Chapter 2: THE SACRED WALK: WHAT IS IT AND WHO IS THE COMPANION?
When the cancer wolf comes out of the bushes stuff gets stolen and things get out of order. You are suddenly surprised by potholes and stumbling places that get in your way. Life looks and seems different, out of control. In the confusion you can choose to “just get through” cancer, or you can choose a companion for the path to make it a sacred path.
Don’t let the term “sacred path” scare you. The sacred path means “I believe in you, God, and I want to walk a path with you.” God is within your consciousness. It means, “Here I am, God. We do cancer together, Acknowledging God’s holy presence moves it from the background of your life to focus it near at hand. It’s like shaking hands with God and taking on a partner who will walk with you at every moment.
It is a WITH statement. You choose to be WITH a God who will be WITH you.
If you are not ready to make this statement, just keep reading to discover what sacred path statement you can make. Often it is a smooth path, a KNOWING that God is there seemingly holding your hand, walking in your entire life. Or it may be complex and you need to take time to reconsider what stepping on the path means.
Choosing the sacred path and a walk with God may feel different for everyone. It may
- Feel like the “ahhhh” moment when you’re tired of standing and finally sink onto a soft chair.
- It may become a moment when you say, “Wow! So that’s what I was missing.”
- It may be times when not much is felt, and you can only doggedly step out on faith to say you claim the presence of the loving God who is WITH you always.
- It may be in a very dark time when there is no place else to go, and you may drag yourself over a dark threshold only to discover that you are already in the light.
- OR IT MAY BE that you are not buying any of this, but you want to continue reading about the sacred path and its relationship to your immune system. You may be curious about what the Bible can do for your body or how a drum, your dog, cat or bird can help you fight cancer.
Admitting that God is, and that God is with you may feel like living in His presence can transform events. There may be detours along the way with lay-bys where you think it over and absorb new ideas and test them out.
Testing and questioning is a very important process called BECOMING.
BUT BEFORE WE TALKING ABOUT BECOMING,
let’s get this out of the way—
GOD DIDN’T DO IT.
God did not make you sick. It is not God’s desire to have you sick to get your attention or for any other reason, but God will walk with you to help you convert bad experiences into tolerable ones and to work mightily in the midst of cancer to bless you in many ways. This coverting bad experiences into tolerable ones we can call a process, and it works in different ways for different people.
Research is mixed on the effect of spirituality on a cancer patient, however, recent studies 1(178, psychoimm)) showed that “many patients viewed spirituality as a bridge between hopelessness and meaningfulness in life.” In writing about psychoimmune studies and therapies, editors Lewis, O’Brien and Baraclough, concluded, “If healing is defined as becoming more aligned with what is considered to be a healthy existence, then psychospiritual therapies promote healing in cancer patients by facilitating ‘peace of mind’, diminishing fear and anxiety, and engendering hope, purpose, and meaningful existence. As such therefore they are of considerable benefit. If you are in the process of becoming,God sends and brings only good. Testimonials from individuals can help you process information to support this.
MANY WAYS ON HOLY INCREDIBLE PATH
Some people begin their search for the sacred life or path from childhood through the teen years and into adulthood, so you may already be on the sacred path. On the other hand, you may be someone just now searching for God, and are on the verge of choosing to step on the living, sacred path. The all encompassing walk with God may look and feel different than you think. Don’t worry if your experience is different from that of your cousin, father or Sunday school teacher because we all think differently and have various life situations
Six cancer patients, Betsy, Ivan, Nancy, Frances, Rob, NJ and Lee will illustrate diverse ways of choosing to walk the cancer path with God. These real persons have agreed to share their walks were sacred.
Betsy rested in her beliefs:
“I was fortunate to have grown up in a family that was able to “reinvent” their lives after terrible illness and losses – they always depended on God’s presence for help. They lived happy, productive lives. Knowing God’s presence seemed very important and constant (during my time with cancer). My relationship with God kept me from feeling alone – God was always with me, my family, the doctors, and support groups. God is love.” Betsy, a twelve-year survivor.
