A great unifying question that we ponder when unexpected things happen to us is: "Why? Why me!?" Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author, asks, how can we live our lives when everything falls apart, when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? Her suggestion, in When Things Fall Apart - Heart Advice For Difficult Times, is that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined.
Can suffering and negative patterns be transformed, such that our lives become more hopeful? Lent is a period when this question of WHY should naturally lead to a deepening of our faith. Perhaps the apex of that faith is today's famous verse from Paul's Letter to the Romans: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit."
The Israelites bemoaned in the wilderness, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt?" The time that this existential question of "Why" was uppermost in my own mind was at the time of a brain tumour in the early 2000s. In my lowest moments, I cried, "Why me!" You may think my reasoning perverse, but the Divine answer I received was a form of Romans 5:5: "Because I love you!" I have tried, in my own personal way, to live my life in the spirit of that conviction of a divine purpose. My neurosurgeon asked me after the tumour was removed, "What do you want your life to become now?"
I apologize if these Lenten entries are in any manner narcissistic. My hope is that the sharing of my present health issues - my adoption of a new normal - will be useful beyond my own personal experience. I cannot imagine a human being who is not challenged to embrace a new normal at some point in life. Imagine the refugee arriving in a new country. Imagine the person whose spouse has passed away. Imagine the couple facing the empty nest. Imagine the person who has lost her or his livelihood. Each one of us has to let go of old dreams and adapt to new ones.
Between the writing of my comments on the Second and Third Sundays in Lent, I moved from a Jesuit community in Toronto to our community in Pickering, Ontario. The major reason is that I offered myself and was assigned to work in spiritual ministry through our Jesuit presence in Pickering. It was only after the offer that a health crisis appeared.
A bonus of the move is the fact that this setting is much easier on my body. Fact: The house is pretty well on one level. My Toronto community had multiple sets of stairs and, even with a walker, access to the house was challenging. Fact: The setting includes a Jesuit infirmary with excellent and caring staff. Fact: There are services such that I feel safe.
I'm composing this on the day when I'm going for a CT Scan, in the hope that it will help explain what is happening with my body. (I am unable to have an MRI because of my cochlear implant, one effect of a brain tumour in 2003). I am unable to provide the medical facts. The scan should help. But, I can provide anecdotal evidence. My personal hunch is that the scan will reveal a minor stroke. I do not have much control over mobility issues and physical coordination. I have a general sense of weakness in my legs and arms.
As I explained last week, my motor functions are off. What about cognitive issues? Thankfully, I'm not aware of big issues. It sometimes takes me longer than usual to prepare and process matters, but I presently have the luxury of time, so that is not an immediate challenge. There is definitely a challenge around administrative issues. Fortunately, I managed to move on from most administrative duties before this. I feel very privileged because of what my Jesuit life has provided.
What next? I get clear advice from today's Responsorial Psalm: O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts! I pray that I allow myself to let my new normal be used by the Lord. I am praying to the late Fr. John Veltri, S.J., that I allow my brain to be of service to God, regardless of what happens to my body.