Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Don't Want to Think About It

I'm worried about my sisters.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know that my sister Maryanne has been diagnosed with cancer. Last night I learned that her twin, my sister Lorraine, is living in the path of the Waldo Canyon forest fire which has destroyed half the state of Colorado and forced the evacuation of some thirty-two thousand people. As of this writing, the fire is still burning out of control, which means my sister and her family face the possibility that this monster blaze will devour their home and force them to run for their lives.

Now, Lorraine is nothing if not thorough. She phoned last evening to give a graphic description of the phenomenon: the sky turned black, ash everywhere, the smell of burning wood hanging over the entire town of Colorado Springs, and the air growing increasingly more difficult to breathe. Additionally, she has been documenting this catastrophe on her facebook page, and my wife has been following the fire's progress with great interest and no small amount of anxiety. After about two hours of watching the 24-hour news and weather channels (with growing worry for both Lorraine and my wife's sister in Florida who is being punished beneath the wrath of Tropical Storm Debby), I felt a desperate need to put all manner of disasters out of my head and switch the TV to a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond.

Sometimes, I just can't deal with my own sense of helplessness.

Maybe that's what's going on in the world of the gospel lesson for this coming Sunday. The reading for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost is the story of Jesus performing two miraculous healings: a woman who has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years touches Jesus' cloak and is made well, and Jesus touches the hand of a supposedly dead child and brings her back to life (Mark 5: 21-43). With both healings, Jesus makes himself ritually impure.

I think now I get this "ritually impure" stuff. I mean, who really wants to deal with sickness and death? Like first century Judeans, I often feel the desire to get as far away from the things which cause pain and fear as I possibly can. The ancient Jews wanted to quarantine the bleeding and the dead and the grieving so that honest, God-fearing folks would not be contaminated by their sorrow.

Do you blame them?

But as a pastor, I struggle with knowing how to deal with such passages of scripture. After all, these are stories of miraculous healing brought about by faith. For me, it's just too easy to say, "Have faith and everything will be okay." What if everything isn't okay?

Have faith anyway?

My personal take-away from this gospel lesson is this: Healing and rescue come in God's time, not mine. The woman has bled for twelve years before she finally gets relief. The little girl is believed to have died because Jesus has been delayed coming to her aid. A line from a recent (and really excellent!) movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sums up my feelings: "Everything will be all right in the end. So if it's not all right, it is not yet the end."

The other take-away is the example of Jesus, dirtying himself with that which the world does not wish to touch. I guess the job of the Church is to touch and be touched by the things and people who represent pain and fear. Homelessness, poverty, sickness, death. We are called to be in the midst of it. Worrying about my sisters and my sister-in-law may not do them any good, but, perhaps, it is making me just a little more human. I mean, there can't be healing if we are not touched, don't you think?

Thanks for reading, my friends.

(In the interest of honesty, however, I should disclose that Lorraine feels pretty confident that disaster will not befall her family. Interstate Highway 25 lies between her home and the inferno, and there's ample hope that this road will serve as a natural firebreak--although this hope is not a 100% certainty! Please keep her and all the residents of the Colorado Springs area in your prayers.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Waiting on God and Cancer

This Sunday will be the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. I'm supposed to be writing a stirring homily on this subject to touch the hearts of the faithful and bring them to repentance, but, to be honest with you, I'm having a bit of a hard time concentrating.

It's not easy to be thinking about Zechariah and Elizabeth and the Archangel Gabriel when I know that three thousand miles away my sister is having a PET scan to determine the spread of her cancer. Some weeks ago I blogged about my sister Maryanne's brain tumor. We now know that this tumor is actually a distant metastasis. Today's test will indicate just how aggressive this disease has become.

How do I feel? A big part of me is yet to get my head around the idea that this is as serious as everyone tells me it is. I just can't believe that my sister--my goofy sister who walked me to the store when I was little, who painted scenery for the plays I was in, who went dancing with me--is really this sick.

Another part of me is really, really angry about the inadequate treatment she was given at her local clinic. You see, my sis doesn't make much money so she doesn't have health care insurance. I'm just really outraged that today, in 2012, in the wealthiest nation on the planet, we still have people who refuse to see health care as a basic human right and not a privilege for those who can afford it.

But the outrage doesn't get me anywhere. Just like old Zechariah in Luke's gospel, I find myself mute and questioning and begging God for a sign--even when I have God's promise:

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Well, Maryanne certainly loves God if anyone does. So what's good about this situation, huh? Will we see a miracle? Will there be a sign?

My family waits. And we hope. And we pray.