes our bodies go through?  

Do you experience them as meaningful?  random?  confusing?  mysterious?

How do you understand God's presence during illness, disability, the changes in capacities and gifts that come with aging, healing from illness, and our passage from this life?


Do you feel that God speaks to you through changes in your body? 

Do you experience God as guiding you towards specific lifestyle or medical choices? 

Have you ever felt (as some early Friends did) that God was giving you a leading through being ill?


Do you feel companioned or alone in living with such changes?

Do you feel deeply known and loved by God? 

Have you experienced love as being powerfully healing?

Psalm 139, 33:22, 1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13.  Song of Songs is often interpreted as a metaphor for God's love for us.  Hosea is a great parable of God's steadfast love for us. 


Do you feel you can lean into God? 
Do you feel you can lean into the love you feel from others?

Do you feel that God is fundamentally trustworthy? 

Does the possibility of someday facing severe pain, life-threatening illness, or losing physical abilities frighten or worry you? 

Do you feel protected by God?

Exodus 19:4, Psalms 13, 22, 30, 62, 63, 102, 121, 131, Isaiah 40


Do feel that God plans or causes changes that happen in your body? 

Does your belief / experience about this deepen or serve as barrier to your sense of faith and trust in God?

Do you feel God can be both omnipotent and all-loving?  If not, which way do you experience God more simply / unqualifiedly?

Job, Psalm 38


Where do you experience healing coming from?

From self-healing resources within your own and others bodies?  From others' love? 
From God?  From the Universe?

Do you experience bodies as having great, largely untapped self-healing or restorative capacities?  
If so, what unlocks these?

Do you feel you have a gift for healing others or being a channel for healing energy? 

There are many healings by Jesus recorded in Luke.  These highlight key dimensions of healing, ie.
The role of spiritual authority  Luke 4: 31, 9:37, 13:10.   The relationship with forgiveness  5:17.    
The role of touch & energy  5: 12, 6: 17 & espec. 8:43   vs.   Distance healing  7:1.
"The Light of the body" 11.33.  "Your faith has healed you"  17:11, 18:35.

See also Psalm 30:2, John 14:12 (on doing even greater works than Jesus), Acts 3:1, 9:33.


What do you hope for, yearn for or expect to happen when you pray for others?

How do you pray for others?  What do you ask for? 

Do you experience your prayers as being answered?

What does it mean to pray for healing - in our own lives and bodies or for others? 

What do you experience as happening when Meetings hold others in the light or hold healing sessions?

Is intercessory prayer the same thing as "holding someone in the Light"?

Many psalms are personal prayers for help - e.g. 6, 22, 41:1-3

Matthew 7:7, 17:29 & 21:21 (faith moving mtns), cf. John 14:12


Do you feel protected by God in death? 

What do you think happens to us when we die? 

Do you feel God sets our lifespan for us?

Do you anticipate (with Richard Hubblethorne) that you will be "wound into largeness" when you die?

Do you know others who have experienced the kind of at-easeness that characterized many early Friends in the hour of death? 

Do you feel this way about death? If not, what difference would it make in your life if you did felt this way?

Raising the dead: Luke 7:11, 8:40-56,  John 11:1,  Acts 9:36

Jesus' dying sayings: Matthew 27:46 (cf. Psalm 22),  Luke 22:44; 23:46,  John 19:30

Paul on immortality: 1 Corinthians 15 (cf. Luke 20:34)

(c) Peter Blood-Patterson, prepared for the Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling gathered held at Richmond Indiana in March 2006

Body Prayer

| Comments


An exercise for bathing a part of one's body in the Light / Spirit / Ocean of Love

(Note: I will use the language of "God" as it is very comfortable for me, but please translate my words into whatever works well for you - e.g. Light, Spirit, Jesus, Lord, Ground of Life, Great Heart. - Peter)

Setting: You can do this body prayer anywhere, anytime.  The ideal is a quiet place where nothing else is "happening", but I've entered into it riding on a crowded train.  So you can be anywhere as long as you're not "engaged" with what's happening other than sensory awareness (open ears, smell, touch).  It can be done alone or with others (e.g. during a meeting for healing).  I do it mainly in bed at night when I'm having trouble sleeping.

Body Position:  The two "classic" receptive positions are:

  • Seated in a comfortable but straight backed chair with hands loosely at your side and feet flat on the floor or
  • Supine (is this word related to "supplication?) on a firm bed or floor with hands at your side. 

Eyes closed - or half-open and somewhat out of focus if you're used to meditating that way.  I find it useful to remove the hand brace that I wear at night for carpal tunnel syndrome before doing this.

1. Ground yourself.  Feel the chair/bed/floor holding your body.  Feel your connection to the earth.  You may want to gently notice any sensory experiences around you (e.g. sounds, smells, temperature).

2. Breathe.  Take some quiet, moderately deep breaths.

3. Relax / let go.  Go through whatever process will help you to let go of physical and emotional tension.  Some people find it helpful to progressively tense parts of their body and then let them go beginning with their feet and moving upwards to their face.  Try to postpone/set aside worries/task concerns.

4. Place yourself in God's hands.  Open yourself to God's care for you.  Offer yourself into that Love.

5. Choose a part of your body to focus on.  Do a gentle physical inventory.  Notice your body without judgment.  Where are you in pain, tense, carrying or storing burdens? Is there a limb or organ that is experiencing some sort of distress or disease process that you wish to offer up to God?  There may be many places but choose one to focus on for now.

6. Place this part of your body into God's hands.  Imagine this part of you being held, caressed, cared for, cherished. Try to open this limb or organ or these cells to being completely infused by God's love.  Try to let the pain or tension go.  If it's comfortable, you may wish to put a hand on this part of your body. You can say things to yourself such as "I offer my elbow to you, Lord" as you breathe.

7. Don't "push".  There are no agendas here.  Try not to be attached to what "needs" to happen, such as "Please free me from this pain", "Please take away this illness" or "Relax already!" You may well be longing for some kind of healing or freedom, but the point is to experience God being with you rather than trying to make something happen by this activity. Open yourself to love without expectation.

Next steps:  Notice gently what's happening or has happened in you as you do this, but try not to evaluate how well it went. It's better to just be with whatever happened.  You can move on to other parts of your body if it feels right.

Prayer for Another:  You can also do this same exercise focusing on a part of someone else's body.  This can happen if you are physically with them or not.  If you are with them you can either touch them or not.  If I'm not touching the person I'm offering into God's hands but I'm in the room with her/him, I find it helpful to open my hands and direct them towards her/him.

- Peter Blood-Patterson, QPCC Conference, 2006

Living and Health

| Comments

Living & Health: A Personal Account


By Bill Ratliff

"Mr. Ratliff, can you come in today, to talk about your CT scan results?" These words began an odyssey that resulted in two major surgeries, recovery, and ongoing discovery about ways my life is now different. I want to begin by listing the major medical events, followed by the way I responded to these events. Finally, I want to reflect on what I have learned.

Medical Events

In August 2004, I had increasing pain on my left side, when I went to bed one night. It did not seem like a heart attack, but it was bad enough that I was not going to be able to go to sleep. I asked Virginia to drive me to the Emergency Room at Loudoun Hospital, 30 minutes away. After testing, the diagnosis was pulmonary embolism, although the cause of the blood clots could not be explained. While in the hospital for five days, I was put on Coumadin, to prevent future clots.

I was also found to have anemia. In November, I was referred to a gastroenterologist for a possible colonoscopy. Possible blood leakage from my intestines might account for the anemia. During a routine physical exam in preparation, a physician's assistant found what felt to her like a protrusion of my liver. She ordered a CT scan, which came back showing that I had masses in both kidneys..

We chose an oncologist, suggested by a good friend. He was particularly helpful in sorting through the diagnostic tests with us and ordering us. He also spent considerable time calling the major cancer centers around the country and concluded that UCLA Med Center was the best for my situation. In December we went there for a consultation. Dr. Reiter assessed that there was a 50/50 chance of saving a third of my left kidney, which would be sufficient to avoid dialysis. The right one would need to be removed completely, and could be done later.

We consulted several other physicians and considered two options: that of two operations, as mentioned well, with the hope of retaining enough working kidney to avoid dialysis. The other option was one surgery, with a mid-line incision and the removal of both kidneys, then going on dialysis immediately. With the goal of avoiding dialysis, if possible, we agreed with Dr. Reiter's recommendation and returned near the end of January for the partial nephrectomy.

Because of the placement of the tumor, Dr. Reiter in fact was able to save 2/3 of my kidney and with little loss of blood. The mass was found to be papillary renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Reiter was working at NIH in the mid-1990's and did research on this particular kind of cancer. This kind of cancer, thankfully, tends not to spread beyond the kidneys, but there is a hereditary component. Both of our daughters need to have a CT scan every five years. I started again on Coumadin while at UCLA. Five days in the hospital and five days in nearby Tiveton House and I returned home, to heal and prepare for the second surgery in seven weeks.

