Saturday, June 9, 2012

Random Summer Vacation Rerun #5

On praying for the sick and dying:

The problem remains . . .  of what exactly to pray for. Do you pray, for example, for "total healing?" To do so, it seems to me, is to put your eggs, every last one of them, in a basket God might not mean to carry this time. Sometimes He does pick up that basket -- people do undergo miraculous cures under the most bizarre and unlikely circumstances -- but sometimes He does not. My father, after a heart attack five years ago, did not rise, take up his bed and walk. We prayed for his life and health, and he died. His death broke our hearts;  I can't write about him without tears even now. I miss him more than I would miss my right arm, or the sight of my eyes. Manifestly I didn't get what I prayed for. But here is what I think about that:  1) that it was right to pray for healing, but also 2) that a no, even a cruel no, the no that breaks you over its knee, is an answer and a gift, however unwanted.

Okay, "gift" is maybe a stupid word. Thank you, God, for this fabulous millstone of lifelong grief. I don't know what I'd have done without it. Actually, though, I do wonder what I'd have done without it. Having death make itself at home in my family taught me, ultimately, not to fear death. This wasn't an instantaneous process, but involved a good eighteen months of intense panic attacks, during which my fear of death was so near and real that I couldn't sleep, barely ate, and enjoyed nothing that I did. At some point during this dark time, Aelred suggested to me that I might feel better if I made a confession to a priest, to which I responded with scorn. Nothing could help me, I was convinced, and telling somebody not my grievances but my wrongdoings was not at all what I thought my soul craved. As it turned out, Aelred was right, but that's really another story. What matters -- to me, anyway -- is that at the end of a very long, difficult, metaphorical day, I emerged with the sense that death was real, it was serious, and it had to be confronted, thought about, and prepared for;  but that I could think about it without fear. I could consider a good death a worthy aspiration. Death was not, any more, a failure of God's goodness, but a thing redeemed from itself, one way or another, by that goodness.

Of course, it's easy enough to bang all  this out in good health. My brave new self has yet to be led to the Tower, shown the scaffold outside the walls. Still, these are the things I think of, when confronted with the need to pray for a miracle:  that at the same time one should pray for insight sufficient to discern how grace works itself out even in the denial of a petition. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that there aren't any denials, but that petitions are granted us which we hadn't known to make, and probably wouldn't have made had we known, except possibly with hindsight. Only the perspective of eternity can shed real light on it all, and we may never see in this life that one outcome really was right, and the other a road to disaster. We may never believe that such omniscient, omnipotent goodwill exists in our wreck of a world.

And yet I believe it does. I believe that we have to believe it does. And I believe it walks with us through the darkness.

2 comments:

Nancy Shuman said...

I just ran across this blog and think I'm likely to spend a looooong time visiting here. I love your writing... love love love it. And your house is wonderful - just the look I like. Just wanted to let you know...

(and did I mention that I love your writing?)

Sally Thomas said...

Thank you! You're very kind. I'll have to get busy . . .