I have gout! Nowadays, thank goodness, I am rarely troubled by it, but I remember how, in the past, my right leg would sometimes suddenly seize up and I would find myself able only to hobble, because of the pain. At first, the doctors I went to see about this could not diagnose it; they did not suspect gout, because that usually appears in the joint of the big toe, whereas my toes were pain free. Then, I met a wise old Mill Hill Father, who was also a medical doctor, and he told me that he was sure I had gout and advised me to ask my own doctor to test for this. This I did; gout was diagnosed and, from that time onwards, I have learnt how to deal with it – I take my medicine every day to keep the condition at bay and should I still get a twinge, which does not often happen, I recognise that it will not cure itself, so I take a second medicine and it soon clears up.
There is also such a thing as “spiritual gout” and this also attacks me, now and then, and when it does I “hobble” spiritually. I am referring to “resentments”! These appear when I get hurt by something someone says or does and even though it may be mostly unintentional, it still hurts and I find myself unable to walk in peace with that person – or indeed with myself! The real or imagined slight keeps rising up in my heart, giving me no peace and this is usually made worse by the temptation to “nurse my grudge”! I take it out and touch it and prod it – and the resentment grows even bigger. The way I used to deal with this was the same way I used to deal with my physical gout – I would rest until it seemed to go away, but, like my physical gout, I had not got rid of the condition, I had only pushed it under the surface and should the person who hurt me suddenly appear – even years later – up it would rise again with all the hissing intensity it had at the beginning. However, when that happens now, I know, that like my gout, I need medicine, but the medicine alone is not enough – there are certain things about my condition that I need first to recognise and accept.
The first thing I need to realise is that a “resentment” is a real wound and it is my wound – a hurt that I carry and one that I alone can deal with. It may have been caused by someone else, but it now has very little to do with that person. I am the one in pain; I am the one with the wound and I have to find the way to heal it. We are tempted to imagine that the person who caused it must somehow be involved in the healing, but this is not true. He or she may well have forgotten all about it and even if he does remember he cannot cure it, not even with an apology. I have the wound and I alone am the one who has to take that medicine.
St Luke sees sin as a disease and a disease which not only affects the person who commits the sin, but also the person against whom the sin is committed. If someone wounds me with their words, I usually find that I have become a hate-filled person, with the hate directed against the person who hurt me. That is what a “resentment” is. St Luke goes further and teaches that the medicine for sin is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit and the Spirit alone can heal these inner wounds, for he alone is “the Lord and Giver of Life”. Only when I open myself to the Spirit, are those wounds able to be healed and I am able to find peace.
In Jn 20:22, we read how Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the apostles “for the forgiveness of sins” – which means the bringing back together in friendship, those who have been divided by sin. Healing only comes when I am willing to take part in this “being bought back together”. But often, when I hear this, my first reaction is: “Why should I forgive him/her, after what was done to me?”, but it just makes sense that I accept this healing for “who is not able to sleep at night?” – not the perpetrator – he/she is fast asleep. I am the one lying awake punching my pillow! I heard it once put this way: “To want to hold on to a resentment, thinking that this somehow punishes the person, who hurt me, is rather like someone, who drinks poison and imagines that his enemy is going to drop dead!” To wish to hold on to a resentment is to drink poison and a poison that will kill me, for the hatred will eventually spread to all parts of my life.
But how do I let the Healer into my life? The Holy Spirit is often described in terms of “wind”, as on the Day of Pentecost: “a great wind filled the house…” Acts: 2:2. Following that analogy, I know that if I wish to let the wind into a room to clear it of foul air, I cannot just open the door, but I also have to open a window, to let the wind blow through the room and bring life-giving clean air. So, also I cannot just invoke the Holy Spirit to heal me, I have to let him pass through me. This we read in the Book of Genesis, “The Spirit moved across the waters…” Gen. 1:2 and life came to be. We also profess it in the Creed: “(the Spirit) proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Spirit must “move” through me to bring me healing. In other words, I have to create a road along which the Spirit can travel through me, Cf Is 40: 3 and I do this by asking a blessing on the person who has injured me!
This blessing, however, is not the blessing I would like to give him or her – such as “Lord, make them truly repentant for the horrible things they have done to me. Make them come before me on their knees to beg my forgiveness!” The Holy Spirit cannot travel through such prayers. Nor, should the blessing be the blessing that I think God should give them, for we all create God in our own image and likeness and we imagine that our grievances are also God’s! The blessing that I must give is the blessing the person would ask for themselves – which may be expressed with the words, “May they be happy, joyful and free!” Moreover, these words must be spoken and even if you do not mean a word of them at first, you must say them! I well remember the first time I took this medicine; when I finished the blessing, I looked up to heaven and said, “I think that is the emptiest prayer I have ever said”, but I carried on saying it for the 30 nights I had been told were required and by the end of that time the words had changed my heart, by the power of the Spirit, and the bitter resentment against someone who had hurt me had faded into nothing. I remember that as I realised what had happened to me, I just humbly stood there, almost in tears, as I experienced the tender mercy and peace of God.
To return to my gout: I am grateful to that old Mill Hill Father, who suspected I had gout – his advice enabled me to walk free. Likewise, I am profoundly grateful to the group of recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in a 12 step group, who taught me about the medicine for spiritual gout. Like all medicine, I did not like taking it, but, since then, their advice has enabled me to walk free. They showed me how to let the Holy Spirit, the Healer, into my life and I have passed on these insights to many people, whose lives have been crippled by resentments – and all of us have resentments! The only way to know the truth of these words of mine is to try it yourself. I remember one person, who was in great pain from bitter memories and reluctantly he followed these 30 days of prayer. He came back a month or two later, a changed man said, “It works! You should patent that, you would make a fortune!”
At the beginning of May, I went to Bali to lead a 6 day Retreat cum tour for 32 people from Sarawak. It went very well, for the Karmel, in the hills of Bali, is a wonderful place for peace and prayer. Then, I was supposed to spend a week visiting the people I know in prison – but that turned out to be a disaster. The first prisoner I was due to see was Tan Nguyen, who is now in a prison in Java and a friend of mine made the arrangements for us to fly to the nearest town, stay overnight and then make the rather long journey to the prison the following day. However, on the way to the airport there was a jam due to a lorry breakdown and the tailback was so long we missed the plane. That weekend, unfortunately was a public holidays and every flight was fully booked for the next two days and I returned to the house disappointed. So, I decided instead to visit Scott, a prisoner in the north of Bali, but the next day I had a bad upset tummy and had to cancel. The last one, was Matthew, whom I have regularly visited over the last nine years, but I discovered that the day I was to visit him was the day I had to fly home. So, I saw no one!
I feel especially bad about not getting to see Tan, because I know he was looking forward to it. He has only few visitors, because it is so difficult to get to his prison. He has been in prison for ten years now, having gone in when he was 21. He has managed to clean up his act and would love to have a second chance at life – but he has a full life sentence and unless something happens he will never get out. He hopes to make a legal appeal for his sentence to be reduced to a fixed term, maybe 15 years. That way at least he would have some hope for the future, but appeals in Bali are costly – lawyers etc. cost money and Tan comes from a poor family. He has an appeal fund and if anyone would like to help a little with this, let me know and I will give you the details.
I think my shoulder is now on the mend after massages etc. It does not hurt at night like it has over the last six months. However, I need to be careful. I dropped a pill this morning and it rolled under a cupboard, so I got down on my knees and stretched out for it and – oooooooh! – the pain made me feel a little sick. Ah! The tribulations of old age – it is good that the Office of Readings at this time of the year is taken from the book of Job!