Two and a half weeks into my recovery, a routine Coumadin check found that it had skyrocketed. At the first symptom, I went to Loudoun Hospital Emergency Room with internal bleeding. The bleeding was stopped, but more blood clots had formed in my right kidney, which could easily break loose and become lodged again in my lungs or other vital organ. I stayed in the hospital until my right kidney was removed mid-February, three weeks after the first surgery rather than seven as originally scheduled. Performed by Dr. O'Connor, the surgery went without complication and again little blood was lost. The normal 4 ounce kidney weighed 40 ounces, and a 12 inch incision was made to remove it, along with my appendix. My body had apparently reacted the previous August to the cancer by producing a blood clot. With no more apparent cancer in my body, I was taken off Coumadin.

One apparent consequence, of total bed rest during the time of the internal bleeding, was that I developed a pressure sore on the back of the heel on my right foot. My heel was painful after surgery, and I assumed that it had gotten caught in an awkward position. Weeks later a dark spot came to the surface and was identified as a pressure wound. After a lot of searching, I finally found on the internet a wound center in Frederick, MD, and went for one visit. By then, a scab had formed, and I was advised to avoid placing continuous pressure on that spot; and it healed on its own. Good blood circulation, with no history of diabetes or smoking, helped it to heal.

About two and a half weeks in to my recuperation, I stood up quickly from a reclining position, fainted, and fell to the floor on my face, smashing my glasses and cutting my face around my eye. Another trip to the ER resulted in a dozen stitches around the bony edge of my left eye, and more tests to see if the fainting spell was the result of another embolism. When no embolism was found, I went home.

As scheduled, a month later Dr. O'Connor attempted to remove the stint that had been put in during my first surgery at UCLA. The stint was placed in the ureter between the reduced kidney and the bladder. On his first try, Dr. O'Connor found the lower end of the stint had come unhooked and the stint had migrated upwards. So two days later, under anesthesia in outpatient surgery, the stint was removed. I was sent home the same day in great pain.

I quickly recovered from the stint removal and began to return to daily activities and gradual involvement outside the home. In mid-April I began to see the nephrologist, who will continue to monitor the functioning of my partial kidney. It seems to be functioning at a very acceptable level. The little kidney needs no special care or medications except I need to keep my protein intake to less than 60 grams/day, and watch salt intake. An appointment with a dietician in August was helpful in providing specific details.

Response to Medical Events

I want to divide my responses into two areas, the inner, personal ones and the interpersonal resources used.

Emotional response

I was in denial when I was given the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism and tried to bargain with the doctor to let me out to lead a weekend retreat, then return. He replied, "This condition is as serious as a heart attack and you could die if another clot broke loose." I decided to stay in the hospital!

I quickly recovered and went on with my life, only having to take a daily dose of Coumadin and see the pulmonary physician for monitoring. The Coumadin level had to be adjusted often, but that was no problem. When the Coumadin seemed to be stabilized, Dr. Rosenthal picked up on the anemia and referred me to a gastroenterologist for a possible colonoscopy. Upon finding the apparently distended liver, the physician's assistant to the gastroenterologist ordered a CT scan.

When I was called to come in to hear the results of the CT scan, I had an inkling that something negative had been found but was in denial again as to how bad it might be. I took my gym bag and planned on working out on the way home. The full impact of the results did not hit me right away. I decided to return straight home. I remember thinking on the way home that this event marked a watershed in my life, and that life would be different from this point forward.

As I shared the news with Virginia, the information began to sink in and tears started to come. In the early days I felt overwhelmed and had lots of questions. But a rising determination came from deep inside. I slammed my hands on the kitchen counter and declared that this disease would NOT do me in. I was too young to die and I wanted to be part of my grandchildren's lives as they grew up. I would not succumb, and that basic stance never wavered.

This strong determination provided great energy that I used for my healing and for preparation of body, mind, and spirit for surgery and recovery. I felt a sense of purpose and calmness during this time of organizing my healing network.

At the end of the consultation at UCLA, I wrote in my journal: "Why did this happen to me? What does it mean? My body image and the way I approach old age has changed forever, and I don't know the long-term consequences. . . . How to live in to this day with all this inside? I don't know. One minute at a time, and give thanks for this day. Yesterday is now in memory and tomorrow Is not yet. I have today, though. Make the most of it."

Although I ended up being grateful for the time, the seven weeks between the consultation at UCLA Medical Center and the return for surgery seemed, at first, a very long wait. And we did not know the surgery date for several weeks. Once I received the surgery date, I became more focused in my preparation, and wrote in my journal:
"How to prepare for something I've never experienced before and whose outcome is uncertain? Only the spiritual will work. Got to go to bedrock. My biggest challenge yet. I need you, God, like never before. 'Be Thou between me and all things grisly.' Help me to remain open, grateful for each day and each relationship." The bedrock image recurred during this time before the surgery.

In mid-December, I did important inner work on anger, as symbolized in a vicious leprechaun who appeared during a meditation time. I worked intensely with befriending the leprechaun and healing the damage he had done inside my kidneys. As I worked with the image, the leprechaun moved outside and relaxed and later entered into conversation.

The most intense emotional period was at the end of December, when I wrote letters to each person in my family to be read if I did not survive. More will be said later about this experience. The writing made me face my own death in a powerful and real way. I wrote and cried, took walks and wrote some more. I struggled with what I wanted to say to each person. In doing so, I had to bring them to mind and review my relationship with each one and imagine their future without me. In the letters to my grandchildren, I wanted to share the bsic principles that had guided my life. Wow! Writing those letters was hard and heavy! I was emotionally wrung out afterwards.

My journal entry following the letter writing follows:
"God, I am even more determined to make it through these troubled medical times and enjoy life and grandkids and Virginia for another 20-30 years. Too soon, too soon, too soon! What am I being prepared for? What do I need to learn? What is the meaning of my recurring kidney problems? Lots of questions surrounding my life right now. I want to live with the questions and uncertainty and hold them gently, while not yielding center-stage to them."

On New Year's Eve night, I had a dream that showed me that my old anger at my father had been resolved. Old issues were getting resolved during this medical crisis, and I was enormously grateful.

When I received my pre-surgery instructions in mid-January, I was overwhelmed again, as noted in my journal:
"The enormity of this has now sunk in! What in God's name am I doing with having at least two surgeries. . . ? Am I nuts? Major, major surgery. . . . Am I up for this? No. This is beyond me. God, I'm in your hands. Surround me, protect me from all things grisly. Help me! Help me see the grisly facts in the light of your love and strength and all the prayers and support. Give me courage for the moment. . . . Bedrock, I need bedrock on which to stand. Not this shifting sand. Scary--absolutely terrifying. I am weak and afraid."

As my inner work continued, an internal shift occurred, so that before surgery at UCLA, I wrote the following: "I am not afraid. Amazing! Thank you, God. Thank you. I am at bedrock. So many, many resources--and care--and prayers. My plate is overflowing."

Recovery after the first surgery was easier than expected; I got to leave the hospital after five days. I was pleased and apprehensive to leave so soon and to face flying across country after a few more days. Using a wheelchair in the airports and a first class plane ticket helped the return trip to go smoothly. I was exhausted when I got home, but so happy to be home again.

When I began to bleed internally three weeks after surgery, I was in an initial daze with the rush of events. I was admitted to the hospital and knew that I was in a precarious state, but I felt a sense of peace and calm. I used the time in bed to rest, meditate and pray. Five days later, the decision was made at 9 in the morning that the second surgery would be performed at 3 that same afternoon. I asked for quiet time from my family as I did some focused preparation. I felt ready when the time came, although a bit off balance, unlike the first surgery. I was, of course, delighted and thankful with the good news following the total nephrectomy.

My lowest time, emotionally, was when I had to return to the ER for stitches around my eye, and I was informed that it may have been cause by another blood clot; and if so, I would have to be on Coumadin for the rest of my life. I felt flattened on the ground, spread-eagle, face down.

On Easter Sunday near the end of March, I was feeling depressed, as this journal entry reveals:
"Loss: of health, energy, self-image and future self in world, of mental sharpness. And I don't know how much, or if, any of those will come back. Such a long, slow process. Much to be thankful for. . . . But I have lost much--and I grieve that. I miss the way I used to be. . . . I feel old and doddery and vulnerable and muddle-brained. And I don't like it."

The trouble with removing the stint was difficult emotionally for me. I was well on m way to full recovery, so that the difficulty and pain felt like an insult. I did not tolerate it well and hated the awful pain, which probably made it worse. Thank goodness, the recovery was rapid.