Ivan changed his picture of God:
“After he told me, I shook. I live alone, so, no one noticed except a neighbor who came to return a wrench. He sat down at the kitchen table and refused to move until I told him what was wrong. I killed time making coffee fearing all the time that if I talked about it, I’d do the unmanly crying thing. Finally I blurted it out. Ernie didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he told me about his God. My God was one of rules and revenge who sent punishment, and surely cancer was my punishment. But Ernie said God is like a good Daddy who loves and takes care of me, and would share the burden of my illness. Good news, but did I dare believe it? He told me I could choose a faith in that kind of God. He said God hadn’t changed, just my understanding of God could change. Over coffee the next day, Ernie convinced me that his kind of God did not send cancer as punishment for something I had done wrong. Well, I crawled into it slowly, but finally I understand a new holy part of my life. I’m still learning, but I have taken God as a partner in the mess of cancer.” Ivan, a ten year and twice survivor.
Nancy persisted with faith:
From the beginning, Nancy knew God would take care of her and her family. She and her family were honest with each other, admitting that, “Yes, you might die.” She tried desperately to be “up” even in difficult times while knowing there would be an end to her misery. Nancy a ______ survivor. (Grubbs – ask years)
Frances resisted acknowledging her spirituality.
“I had enough of church when I was little. The seats were hard, and the lessons boring. The preacher shouted. After high school I disappeared from church. When I got my diagnosis, there was too much confusion and too many decisions. My neighbor, Ellie, suggested I consider prayer or meditation. “That’s not for me,” I said. I told her that was for old folks, and I’m only twenty-two. In time, going got tougher. My mind got messed up. One day during my gulped-down lunch I slammed down my fork and said, “Okay, God, calm me down.” Admitting that God was available began a stumbling road. It’s getting better. Frances, now a two year survivor.
Robert stubbornly held on.
Robert went to church early every Sunday to get a seat apart from everyone and to enjoy the silence and stained glass. He was afraid he would catch something during chemo. Stubbornly he held to traditional worship, and, week after week, he said he soaked up the sacred something through hearing music and word, smelling the candles and feeling human contact even though he sat apart. Later, he said he didn’t know he was looking for something personal. He just came every week hoping for a magic light or something, and every week his mind kept wondering about his own personal worth. What was his life worth? One day in the silence before worship, he became aware that God loved him so much he would personally walk with him. “Wow! What happened?” he asked himself. He couldn’t explain it, but suddenly he felt his life was important. Robert, 1998.
NJ invited God:
“I want to go on record to say I never would have made it the last five years without knowing God will hold your hand if you ask Him!”
NJ seven years out from radiation
Lee became acquainted with God:
He says he got on to the sacred path because it was his last resort, and he wanted the benefits of God on his side. He wanted a light in his life. As he stumbled along, he discovered that he needed involvement with God, sort of a get-acquainted time to help him find out how to change his life. Reading Psalms touched him with God-ambition and assurance that God would help him understand what is expected on the path. He says one special Psalm helped:
Show me your ways, O Lord,
Teach me your paths;
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
For your God my Savior,
And my hope is in you all day long.
Lee’s discovery covered his entire life
Your story may be different, but that’s okay; each of us is a unique entry story to the sacred path, and a spiritual light may turn on in a very different way. Another person described how a light turned on for her:
If your path seems different.
From despair to light may mean a new form
It may be like stepping from the darkness of the tool shed
Into the searing sunshine.
It’s more like, after a sleepless night, sitting on the back porch waiting for the sun to come up.
Slowly, streaks of purple appear in the blackness
Then tinges of yellow turn to gold.
A few wisps of morning fog may obscure the new light
Until calm and steady light breaks forth
Bathing life again.
