My brother used to tell me that he sometimes missed out what he called the “holy” part of my blog, but always enjoyed my diary. I suspect that there may be others like that too, so I am beginning this blog with my diary, partly so that the “diarists” can go straight to the part that interests them and partly because, in the reflection, I want to tell you about a doctor I met last week and whom I mention in my diary.
I went to Singapore a week ago and stayed in hospital for two nights for the “procedure”, which involved inserting tiny radioactive beads round the tumour in my liver. The doctor, who did it, was very friendly and talked me through the whole procedure, and, afterwards, I was told that he and the other doctors are happy with the way it went. I now have a month to recover before my next appointment and should all go well, and the tumour begins to shrink, I will then begin four months of chemotherapy, with a visit to Singapore each week. I must admit that I am not looking forward to that, but the Lord has carried me gently thus far and I trust he will carry me through the next phase.
The side-effects of the radiotherapy have not been too bad, but I think they were compounded by the fact that I was put on a course of antibiotics because I had a slight fever after the procedure – and I don’t do well with antibiotics. I think the fever may have been caused by a cold I caught, while going to Singapore. I sat next to a woman on the plane, who coughed and sneezed all the way over, without covering her mouth and nose. I think I shall take a nose-mask when I travel in future.
Now, I must apologise for being grumpy to those who asked me how I was, when I was first diagnosed – and received a grumpy answer in reply. I have been wondering why I reacted like that and I think it was because I did not know what to answer. I had only been told that I had cancer a day before it was announced in church, but it took me over a week or more for the news to begin to sink in and to accept it – so when people kindly asked me how I was or how I was feeling, I really did not know, but also ‘I did not know that I did not know!’ Please forgive me and thank you for your kindness in asking. Now I am answering such enquiries: “I really do not know, but I feel ok today – and that is all that matters.”
About a week ago, I was listening to a song sung by Leonard Cohen, whose name suggests that he is Jewish, but he has a great insight into spirituality, including the Christian story, and one line of this song reached out and held me: “Jesus walked upon the waters, because he knew only drowning men could see him!” My heart says: “How true!”
I want to tell you more about the doctor, who performed the procedure on me in Singapore. He was an Indian doctor and I was struck by the respect and courtesy with which he treated me. The procedure was a little late in starting, but he came in to apologise that there would be a slight delay, as he was helping a colleague in a difficulty. Then, when he came back and started, he again apologised and then talked me through the entire procedure, enquiring, all the time, how I was doing. This courtesy was not because I was a priest, because he only discovered that at the end, nor was it because I was a European, for I noticed he spoke to all his staff in the same way. Such courtesy, especially to people in my position, is “healing” and I realised that he was a“Healer”, a healer, who healed with his hands, but above all with his heart and by so doing, he revealed “God the Life-Giver” in action.
There is a danger in the way we Christians tend to approach the Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal to us who God is and what he is doing in the world and it is so easy to come to the conclusion that it is “only” the Scriptures that show us this and so we may try to imprison God within our religious ideas. Scripture, however, is given to us to open our eyes to recognise God wherever and whenever he is at work – be that in a religious context or not. God is not bound by religion! In last Sunday’s Gospel, when Jesus told the crowds that God succoured Elijah through a poor pagan women, not an Israelite, the people did not like it and wanted to kill him. The Word is given to Israel, but God works through the heart of anyone who is open to it. I do not think that my doctor was a Christian and he may indeed have been an atheist, but I recognised God’s Presence and healing power in that doctor – I saw it in the compassion and respect with which he treated those around him.
We are taught that Christ has won for us “salvation”, but that word can so easily blind us to what Christ is actually offering us, which is “Life!” The life he offers is a life of friendship, of mutual support and understanding – a life which will go on into Eternity, but a life which begins now – and we can only receive this life, when we offer it to others. The Christian paradox is: “We can only receive salvation by giving it away!” This life we are being given is the life of “First born sons” (Heb. 12:22) – those who are extra-special in the eyes of God. God offers us this through the immense respect and reverence with which he treats each one of us – but we can only accept this gift by treating others in the same way that God treats us. That doctor in Singapore is such a person – he is a life-giver – and I was one of the many to whom he gave life – through his hands, but above all through his heart.