In April and May, I recalled more dreams than any other time in my life. Most seemed to be dealing with loss. At one point, I reflected on a series of dreams:
"What at first appears to be lost has been put in a safe place for me. And enjoy the ride! I can trust people and ask for what I need as I need it. Then in mid-June, the dreams revealed a real turn-around: "Moving from feeling lost a month ago to feeling grounded and declaring who I am. I feel a surge of good energy, with relief after the good report from Assefi (nephrologist) yesterday. I feel that I can control my life and the way I use my time and energy."

After my body had recovered and I was enjoying my usual daily activities again, I continued to have trouble reading and in hearing and remembering things. This was to be expected, I suppose, following three bouts of general anesthesia. But I was ready to be done with it all, and found my reading, hearing, and memory problems exceptionally frustrating. They gradually subsided with time.

I came out feeling enormous gratitude to Virginia, Betsy, and Greta, the doctors and medical staff.

Personal, Spiritual Work

Before the first surgery, focusing on my healing and on preparation for surgery was the focus of my time and energy. One of the first things I did was to cancel my subscription to the daily paper and to stop watching the evening news on television. The negativity of the news and the sensational stories drained energy that I wanted to put to positive use in healing.

I have believed in the healing possibilities for both traditional Western medicine and for complementary healing modalities. I happened to live in the DC area, where excellent resources abound in both areas. At Virginia's suggestion, we made withdrew money from our retirement investments, to use for self-care and healing. We were very fortunate in not having to worry about money during this time.

I was already involved and continued in the practice of therapeutic massage and personal psychotherapy, walking most mornings with my wife and working out three times a week at a nearby community center; and they continued. Don, my massage therapist is a gifted, intuitive healer, who provided important body work for me before and after the surgeries. I also added the following:

Spiritual Practices. As already revealed in some of my journal entries, this was the center of my responses, and provided the discernment for when and how to use the other resources. While I have had an active spiritual life and been involved in seminary teaching, I have never felt so close to God as I did during these months. I prayed often, during morning meditation, but also when I would awake at night. I often repeated a variation of the ancient Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and heal me." I also used the prayer of healing said at Iona Abbey: "Spirit of the living God, present with us now, enter me, body, mind, and spirit, and heal me of all that harms me."

During recovery after the second surgery, I was unable to sleep on either side and had a drain tube in, so I slept in a recliner for a few weeks, awaking often to shift my weight. Those became important occasions to talk with God. My most immediate sense of God's presence came at my lowest point, referred to earlier, when I was in the hospital following my fainting spell. I asked God to come and cover me; and God did. I felt comforted.

Before surgery, I sought to ground myself and prepare for what was coming. Meditative reading and reading from Scripture were also important in this process, with Psalm 91, 103 and Isaiah 40:31 being especially meaningful. Music proved to be spiritually nurturing, especially Handel's Messiah and Bernstein's Mass, plus contemporary music by Jesse Paledofsky, Food for the Long Haul and Sabrina Falls' Celtic harp music, Healing River .

Morning practices. Virginia and I walked each morning, followed by visual meditation, imaging healing energy and light pervading my body and driving out the disease in my kidneys. I also journaled regularly. The image recorded in my journal on Thanksgiving Day is typical:
"Light streaming through the top of my head and my turned-up palms--pervading my body, removing my dis-ease, breaking up dark masses and sucking out the liquid. The whole inner and outer body is filled and covered with light. The debris and toxins are expelled. The tissue and cells are clean and healthy. Thank you, God. Thank you."

I thanked my kidneys for having worked long and well for me over the years, and now for bearing the disease on behalf of my whole body. As the first surgery drew closer, my imagery became more insistent in driving out the darkness and disease, toxins and debris. I always felt better afterwards.

I wondered how I would respond if my kidneys were not disease-free when operated on. When that occurred, the question did not arise; I was grateful for the good results.

Guided imagery. Jim, a former pastoral counselor colleague, mailed me a copy of a CD by Belleruth Naparstek entitled "Successful Surgery," that uses imagery in preparing for surgery. Listening to the CD became a regular part of my meditation, and I took it with me to the hospital prior to both surgeries. A second CD in the set was music to play during the surgery. I asked Dr. Reiter to play the music during my surgery, which he did, even though he did not usually play music. I also asked for the surgical room staff to observe a moment of silence just prior to the incision, after I was anesthetized. The second surgery occurred more quickly, so I asked only for silence, which was honored as well.

Homeopathy. My primary physician is a homeopath. While she does not treat cancer with homeopathy, she offered me a remedy early on for the shock and emotional responses. She also suggested a number of remedies to take with me to use before and after surgery, if needed. I did use arnica before and after each surgery. The others were not needed. Later, when the surgeon tried to remove a stint in his office and was unsuccessful, I was in a great deal of pain, especially when I urinated. When I was unable to get stronger pain killers from the surgeon's office, I contacted my homeopath. The remedy she suggested was of great help in making the pain bearable

Acupuncture & Chinese herbal medicine. I found an excellent acupuncturist who was willing to use needles while I was on coumadin. He worked hard with me before the first surgery. The session just prior to that surgery he used hypnosis, to help me remain calm during the actual surgery and not to allow any side comments made by the staff, while I was under anesthesia, to affect me. When I returned after the second surgery, he used moxa, a bundle of herbs that he lit and moved over my incisions. He then gave us a stick of moxa and recommended that my wife used it on my incisions twice a day. This was to promote healing and smoothing of the skin, so that the energy flow would not be blocked by the 21 inches of scars around my middle. The scars continue to heal very well.

Cancer support group. I joined a cancer support group that met weekly and was led by Ted, my therapist. One important piece of advice to me was to speak up for what I need in the hospitals. I remembered that advice when I was debating whether to disturb the busy staff or intrude on the doctor's time. The witness of the other members who had been living with cancer for much longer time also reinforced my positive outlook.

Legal issues. Virginia and I had already been working with an Elder Law attorney to get our affairs in order after moving to a different state upon retirement. The kidney problem gave us reason to finish the documents. In December, before going to UCLA Med Center for our initial consultation, we signed the following documents for each of us: Advance Medical Directive, Durable Medical Power of Attorney, Durable General Power of Attorney, and Last Will and Testament. The attorney wrote the Advance Directive after we had completed a detailed "Health Care Advance Planning Kit," which helped us sort through various details of our last days and the ways we wanted to be treated and not treated. I took a copy of my Advance Medical Directive and Durable Medical Power of Attorney forms to both hospitals before the surgeries.

Last words. As noted earlier, Virginia and I spent several days at a beach house, after Christmas, courtesy of a friend who owned the house. This gift provided the occasion for my writing letters to my family members, to be given to them if I did not survive the surgeries. Facing my own possible death and what I wanted to say to my wife, two daughters and grandchildren was the hardest thing and the most necessary thing I have done in my life.

Interpersonal Resources

Family. While I taught pastoral care in seminary the importance of family support and care, I now know the deep-down importance of family presence at critical moments.
Virginia was a steadfast and consistently caring presence throughout the entire time. She gave up her agendas and timetables and lived by my doctors' appointments and surgeries. She cared for me without expecting anything in return. To wake up from anesthesia three times and see her face has imprinted her presence on my soul in a new and deeper way.

Both daughters came to Los Angeles, at our request. And I'm delighted they did. We stayed at Tiverton House, across the street from the Med Center and owned by UCLA. It was a calm, healing place, with a sensitive staff. The day before surgery in LA, we spent a delightful day together at the Getty Center. My second surgery occurred at Loudoun Hospital, only ten minutes from where Betsy, my older daughter, lives. She was present with Virginia during that surgery. And when I got better, she brought her two older sons for brief visits. My younger daughter, Greta, lives in Louisville, and had planned to be present at the second surgery. Since the decision was made at the last minute, she was unable to be present for the surgery. She arrived a few days later.

Soul Group. In meditation one morning early on, it came to me that I needed a primary support group during the coming ordeal. I quickly came up with the names of six persons in the region whom I knew: Don and Ben whom I had known for over thirty years and Jesse for twenty and Steve, Sheila and Vic more recently, and all respected as persons of depth and maturity. When I emailed them and invited them to join me in this journey, I knew that I was asking a great deal. For some, it took an hour or more of travel to come to my house. Many worked full-time and had full schedules. But everyone readily agreed. From December through the following April, we met a total of seven times. We met, gathered around a lit candle and with important symbols from my life, overlooking our back yard and the land which stretches over the creek and to the top of the rise beyond. Occasionally we ate together after we met. The usual agenda included a time for me to share what was going on with me, followed by a time for questions and comments, with Virginia sharing from her perspective. People listened prayerfully and asked thoughtful questions and offered feedback or comments. A period of silence followed, where people could speak or pray, as they felt led.

After our first session, I wrote in my journal: "What a wonderful Soul Group that gathered around me and Virginia yesterday! It felt so nourishing and energizing and just right. The group embracing us and humming at the end was just a very moving moment. I think this group is just what I need. Thank you, God, thank you."

