Recent photo of my parents in my office

Recent photo of my parents in my office

June 19, 2007

Energy, Relaxation, and Forgiveness

Today's weather was beautiful, and I somehow felt full of energy for work and activity. I felt far less pain today, and was able to accomplish many goals at work. And there are indeed many projects to accomplish there. I often refer to my desk as an archaeological dig -- if I simply lift up a few pages of paper, I'm reminded of some pending activity from last fall that could easily eat up half an afternoon! The context of a library itself is a vulnerable place for someone who has problems prioritizing the most important things. How easy it is to see the potential historic, or unique, or interconnected value of some bit of publication that some future scholar might find intriguing, and therefore worthy of preservation. And despite the occasional truth of that instinct, it must be balanced with the Ecclesiastical reminder that "of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh."

I was thinking about that this week when blogging. One of the reasons that a discipline of writing based on one's experience and reflection appears worthy to me is that it helps to pull me just a bit out of the introspection of academia. In a context where research is divorced from the concept of wisdom, one of the highest values associated with publication is comprehensiveness. While reading the great works of others is invaluable and expressive of humility, it can also become an indiscriminate search for completion that I think reveals a lack of understanding of the transcendent. In reality, we as believers must recognize how little we know, how fleeting is our time on earth, and how true wisdom, especially in the interpretation of research, only comes from above. It is in listening to the Word of God, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and in lifting up our hearts in worship that we gain a true sense of what is important or meaningful. Think of it this way: how many great books did the Desert Fathers read? How much research did John the Apostle do before writing his Gospel?

Of course, I'm not promoting ignorance, nor associationg some form of grandiosity with isolation. But I'm troubled by the fact that one's life can become easily entrapped in details, while missing the things of greatest worth. I can remember growing up with many more hymns that dealt with the theme of death, for instance, than are popular nowadays. And these were not morbid themes. On the contrary, they served as reminders that this world is transient, that our lives will end.

As our society has grown more prosperous, it is all the more obsessed with materialism and consumerism, and, it seems to me, less joyous. I live in an area where houses are regularly upgraded by remodeling projects into virtual mansions, and some of them are indeed beautiful. I realize I'll never own one of those ;-), but I'm consoled by the presumptuousness of many of them -- I wouldn't want one anyway, I think (or at least, pretend to think!)

Other developments are tearing up the plains of Illinois and designing blocks of housing strips that militate against community and enforce mandatory vehicular travel to another strip of nationally-syndicated businesses in order simply to bite into the food chain or find a clothing supply center -- UGH! All is the same, there are no churches, no centers of social gathering, and I grieve for the isolation and deprivation of the children and families that live there.

But I am vulnerable in other ways. I can become enamored with my agenda and my control, and fail to take the time to re-focus upwards. And that's what I had to confess yesterday as I sped down the road from Wheaton to Naperville, and arrived just in time for another radiation session. On Sunday, I had received a wonderful massage that enabled me to relax and breathe more deeply down my spine. As I laid down again on the radiation table, the though occured to me that if I relaxed as I felt newly enabled to do, I just might displace the target of the planned rays. What if the wrong cells were attacked?

I remained still, just as instructed, just as I knew the therapists wanted me to do. But when it came to an end, I raised the question. "What if I were to relax on the table and shift slightly? Would you be able to track the internal locations where you are radiating me in a case like that?"

Not a word from any of the three women in the room. I felt as if I had raised a forbidden question. I probed a bit more. "I mean, I just felt like I could have relaxed a bit, but it might have shifted my back."

One of the therapists bit back a bit acerbically. "That's why we tell you NOT to move while you're on the table. We are aiming for EXACTLY the right spots, and you musn't move."

Then my heart flared up. Uh-oh. A bit of human defensive anger? I shot back. "I DID NOT move while I was lying there. I simply want to raise the question. Isn't it possible that something in my body could have shifted so that the radiation targets different spots than it was designed to do?"

Another therapist chimed in: "You're going to be scanned tomorrow, but everything should be fine." I walked out, trying to explain: "I have a great respect for traditional medicine, but I also have some serious questions about it..."

As I left with some residual hostility to the whole enterprise whirling in my heart, I realized that I had to see things from the point of view of these women. What must it be like to have to administer radiation to cancer patients on a daily basis, many of whom are depressed, already expecting death, without hope of heaven or the incredible encouragement and support that I receive? How must it feel for the technicians to have a patient imply that they were doing something intentionally damaging? I felt grieved for making their day harder, and vowed to apologize and make specific efforts to reconcile with them later. And -- I thought -- they could also have responded better to my questions by simply saying, "Wow, I'm sure those are difficult things to struggle with. You should definitely ask your doctor about that."

Well, the woman who seemed most acerbic wasn't there today. Maybe tomorrow (there are only seven therapists who do this work, and I have eight more chances to bless her and win her favor). But today I got to work on a different discipline of patience while in the midst of traffic. After having successfully survived a much more peaceful radiation session, I got to wait for 15 (fifteen -- that is XV, 0:15, get it?) minutes of absolutely clogged, virtually immobile traffic in getting back to my office! What are those road reconstructions doing for us all, anyway? I, on the other hand, could have accomplished so much more good by tackling the details of the library world from my desk! Ai-ai-ai. Sounds like I have to take time for some peaceful listening to the Lord, huh? Apparently I still have to learn a bit more about letting go of control and using my strength for "the most important tasks".

OK -- I will. "Into thy hands I commend my spirit, O Lord, O God of truth."

Thank you for your forgiveness, and for all the ways you want to shape me through this experience. And thank you for the humorous ways you continue to expose my weaknesses. Praise you for the beauty and joy of each day, and for the energy to keep active and outwardly focused.



Bonita said...

John, thank you for your honesty about your weaknesses and failures. It is encouraging to know I'm not the only one who fails to live perfectly in all my daily choices of attitude. And it helps to know how to pray for you as you desire to serve God in all you think, say and do. ~Bonita

Sheila said...

Greetings and blessings upon you, John, and Margie, and Charlotte, and Josiah!

Dan and I have been praying for you all, and we've called for many others (some know you, most do not) to join their prayers for you with our own, dear ones.

What a rare privilege and blessing to be invited into your meditations through these difficult days. Thank you for helping us all toward a clearer understanding of our Father, the ministrations of the Holy Spirit, and what it is to follow Jesus.

Sheila B.

Patti Downs said...

This certainly put things in perspective for me today. Thank you, John.