Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flipping the Hourglass

What was your experience of God when you were younger?
Several of us considered that recently. One woman felt God enveloping her as she sat in the forest behind her house with her little girl legs dangling in a stream. Religion for another was a 5-mile walk down to the Empire State Building with her dog as a kid. Folks talked about churches and religion – both pro and con. Many of the images were moving and beautiful.
I realized that I didn't experience God very directly as a young person. God wasn't much of a physical presence for me. He wasn't "there" anywhere. I lumped it all together – God, religion, the Church. I spoke about them almost interchangeably. Many people do.
In hindsight, I see that my rank order of what I identified with most spiritually in my first 30+ years was (1) Church, (2) religion and (3) God. Church was a place full of ritual and a stoic institution for me. Religion is a set of rules and beliefs. God was this all-powerful bearded man in the sky with a glorious Son.
Not that any of these is bad. Still, I am glad that my association with each of these has changed some. My hierarchy has completely flipped now - like an hourglass, as I embark on the second half of my life. My new order of identification is God, religion and then Church. Religion remains the center point - representing the collective knowledge and historical spiritual understanding. But the other two have reversed their order.
The importance of the particular Sunday rituals and the power of the institution of Church have diminished greatly for me. Different churches and sects are mere vehicles in my mind. Like a car. It's the destination that's important, not the brand you drive. Whichever type of spirituality works for you is fine in my eyes - so long as it gets you to the endpoint, God. (As you can tell, I am not particularly Evangelical.) Don't get me wrong, I love going to Church (the building). There has to be a very good reason for me to miss it. It's where I recharge my spiritual batteries. It's one of the places that I find God these days - but just one.
God means something else entirely to me now. God's not that far away anymore. God is people. God is by that stream. God is on those streets. God is in our every action. God is in our every omission. It's been easier for me to see God because I've been travelling with an exceptional posse lately. It turns out that he is everywhere, though – it's just a matter of seeing him. In the same way that it is very easy to see God in the wonders of our children and our loves. God is in the hearts of every one of us. That realization really makes life an incredibly precious and vibrant journey.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Receiving My Sentence (Great News!)

These past five months have been the longest stretch with no attention to my cancer in the nearly year and a half since this adventure started. I had a CAT scan last Tuesday and the results are…all clear! The appointment with my oncologist was snow-cancelled but he did call to say that the scan showed nothing suspicious. Praise the Lord! I met with him this morning and I will be on a six-month schedule for the next couple of years. He also agreed to have my chemo port removed – in the hopeful belief that I won't be needing it anytime soon.

Moving from getting scanned every three months to (almost) six was progress but certainly anxiety-producing. It's a little bit like waiting for the sentencing phase after a conviction. And thank God, this time again – I have been spared! I could tell myself heading into it that I am fine, based primarily on how I feel. That would be conveniently ignoring the fact that I felt fine for most of the time that the cancer was growing inside me last time.

The continuation of clean can also lend credibility to alleged cancer-avoiding behaviors I've adopted like – a couple of green teas daily, lowering stress, restarting my meditation practice, minimizing the intake of fat/sugar/white flour and other underminers, etc. On the other hand, one could argue that the culpability factor is a little less pronounced in the instance of a recurrence – meaning that if you are susceptible and/or have it in you, such is your fate. Who can know?

I am also reminded of my feelings of helplessness from 14 months ago. A few weeks after my surgery, I felt powerless considering the possibility of not having any chemo or radiation to do. That would mean just hoping and praying and waiting. That's been pretty much what I've been doing since finishing up my chemo last July. I have been tending to more functional aspects of my body and health instead, like fixing broken teeth and achy feet (planters fasciitis). Some of the mundane self-care tasks that are only worth doing for those that are counting on being around long enough to see the payoff.

So, now, with the clean scan result, folks have been congratulating me. I appreciate the sentiment in the sense of a cause for celebration. At the same time it leaves me searching for a response since I did little (nothing) to deserve the congrats. (I actually looked up the word congratulations to find that it is "an expression of pleasure or acknowledgment of somebody's success or good fortune or on a special occasion".) Good fortune it is then! I don't pretend that slightly cleaner living, green tea and a good outlook on life are keeping the evil cancer away. Instead, I recognize that it is the power of prayer that gives me strength and, most importantly, the grace and goodness of God that have kept me here. For the former I have many of you to thank. For the rest, I can only thank God – that his master plan includes having me around for a while longer.

I look forward to having all of my "cat" mentions refer to the feline persuasion for the next six months.