Connecting with these friends at this deep level over the weeks gave a solidity at my core that is hard to describe. I knew in my gut that they were there for me, in whatever way I needed. Their caring and support wrapped around me in ways that gave me confidence and strength.

The "Successful Surgery" CD, that I mentioned earlier, used the image of all my friends and family, past and present, gathered in the operating room and supporting the surgery. At the last session of the group before the first surgery, I told them that I wanted to take them with me into the operating room and so I asked them to choose a place in the room where they wanted to be. My coming surgery became real for everyone, as each person took seriously where they wanted to be. I remembered their places and included them in my daily meditation. They were in my mind as I was wheeled in to the operating room each time.

Our final meeting occurred at the end of April, when I was finished with the major recovery and back to daily activities. This occasion provided a rich time of reflecting on what had happened. As they shared, I became aware of the gravity of what I had asked these persons to do. Things could have turned out very differently and they would have been in the middle of it. But it was a time of celebration, discussion of the meaning of pain and suffering, and eating together. I gave each person a copy of a quotation, written by one of the group members, out of his own meditation and prayer time one morning before the first surgery:

"With a knowing that comes only in the Light, I know (emphasis his) that when you need courage, you will be given courage. When you need strength, you will be given strength. When you need a strong center, the center will hold for you. When you need peace, you will be given peace. You will be bathed in the love of all the rest of us. You will know and feel our prayers reaching across the miles, and you will know the Presence guarding your going out and your coming in.

And all shall be well. Love, Steve"

The above quotation now lives in the back of my journal.

Friends. Two good friends met us at the LA Airport when we went in December for a consultation and again in January when we went back for the surgery. They took us out to dinner. They visited me in the hospital and brought flowers. During the few days of recuperation in a hotel before flying back home, they brought food to the hotel for a meal together. They continued to call and email after I returned home.

When we arrived at Tiverton House in December and again in January, a basket of fruit was waiting for us, from a dear friend, plus flowers from Goose Creek (Quaker) Meeting, where we are members. These tangible gifts reminded us of the support we had on the other side of the country. When I returned home, cards began to come from persons in all previous periods of my life. I read them all and put them where I could see them. I no longer discount the value of cards

Visits in the hospital and when I was home were almost always brief and enjoyable. When I was tired and needed to rest, I said that and it was respected. Being able to put limits, if needed, meant that I could enjoy the visits when they occurred. Virginia usually answered the telephone. If I felt like it, I would talk to the person. Otherwise, she would usually fill them in on the latest news.

Meditation Group. I live in a fairly new cohousing community. Of course I shared the news of the upcoming surgeries with my neighbors. At the suggestion of one of the members, I invited via email all persons living in our community to come to my house one night for meditation. Almost everyone showed up. I began by sharing briefly the current issue with which I was dealing and the way I was visualizing healing. We then meditated in silence for half an hour. At the end I shared what images had occurred to me, and others did as well. The variety and power of the images were amazing and wonderful. At the end of our first meeting, I wrote the following in my journal: "Thank you, loving Healer, for the wonderful neighbors who gathered last night to meditate with me. What a powerful experience! Full of energy. Thank you for the night's sleep and the dawn of a new day."

I took some of their images in to my own meditation practice in the days following. We meditated together several more times. While I was recovering, I would email them and invite them to meditate on a particular issue. Many of the participants told me that these occasions of meditating together brought the community together in a different way; and it certainly supported me.

Email List. I believe in, and I have read scientific studies showing, the healing results of prayer. Out of that, I decided to create an email list of family, friends, and acquaintances around the world. If anyone did not want to be on the list, they were invited to let us know. Otherwise, I or Virginia or one of my daughters would send them regular updates and requests for prayer and holding in the Light. The brief responses of support and prayer were helpful to Virginia and to me.

I had been a volunteer for two months at Iona Abbey in Scotland the year before, and know about their prayer circle. I emailed and asked that my name be placed on their prayer list. People around the world, who are connected to Iona, received the requests and prayed for me. My name was also mentioned each week in the service for healing in the Abbey Church. Because Iona is a special place to me, that kind of support was especially meaningful. To think about my name being read aloud in the historic church, where I had once read the names of others sick, moved me greatly. When I recovered, I sent a final email in April, thanking everyone for their prayers and good wishes.


During the recuperation period following two surgeries three weeks apart, 21 days in the hospital and 21 inches of incision, plus the 12 stitches and the stint removal, to say I was weak is an understatement. I walked around the house as I felt like it and sat in a chair in front of the picture window in the living room. Reading has been important to me over the years, but my eyes did not focus well and my brain did not work well. Reading Calvin and Hobbes comic strips and humorous books were all that I could manage. Listening to music continued to nurture me. I took two naps a day, which gradually reduced to one, then one day I became aware that I had gone for three days with no nap. Eating was not satisfying since I had no appetite for the first time in my life. My surgeon gave me instructions to eat fat and sugar, to help me gain weight. Eating a doughnut was a strange experience, after so many years of healthy eating! But my appetite returned gradually, as did my other daily activities, and I gained back the weight I had lost. Returning to work out at the community center, ten weeks after the second surgery, was a big day.

Five days after the stint removal, I returned to the church where I was Interim Minister for Small Groups and Team Leadership. The following week I began to work there again, for ten hours each week.

While my body began to feel increasingly better and back to health, my spirit felt disconnected from my body. In addition, I had felt more pain during the previous ten months than I had ever felt in my life. In May, I began to see a Spiritual Director, to focus on my body/spirit disconnect and the meaning of my suffering.

For some time I was interested in St. Frances. The pain and suffering he experienced caught my attention more directly. With the support of my spiritual director, I read two biographies of his life, plus other materials on the topic. I wrote the following in my journal after finishing the second book: "Frances--a real man who became focused on God. What does he have to say to me today? Something about possessions: don't let my possession possess me; about suffering as a doorway to God; following what I believe I am called to do whether or not society supports it."

A public presentation at the church was used to talk about what I had learned from pain and suffering. Following are the points I made:
1. Pain is not the enemy, even when it comes unexpectedly. It is a friend that signals something is wrong. The question is, how can we befriend our pain and what can it teach us?
2. I live with a new sense of vulnerability. When I am honest with myself, I know that this experience has shaken me to my core. I don't yet know what to do with this perception, but I think it has profound implications for the way I live my life and invest the remainder of my days.
3. My body recovered more quickly than my soul. My body within three months was pretty well recovered, with almost no pain, and rising levels of energy as I returned to working out at the gym. But my soul remains back somewhere after surgery. And my cognitive functioning is not as sharp, especially my memory. I hope that this is a result of having general anesthesia three times in three months, and that it will gradually dissipate. But I am working on accepting what is and living today--although not always easy.
4. I am more off-balance. It shows up, of course, in my intimate relationships. I react too quickly and take offense too easily.
5. I continue to consider the meaning of my period of pain. I can think too long and hard about the meaning of pain, and can take it personally, or perhaps blame ourselves as the cause of the discomfort. Sometimes it just happens. Rather than ask God why, or feel upset with what has happened, "Sometimes our job is just to hit the ball back across the net," as a friend, John, reminded me.

In July I was at a Quaker conference where I wrote a dialogue between my body and my soul. My spirit, in effect, stated that it was afraid that my body would move on as though nothing had happened. So my spirit was holding out on moving forward. My body asked my spirit to name what it had learned:
1. Last November-April was a time of great focus in my life. Priorities were clear. Other things simply fell away. I knew the work I had to do.
2. The last six months was the closest continuous time I have ever experienced with God. I felt surrounded by divine presence, even when I was most down and flat on the ground after smashing my eye.
3. I can receive love and support and care when I really need it. New!
4. I can ask for what I need--from physicians, hospital staff, friends and family.
5. Love is critical to the healing process.
6. I have the resources--outer and inner--to deal with such a major crisis.
7. Pain--even excruciating pain--did not kill me and can be endured for short periods.
8. Modern medicine cannot control pain very well and that may be/is okay.
9. Virginia is steady, loving, and entirely trustworthy in such situations.
10. Doctors and medical personnel, in my experience, are competent, skilled human beings who do the best they can.
11. My combination of medical insurance thankfully covers almost all the bills.
12. Virginia and I can solicit opinions--second, third, and even fourth--and then I can make up my own mind about the way to proceed, given my values and where I am.
13. Family and friends will stand by me for the whole ordeal.
14. I can trust my intuition and listen to my body and soul for what I need.
15. I can trust the universe and God in all this.

My reflection upon writing the above was the following: "I'm impressed with how much I did learn from the past six months. They are valuable lessons that I will carry with me in to the future."

After writing that afternoon, my spirit felt reassured and rejoined my body. I have certainly felt more integrated since then!

Soon afterwards, I wrote letters of update and appreciation to the five doctors who had been of primary importance to me. These letters, along with this present account, are my final acts of saying goodbye to this episode in my life. I now have moved on.

In August, I saw a dietician to look at my diet, given the new reality of a partial kidney. I am becoming aware of eating no more than 60 grams of protein a day, which is not a burden, since I am a vegetarian. I also watch sodium intake.

Now I work out three times a week, have a massage every three weeks, see my spiritual director monthly, see my therapist on occasion, journal and meditate.

Final Reflections

Gratitude is my dominant response now. I am grateful for all that has happened, and especially to the persons who cared and helped. I am grateful in a strange way for my kidney cancer, for it gave me a crash course in preparation for death and thereby in living more deeply. I constantly practice forgiveness. For me, forgiveness comes before and makes possible the gratitude. I do not want to carry around old hurts and grievances, as well as present misunderstandings and wounds.

After the talk on pain and suffering, the following week I gave my reflections on forgiveness and gratitude, in which I wrote the following:

". . . practicing forgiveness of ourselves, of other people and of God is a way to help us use our energy and intentions for today . Forgiveness frees us to live in the present. Then we are light because we have been freed of a burden. Then we are light, because we reflect the Light of Christ.

"Once forgiveness has occurred, in relation to ourselves, others, and God, then we are grateful. As I grow older, I am increasingly convinced that gratitude is the most important attitude and enduring trait to possess. Meister Eckhart wrote that "If the only prayer we ever uttered was 'thank you', that would be enough."

I now see each day as a gift. In the middle of the day, if I find myself harried, thanking God for the gift of the day changes my perspective and slows me down.

I am also more intentional about time with my grandchildren. I want to be part of their lives as they grow up, as an investment in the future of the planet.

This combination of resources that I used worked well for me in this situation, but it might not for another person or even for myself in a different situation.

This experience has reminded me that life is short; so I am listening for the work I am called to do in this next stage.


May you know the lightness of being that comes from confession and forgiveness,
May you experience the joy that comes from living in the present moment,
May you find gratitude as your constant companion throughout your days,
And when the days are long and gray,
May God's light shine on you and guide your way.
May you know the strong arms of God surrounding you when you are scared,
- The secure lap of God inviting you to cuddle in when you are weak,
- The smile of God turned toward you when you are insecure,
- The covering of God when you hurt.
May these attributes of God be mediated to you through loving and caring friends, your spiritual group, and your family .
And through it all, we will say "Thank you, God. Thank you."


Bill Ratliff
August 2005


(address to Friends General Conference summer gathering, July 4, 2004)

I stand before you with great hesitancy.  Ordinarily people are asked to give speeches because they are experts in something.  I feel led, however, to talk to you about love: something that I don't feel I'm very good at.  About my own journey of trying to learn to love, some things that have gotten in the way, and ways I am trying to clear away those barriers.

Matthew says that a lawyer asked Jesus which of the commandments is the greatest.  He replied that we are to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.  And to love our neighbor.  He said everything in the laws and the prophets hangs on these two great commandments.  So in other words: it's all about love.

Let me begin by saying that I have come to experience the universe as fundamentally caring at its core.   My mind rebels against the idea of a God at the heart of everything who cares personally about me (wondering, "How can that work?!") - yet my heart says that there is such a God who cares about me and every other being on this planet, each animal, each growing thing, the earth underneath us, the seas and molecules of air.  I know that many people do not experience the universe this way but I ask you to try and walk with me in my experience of this tonight.

[Infancy]  I believe we begin to experience being loved before we're born.  Psalm 139 describes the psalmist's experience of God loving him before birth, fashioning his inmost parts, knitting them together in his mother's womb, secretly kneading him and shaping him in the depths of the earth, making sure each limb formed in its own time.  We too can experience God's love before birth as seeds planted deep within us by our parents' loving thoughts towards us.  I know I was loved by my mother in the womb.  My wife, Annie, and I spoke and sang to our son, Nate, before he was born.  I caressed her belly, knowing I was sending love to a new living being.  I also did this with the two small beings she carried within her that did not make it to birth. 

As an infant all we want to do is be loved, held and taken care of.  We want to be surrounded by a sense of being cared for and safe.  Our love for and trust in our mother is without bounds.  We cannot distinguish between being surrounded by and held in God's love and the love of our caretakers.  Lullabies speak beautifully of the sense of being safe and protected - equally by our parents and by God.

Early childhood. Sometimes our sense of safety and trust in life is threatened by mistakes. When I was a baby my parents took me to an eye doctor who misdiagnosed a congenitally blind eye as being lazy eye. As a result they put an eye patch over my only seeing eye, effectively blinding me for nearly two years.  I often had to have my arms splinted to keep me from taking off the eye patch.  Although this upset my mother greatly, she thought she was doing the right thing - after all, it was what the doctor ordered.  I was too little to have any understanding of why they were doing this. The lesson I learned was that I could not trust others to think well about me,  and that I needed to be smart and forceful enough to make decisions on my own.

As we grow, we need to be allowed the freedom to begin taking steps towards doing things on our own.  If those who care for us abuse us, physically, emotionally or sexually, this betrayal creates terrible seeds of mistrust.  This barrier to trust extends to God and the universe as well as to one's own parents.  We need our parents to delight in our creativity and accomplishments.  Then we can learn to begin to trust our own beauty and strength as well as our parents'.

I invite you to recall the joy and safety that you felt as a very small child in being loved by your parents. Even if they failed you at times, you can open your hearts to the times that someone did love you.  Perhaps you can feel the ways God was loving you and even grieving about the times you were not kept as safe as you should have been.  Open your heart to God loving you as God formed you in the womb.  Can you feel the love & care you received when you were small as a way God loved you at that time?  I have been journeying towards reclaiming my sense of basic trust my whole life. With counseling, prayer and the support of my friends and faith community I can keep walking that path.

Sexual love and intimacy. How can we give our hearts to another without limits?  The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a book of love poetry called The Captain's Verses to the woman he eventually married. 

      The Queen

I have named you queen.

There are taller ones than you, taller.

There are purer ones than you, purer.

There are lovelier than you, lovelier

But you are the queen.

When yhou go through the streets

no one recognizes you.

No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks

at the carpet of red gold

that you tread as you pass,

the nonexistent carpet.

And when you appear

all the rivers sound

in my body, bells

shake the sky,

and a hymn fills the world.

Only you and I,

only you and I, my love,

listen to it.

"La Reina" by Pablo Neruda, from The Captain's Verses (transl. by Robert Bly)

Neruda opens his heart without holding back to his lover. As adolescents and young adults we open our hearts to othersand hopefully find that love reciprocated.  We need to be able to fall in love, to open our heart without bounds to a loved one, perhaps over and over again.

One of the most extraordinary books of the Bible is the Song of Songs.  It is basically a collection of love poetry.  Scholars argue how it "made it" into our scripture. I like to think that the meeting of rabbis back around the time of Christ included it because they felt that when we open our hearts without limit to the love of our life, we also open our hearts to God.  [Read a passage if time? Or add "Check it out: it's beautiful."]

Bob Franke's wonderful song "Beggars to God" is rooted in the same theme.  The gypsy we run off with and dance with is also the holy bridegroom of Jesus' parable of the Wise & Foolish Virgins - the Messiah that all the Jewish people anxiously awaited to give their hearts to.  Franke invites us to burn our candle out with passionate love for each other and for God - rather than cautiously hoarding our oil (or love) as we wait til love or the messiah arrives.  Is Quakerism ready for faith that is this passionate and grounded in love without limits?

I had a pretty rough time myself learning to be a lover.  I had to overcome the scars of being sexually abused by an uncle as a child.  Even without of the terrible experience of sexual abuse it is often hard to learn to love.  I was afraid if I opened my heart to another I would be rejected and hurt (and I was, of course, at times!)  I was also afraid that if I let open the force of passionate feeling I would hurt others by my sexual energy. Often it feels safer not to love at all or to hold our love for others in careful check avoiding cautiously the abandon that Neruda, Franke and the writer of Song of Songs talk about.

When I was preparing for this talk I stumbled across a little book called The Book of Love by Daphne Kingma.  It is full of wonderful lessons in how to think about and cherish the person we love.  Some of it is definitely "over the top".  [read a passage from "Lie in the Rose Petals"?]  But why not love that way without boundaries? 

The writer of 1st John says that when we love another we dwell in God. Open your heart to the beloved one in your life.  You can practice loving her or him beyond what is comfortable or easy as a means of practicing loving God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. Why hold back?!

A spiritual family.  Another way to give of one's heart is to a group of people.  My whole life I have held within me a deep recurring dream of spiritual community.  This was planted in me by a wonderful fellowship of young people that met at Ann Arbor Meeting in my high school years and by a scattered community of Young Friends called New Swarthmoor that was based in upstate New York between 1969 and 1973.  The dream I have dreamed a hundred times is that New Swarthmoor has been restarted and all of us who worshipped and loved together there are regathering to live again in joy and faith.

John McCandless was the keynote speaker at a consultation on membership held at Quaker Hill many years ago.  Participants sent in hundreds of queries before the gathering on the subject.  John said the only one that really interested him was "Why have membership?"  I've had been carrying a concern about membership in my heart for years. The answer to John's question that has always come to me has been  - love.  That God does not want us to go through this world spiritually as individuals but rather in a community of brothers and sisters who enter into God's living presence together and who try to hear and follow his voice as a group. 

It takes just as much courage to open our heart to a group as it does to an individual.  The group can fail us, get trapped in conflict or decide to disband.  But the bonds of love can also last long, well beyond the time when the group formally disbands The dear friends on this stage who have been some of my companions in spirit over the years are wonderful evidence of this.

Go out and find spiritual brothers and sisters in the Spirit and throw open your heart to them in trust and in love!  And if you find them, treat them with great care, as this relationship may be one of the most precious ones you find in this life.

Loving the Stranger.  Sam Keen wrote a great book on male spirituality called The Fire in the Belly.  At one point he advises men to try practicing "empathy towards strangers" - to stand on the a street corner and try to imagine yourself living the life of people you see walking by, particularly types of people you usually have little contact with.

There is an enormous amount of suffering in this world today.  It is hard to allow our hearts to be open to the pain of children suffering in Ramallah or Baghdad or in a nearby inner city.  Come listen to Kevin Bales tomorrow night even though some of it will be hard to hear. 

John Woolman is my best teacher in this: he opened his heart to slaves, to the working poor, even to overworked farm animals.  At certain points in his life, like while he was sailing in steerage to London, it seemed as if the sorrow of the world nearly overwhelmed him and might sink him. 

Having watched daily images on TV of the terrible suffering of people at our government's hands in Vietnam, many of us found our draft cards to be weighing heavily in our pockets.  Refusing to use my CO exemption was a great act of freedom for me, even though it might well have sent me to prison (as it did many of us who took this step).  My father nearly died of cancer around that time.  That experience opened his heart not only to make vocational choices that were "following his bliss" but also to refuse the proportion of his income taxes that went towards warmaking for the rest of his life.

Join John Woolman in opening the doors of your heart towards those who are suffering in the world around us - and let the pain that you experience spur you into spirited, spirit-led action against injustice, war, and violence towards the earth.

Special male barriers to vulnerability.  In my experience it is very hard to stay open-hearted as a man in this culture, to feel, to be tender, to be vulnerable, to lean on others.  My own family roots have not helped me either: I am the oldest son of at least 4 generations of oldest sons from hardy New England stock.  Each generation we learned that duty and hard work and self-reliance are all-important. 

A couple of examples of dutiful hard-heartedness: As a young man my father was working on some sort of Quakerly service project in the Midwest when the younger sister he deeply loved died.  He at first was not going to return to the funeral believing he served her best by "staying at his job" - until someone convinced him that his parents needed him to return home.  When Annie was scheduled for surgery a few years ago I was reluctant to miss an "important meeting" at work, so I told her I would come see her later in the day.  As I drove towards work I was suddenly overwhelmed with the awareness of how "off" my priorities were, so I turned the car around, called my boss, and drove to the hospital to keep vigil outside her surgery. 

It is hard to give up my heart to others - or to God - if I believe that I am the "master of my own domain" and responsible for carrying single-handedly the burdens of the family, my meeting, my workplace and even the world on my own shoulders. The wonderful Christian psychiatrist Gerry May hit the nail on the head in his book Addiction and Grace:  the great sin of addiction is that it is idolatry - it is creating a god in place of the God that comes to earn our ultimate loyalty and love in place of family, friends or the one true Heart of life.  Work and duty can play the role of the idol that that claims our love and loyalty - just as surely as alcohol or gambling or sexual addictions can. 

Hardness of heart led my great grandfather to work my grandfather so hard on his farm that my grandfather seriously injured his back.  My great grandfather begrudged and resented his son going to medical school because it took him away from his duties on the farm.  My grandfather never forgave his father for this.

My grandfather loved his patients tenderly and strode long hours for the civic and political causes that mattered to him but he was blocked from showing the same tenderness and passion with his own family.  When his daughter died he was overwhelmed with his grief.  My grandmother was a music teacher and loved classical music.  But whenever he heard music it reminded my grandfather of his lost daughter and he would weep, so he forbade my grandmother from playing it when he was around.  He always talked gruffly and curtly around my grandmother, I sense out of his fear of his own vulnerability and pain.  But then when she died, my granddaddy was filled with remorse at the way he had mistreated her and failed to show his love for her over so many years.  He wept for a year and died of a broken heart.  (I believe the tenderness he felt for his love and sorrow about what he did may well have reached my grandmother after death.  That she forgave him and reassured him of this in some mysterious way.  Certainly his broken-hearted tenderness was a gift to me.)

Hard-heartedness is a hard lesson to unlearn!  My grandfather resented his father for his excessive focus on work and duty but ended up unconsciously taking this approach to work and family himself.  Similarly, my father and I both felt a lot of anger at our fathers for what we saw as our fathers' hard heartedness towards our mothers - yet I think we too have found ourselves unconsciously carrying on our fathers' legacy into the next generation. 

The "easy yoke". I'd like to sing you a song the Shakers wrote about this that has meant a lot to me. 

I will bow and simple

I will bow and be free

I will bow and be humble

Yea, bow like the willow tree.


I will bow this is the token

I will wear the easy yoke

I will bow and be broken

Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

Some Friends have told me that this song is hard for them to appreciate: they have no interest in taking on a yoke - easy or otherwise - having felt all too yoked in the past!  But as a straight male middle-class oldest son it is great grace for me to resign the role of being in charge, of carrying all the burdens on my own - to learn to bow to God and let God be in charge of my life.  I find it deeply comforting to imagine myself as "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", to be kept within the wings of the King of Kings, or to feel myself (in the words of Carol Johnson's round ["I Am an Acorn"]) as "carved in the palm of God's hands". 

Ironically, becoming dependent on God feels like a great gift of freedom to me.  Being in charge on the time can get really tiring after awhile and begin to feel like slavery. Is it any mystery that men die so much younger than women in this country? Again, the schoolhouse for learning to be taken care of by God is to practice being more dependent on friends, on family, on our faith community and on our beloved.

Many Quakers like to sing old gospel songs like "In the Garden."  Many liberal Friends do not feel personally cared for by Jesus in the way described in this song.  But many, many people around this world do and derive enormous freedom and grace from that sense of being cared about.  I honestly am not very clear about what I believe about Jesus (probably one of those mind vs. heart battles I alluded to earlier!)  But even if you do not believe that Jesus loves you in this way, you can fee; cared for and held by God in a similar personal way.

I invite you all of you guys out there to give up control and enslavement to whatever addictive defenses may protect you from vulnerability and begin learning how to  rest in uncertainty, vulnerability, and dependence on others.  To receive the gift of freedom that comes from leaning on others - and on God.

Facing dependence on others and death.  It is very hard as a man to give up this role of fierce independence.  Men kill themselves at an increasing rate as they grow older and in especially large numbers after retirement.  It is hard for us to give up our work roles and become less "useful", to give up our health and autonomy and rely more on others to take care of us.  If I felt a deep sense of trust and safety in the hands of my parents, of my partner in love and my community of faith, then I may be more willing to give up control at the end of life and free to move into a state of physical dependence on others.  Needless to say this involves courage in willingness to let go gradually over time.  We began life trusting others to care for us utterly.  Many of will return to that place at the end of our lives.

Those facing life-threatening illness (such as my friend Betsy Balderston) may have to walk this journey earlier than they expected.  My father battled against his second cancer with great determination and courage.  It was very hard, however, for him to let go of old patterns including his fierce devotion to work and duty. I believe this may have made it harder for his body to heal from the cancer.  George Lakey was originally going to speak tonight but made a wonderful decision to "let go" of his invitation for very thoughtful reasons.  When he faced a similar very serious cancer some time ago, George was able to let go and make major changes in his style of life and work in a way that may have given his body the freedom to heal and go on living.

But part of facing a life-threatening illness like cancer is entering into the mystery of not really knowing whether the decisions and changes we make will lead to life and healing or to physical death.  To a great extent we are in the hands of the universe in this in ways we cannot fully comprehend.

I wrote a paper when I was in a two year training program on spiritual direction called "Love, Sex and Death".  Americans are notoriously uptight about death and dying.  If we open up our hearts to others we love, we risk opening ourselves to the most mysterious possibility of all - our own physical death.  The French call orgasm "the little death" because it involves momentary letting go of control and loss of our sense of consciousness and separateness.  I believe that many people close themselves off from feeling in general in part because of resistance to feeling their terror about dying.  Addictions are one way to numb ourselves from facing our own mortality.

I have no idea what death brings us.  I know that my mother and her mother faced it without any fear. This absence of fear was a blessing to them through out life.   If I trust that there is a living God at the heart of the universe who cares personally about me and holds me in her/his loving hand, it is hard for me to imagine that this care does not extend beyond the death.  I do not know whether that means I will "see God face to face" and be reunited in some conscious sense with my parents and grandparents and loved ones like my friend Eli Hochstedler - or if I will in some great sense be part of God in a way that lacks separation. 

Bob Franke ends his song "Still Small Voice" with the line "When my lover comes to call me home, it will be in the a still small voice."  The lover he is referring to is God.

The important thing is that we do not have to fear death in this life.   We will all be passing through it as surely as the door we passed through into this world.  So let's fling open our hearts to others, live life without limits, love with abandon and experience being held in the palm of God's hand.

I would like to conclude by reading you a very special poem by my favorite Quaker poet Wini Rawlins who died a few years ago. 

          ARE WE HELD


Space-time in Einstein's universe

Bends like a roof above our head,

And underneath our restless feet

Curves like runners on a sled.


It seems we cannot wholly fall

Through sudden rents in outer space;

Space-time would toss us lightly back

To bounce into our destined place.


The heart has inner solitudes

As vast as telescopes can scan;

The world beyond the Milky Way

Are not more lonely than a man.


Yet through this inner universe

Move constant stars with names we know,

And many suns and smaller moons

Within its darkness gently glow;


And is this inner space-time curved

Like circling arms below, above,

And are we held, and cannot fall

Through holes within the web of love?


by Winifred Rawlins, from Dreaming Is Now, Golden Quill Press, 1963


We are, each of us, held in a web of love.

On Praying for Others

| Comments


I noticed something not long ago which surprised me: Vocal intercessory prayer appears to be experiencing a major revival among liberal unprogrammed meetings!  Friends may not recognize it as such.  The language used to refer to it varies from meeting to meeting, but often runs something like the following:  "Please hold my friend Jane in the light. She's going through a really hard time with her youngest child." Or, "My father is going into surgery on Thursday morning for his prostate cancer: I would ask you to hold him in your hearts during his surgery." 

This language may have a bit of a New Age ring to it. in my view, however, the same deep process is at work whether the speaker is asking others to pray for someone explicitly or asking them to hold her/him "up to the Light".  After all, what is this "Light" we are holding the person in or up to if not God? 

Some meetings provide a special time for this kind of request or information sharing following meeting for worship.  It may be called "twilight meeting" or "joys and sorrows".  Sometimes such requests are made during meeting for worship itself. They may enter in between introductions and announcements.  Other meetings set aside a completely different time such as a prayer group or healing circle for sharing these kinds of requests.

All this praying for others started me reflecting on what it actually means to bring up another person's needs to God.  If you think about it, mentioning someone's needs to God involves some deep paradoxes.  The first paradox of intercessory prayer involves what theologians call "omniscience."  If you believe (as I do) that God knows all about us including all of our needs even better than we do, why should we need to tell God about our own or someone else's special needs? 

The second basic paradox of intercessory prayer involves the equality of God's regard for all of her/his children. Since we assume that God loves all of humanity (perhaps even all of Creation) equally, it seems wrong that God would direct more healing or caring energy towards one person than other just because one - or even many - people are praying for that individual.

A great puzzle that many of us struggle with is whether God can, in fact, resuce indiviual humans from death despair, illnesss or suffering.  Because we believe God's concern and love for us are without limit, we presume that God longs for each of us to be happy and healthy - to live long and, as far as possible, free from unnecessary pain.  Nonetheless, there may be fundamental reasons why God either might not choose or might not be able to rescure individuals from suffering and death. This is something that both theologians and simple people of faith have been wrestling with for centuries. The reasons, however, why healing fails to occur in a specific instance are unlikely to include either God's unfamiliarity with the problem or the shortage of supportive friends and family praying for the person in need.

Some people avoid needing to wrestle with these questions about the nature of God because they focus on another important benefit of prayer.  This involves the good that flows towards those being prayed for from sensing the love and caring in the hearts of those who are praying for them.  Certainly we know that people heal more easily and flourish emotionally when they know others care about them.  There has been significant scientific research that suggests that those who are ill or in pain receive benefit from others praying for them even when they do not know by any direct outward means that others are doing this.  My own family has extraordinary stories of hearts knit together across distance that is hard to explain: such as people who knew the moment that a loved one was dying at a great distance.  As real and important as such indirect benefits of prayer are, I personally am unable to leave God out of the prayer process. 

Another important reason why many of us pray is because we have been asked to do so:  Jesus, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Fox and many other great spiritual leaders have enjoined us to pray for one another.  But again, this cannot be an entire answer.  It is important for most of us to understand the deeper reasons why we are doing something, even if we feel great trust in those who have asked us to do this. And so I am brought back to the original question, why am I praying in relation to the God who is at the heart of my universe and what am I hoping will happen as a result?

Perhaps when we pray for another what we are asking for above all is not for God to do something different with that person.  God is already doing what needs to happen: loving that person, sending her/him healing energy and reassurance and hope.  Perhaps what we are asking for is something to change in the heart of the person being prayed for - to enable her/him to receive the love and healing that are flowing already from God.   In some cases this may involve being able to face suffering or death if that will be the ultimate outcome.  Or it may be that what we are praying for is a transformation in the situation that will enable the prayer recipient to open up her/his heart toward God and toward the universe without fear and anxiety. 

But when we pray we are also inviting a change to happen in ourselves. I learned this additional reason for praying for each other from my limited understanding of Al-Anon, the network of support groups for family members of alcoholics.  Family members often discover that they have been trying for years to rescue a family member from her/his addiction.  They sometimes find this a critical, though very difficult, step to ending their codependency with their loved one's addiction.  This can lead to finally reaching the point where they are ready and able to turn their loved one struggling with addiction over to God.  When we pray for someone else we are asking God to work in that person's heart for healing and change rather than trying to take on the responsibility for change ourselves. 

So when we pray, we express our longing for God to work change in our own lives and hearts as much as in the heart and life of the person we're praying for.  We are asking for the capacity to let go of our own anxiety, fear, or the sense that we are ultimately responsible for our loved one. We are asking our community of faith to join with us in placing the entire situation at God's feet: bringing about a graceful willingness both in ourselves and in the person in need to lean on God and let go of fear or whatever may be interfering with God's powerful love touching all who are involved.

© 2000 Peter Blood   Published in Friends Journal, August 2000

Willingness and Health

| Comments

Willingness and Health

Traditional Western Medicine. The traditional assumption in Western medicine has been that health problems happen to us from the outside - like being stuck by a car or lightning. Either we are "infected" by a microorganism or else we are considered to be the victims of bad luck. This viewpoint tends to de-emphasize peronsal responsibility for the illness one is facing. It also minimizes the responsibility of the ill individual in the process of healing. Responsibility is placed on the technician (the MD) and on chance. This outlook is materialistic and dualistic, emphasizing a sharp division between body and mind and between individuals and their surroundings. It denies deeper meaning to the entire process of illness and healing and leaves little room for God in the process.

Holistic Medicine. There has been a powerful shift in recent years away from the above viewpoint. It is widely recognized that illnesses are basically things which we (our bodies) do - for sometimes mysterious reasons, but generally for reasons which flow out of the totality of our lives - our lifestyle choices, mental health, family systems, socio-economic environment, life in the spirit, etc. It is not that cancers or heart attacks are done to us or happen ("having" at least implies some degree of dwelling with us) - they are part of what we are at this time and place in our lives. Our language is limiting: it would be more precise to say, "My father is cancering" or even "My family is cancering through my father" or "My country is cancering more than ever before." A heart attack is really a heart which is partially dying or breaking.

Bernie Siegel, a surgeon who runs support groups for cancer patients who are seeking radical holistic responses to their illness, has written an eloquent exposition of this new/old viewpoint in his book, Love, Medicine, and Miracles. He challenges main-line MD's for ignoring the evidence of exceptional patients who heal in ways that are difficult to explain in mechanistic medical terms. Illnesses are seen as arising out of dysfunctional patterns in our lives: through self-destructive patterns of eating, working, resting, and exercise; stress; and rigid ways of dealing with emotions and problems. At one point he generalizes to the point of asserting that all illness is ultimately rooted in a failure to give and receive love - and that all healing springs from an increased capacity to live and be loved unconditionally.

It is clearly true that sin and attachment are hard on bodies. Fear of failure leads to obsessive work which creates tension and lifestyle patters destructive to health. Fear of rejection creates patterns of dependency, denial, and passivity which are also heavily implicated in the development of disease. Attachment restricts awareness cutting off the ability to notice messages that are coming from one's body (as when the individual fixates on work). It can also lead to narrow fixation on bodily sensations and fears to the detriment of the totality of what is occurring within and around an individual life. Hatred can have even more devastating effects on the health of the person trapped in hating. Siegel's "extraordinary" patients' capacity to heal is closely associated with their capacity to begin experiencing faith, hope, and love in ways they were unable to do previously.

Willingness, Materialism, and Mystery. Siegel's book, however, has a curiously ambivalent attitude towards God in this whole process. He suggests that "miraculous" healings are merely scientific events which we do not as yet understand. He feels that in most cases these are due to the freeing up of natural bodily mechanisms (e.g. the immune and endocrine systems triggered by events in the Central Nervous System). The implication is that every ill person could experience such healings if they only were willing to undertake a radical journey into self-understanding and personal growth. There is a strong emphasis on personal power in this process. Kenneth Pelletier suggests that a key characteristic of patients who achieve long-term remissions is their belief that cure came as a a result of their own efforts, rather than from luck or "gift".

The dangers here are three-fold: First, holistic medicine can be as materialistic and mechanistic as traditional medicine - merely focusing on a wider set of causes. Mystery and any sense of giftedness from God in healing is lost. Second, there is a great danger of ill individuals blaming themselves for heaving become ill or for failing to heal themselves. Siegel stresses that he is advocating responsibility rather than blame. He tells his patients that they have become ill for honorable reasons - to help them identify needs which weren't being met in their lives. In my experience, however, self-blame is difficult to avoid with this outlook. In my father's encounters with cancer, I have not only tended to blame him in my heart for living a life that brought cancer on and for failing to make the behavioral and spiritual changes which I perceive as necessary for healing to occur - but also blame myself for failing to bring about the requisite changes in his life.

The ultimate danger in this approach - one which under girds both those above - is willfulness. Willfulness leads to delusions that 1) we are solely responsible for health changes that occur to us because of bad choices we have made - and are therefore ourselves bad and undeserving of God's love, 2) we are responsible for figuring out intellectually how this happened, and 3) we are responsible for fixing ourselves through changing the behaviors which "caused" the health problems in the first place. The issue is whether we see ourselves as the central players in our own destinies and healing. The greatest danger of willfulness in the area of health is that it tempts us to try to use spiritual growth as a tool to effect our own physical healing.

Willful holistic medicine has stiking similarities to the attitude toward health and illness sometimes found in the kind of fundamentalist religious groups which Thayer discusses in his article. Illness is seen as having meaning, but it is often simplistic, e.g. God's punishment for the sinfulness of the individual believer. In both cases, mystery is lost - and the sense of the incomprehensibility of God described by Doran.

Towards a Contemplative Medicine. I would like to suggest a different approach to holistic health. This approach is rooted in the effort to offer the totality of our lives - mind, body, and spirit - to God in willing surrender. I is more ambiguous, less intellectually satisfying than other approaches perhaps, but I sense this is a strength rather than a weakness (again, cf. Doran).

1. General Health. Opening one's heart to God tends to free up feelings of love towards all of creation. This certainly includes love of one's self. It is reasonable to expect that willingness will lead toward treating one's body with love and care - to providing it with health food, rest, relaxation, exercise, and constructive outlets for emotional energy. A tendency toward growing openness and alertness of attention enables an individual to notice and respond to signals from the body when basic emotional or physical needs are being neglected. Anything which restricts awareness (e.g. preoccupation with worries, depression or tasks) or dulls it (drugs, overeating, exhaustion) will also inhibit the ability to pick up and respond to important signals from one's self before these lead to deterioration of health. If our bodies are offered up to the Lord, we will seek to be tender and responsible caretakers/stewards of them - as of all of God's creation put into our keeping. There is no guarantee, of course, that these approaches will insure optimal health. These are behaviors which tend to flow naturally from desiere to serve a God who loves each of us in all that we are and cares deeply about every facet of our well-being - regardless of the "outcome" of our faithfulness in this area.

2. Attitude toward Illness. Just as sin can be the occasion of greater self-understanding, humility, and growth towards God, the same can happen with illness. The natural contemplative response to illness is to greet it as an opportunity for hearing the voice of God in the illness - what it means, what it may be calling us to do. Illness can be seen as a signal that attachment, sin, or restricted awareness may be at work in my life. The illness is not proof that I have been ignoring God's will, but it certainly raises the possibility! Other possibilities are mentioned in the concluding section. These issues require prayerful discernment.

3. Attitude toward Healing. Just as I am aware that I cannot possibly figure out separate from God the meaning of this illness, so I recognize that there is no way I can follow through on any changes being asked of me separate from God. It makes sense to pray for help in illness because this is being honest with God about our pain, our fear, our need for help. We can accept support such as laying on of hands for the same reasons. There is no guarantee that hearing the meaning of the illness and heeding it will lead to physical healing. Failure to heal physically is no proof either of God's malevolence or of our disobedience. There remains a fundamental unavoidable mystery in the fact that I became ill initially rather than another (who might perhaps be more "cut off" from their body or destructive towards it than I was) - and in whether healing occurs or does not. In a fundamental paradoxical sense the illness itself was a gift, and whatever flows from it (physical healing or something utterly different, even death) is also gift. We can hope for physical healing while also being unattached to it and grateful for whatever unfolds for us. If healing does occur, we can greet it as a "real miracle" - or as the miraculous natural way this human body that God created heals.

Body, I hear you. I am "flu-ing". I will set aside my busy agenda and allow myself to really experience what this is that I am living in this.

God, what are you saying to me in this flu? Is there something I haven't been hearing? Am I not listening to myself as body well enough? Am I ignoring a feeling which is alive and well in me? Am I carrying in me a resentment towards one of your children I need to resolve? Am I caught up in the delusion that I need to overwork in order to deserve your love?

God, I give unto you the possibility of healing - both the changes I hear you asking me to make in my life and the possible healing of my body it its/Your own time. I know this illness is not any indication of rejection or withdrawal by you or failure/badness on my part. It is just one part of what/who I am at this moment in my lfie. We'll see what the next moment brings! [Would it change if I had substituted "cancer" for "flu" in this meditation?]

The Lives of the Saints. I have not read accounts of the lives of a large number of "spiritual masters", but the readings I have done have suggested a few tentative conclusions about such pilgrims' own health experiences and attitudes.

1. The saints nearly always see their illnesses as having meaning. In the early stages of spiritual journey they are often seen as messages from God about a failure to heed His voice in a major life area. In later stages they are seen as a challenge or "Cross" such as Teresa describes in the Sixth Dwelling Place.

2. They tend to be remarkably free of fear or distraction in the face of illness, physical pain, or death.

3. They emphasize the need to be thoughtful about one's body - or at least to avoid clearly self-damaging ascetical exercises.

4. Obedience to God is clearly seen as more important than personal health and safety. The disciple may be led to missions, service, or costly discipleship under conditions of great hardship which obviously may not maximize good health!

5. In many but by no means all cases, a saint seems to be provided with extraordinary "protection" of body under the conditions mentioned above - such as George Fox's amazing ability to endure physical hardship of sleeping outdoors, beating and foul imprisonment - or the ability of people like Mother Theresa to live and work under very unhealthful and diseased conditions without becoming ill.

6. It is clear that there is no direct correlation between health and spiritual progress. Many very tender spirits among early Friends perished in prison when other Friends did not. John Woolman died from smallpox when many others around him do not contract the disease or perish. Many individuals have lived lives of great faithfulness and been plagued by terrible health.

Were these "sickly" saints suffering from physical self-abuse borne of dualistic ideas about spirit and body or excessive asceticism? Were they too open to the suffering and agonies of this world - so their hearts and bodies could not handle the spiritual burden they carried for others? Did they undertake inward journeys which were stressful in themselves and hence destructive of their bodies' health? Were their illnesses the unique method which God chose at that moment to invite them into closer communion with Him?

In the end, I think we cannot answer these questions. This remains mystery - mystery of what we are in this world and what we are given. Offering our bodies willingly up to God is no more guarantee of good health or healing from illness than offering our service or peace work up to God will guarantee that the hungry will be fed or that war will cease. Instead, as May says, willingness toward God means willingness to go where God leads us - whether this means radical changes in our lifestyle and health behaviors, or unto seemingly senseless illness and death. This takes radical trust in the benevolence and omnipotence of God.

This article was written in 1987 as a paper for the two year certificate course in spiritual direction that I took at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. My father was struggling with prostate cancer as I wrote this paper and died a year after it was written. The paper was "graded" (commented on) by Gerry May, author of the book, Will and Spirit, from which many of the ideas in this paper were drawn. I will be happy to pass along Gerry's comments on the paper to anyone who is interested. Gerry was a Christian psychiatrist who was on the faculty of Shalem at the time. He is brother to the well-known psychiatrist, Rollo May. He died of cancer in 2005. © 2006 Peter Blood.


 Subscribe in a reader

Subscribe by Email:

Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

| Comments
They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

| Comments

Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.