One historical person who was transformed slowly through his searching became an advanced thinker in Christianity.
Knock Your Socks Off
Hanging out with Saint Augustine (circa 364 or 430) qualifies as really old, but what he said is so modern it can knock your socks off. It took time, but he sorted out his ideas of God, sifted life events and gave himself permission to “become,” meaning to change or develop into something.
In his Confessions he says that God alone is. We are becoming. He didn’t suddenly wake up making this pronouncement. He came to this conclusion through struggle and the study of one philosophy after another. He developed remarkable powers of observation in the fields of nature, reality and understanding the human soul. As he watched and listened to people, he tested his beliefs against what he perceived to be true. This restless urge for knowledge and his instinctive sense for religion made him willing to change his theology, thus his bottom line that “God alone is. We are all becoming.” His doctrine became both orthodox and liberal as well as very traditional and personal. In Milan, he came under the influence of Saint Ambrose who baptized him and his son. This conversion to Christianity was important to the life of the church and to the world.
As Saint Augustine said, “God is,” giving him and us the opportunity to know that God is and doesn’t change. What changes is our understanding, picture, or viewpoint of him. This is a fantastic idea because it allows us to make new pictures and discoveries as well as grow closer to see God differently, thus becoming a new person, and, with God’s transformational gift, reinvent ourselves.
God has many names, though He is only one Being. (Aristotle)
HOW DO YOU SEE GOD?
Our daily life reflects (mirrors?) our picture of and character of God, and nowhere is your picture of God more important than when you are walking with the cancer wolf. Where did we get our personal picture of God? How did people in the past see and describe God? We find clues in the Bible as persons tried to discover the meaning of life and sought to identify, name, understand and worship God. Looking at these persons through the lens of time reveals the description, understanding and names of God.
Through the ages in various circumstances, the Bible as well as other writings have shown us the courage and character of persons who sought to understand God the creator, God the enabler, God the tribal person, God the national person, God the spirit for all, God the judge. God the Father. You probably have your list of words or pictures that describe attributes of this magnificent spirit, and you are invited to explore, modify, grow and understand God in your present situation.
Stories from family and friends as well as biblical stories, bear witness of God walking a sacred path with us today. Some of these stories tell of faltering fear and later resolution to fantastic faith in a loving, walking God while others tell of quiet endurance and clinging stubbornly to faith in a God who is alive. Both ancient and new stories speak of a Holy Spirit propping persons up, holding their hands, speaking in the night, nudging in the daytime, comforting in sorrow, rejoicing in good news, singing in joy or the very important just a knowing presence. This is the story of the power of WITH, the story of doing more than “just getting through” cancer” by taking a sacred path that includes making the crucial invitation, “Please walk WITH me.” Amazingly, when we invite God, we find that God has already invited us to his party.
(Jesus said) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy. Matthew 11:28 NIV
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is , and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16a NIV
Once again, the timeless Bible gives us uncomplicated guidelines for walking with God using assurance from Jesus as well as clues for finding the ancient but modern good way and walking in it. It directs us toward spirituality, not formulas for walking with God, but more along the lines of, “Come sit by me, and I’ll share what has worked for persons in the cancer fellowship.”
Walking on the path is not a magic potion, however recent studies1 showed that “many patients viewed spirituality as a bridge between hopelessness and meaningfulness in life.” In writing about psychoimmune studies and therapies, editors Lewis, O’Brien and Baraclough, concluded, “If healing is defined as becoming more aligned with what is considered to be a healthy existence, then psychospiritual therapies promote healing in cancer patients by facilitating ‘peace of mind’, diminishing fear and anxiety, and engendering hope, purpose, and meaningful existence. As such therefore they are of considerable benefit.”
How you picture God is reflected in your walk with God during cancer.
Admitting that God is, and that God is with you may feel like living in His presence can transform events with a new perspective. There may be detours along the way with lay-bys where you think it over and absorb new ideas and test them out. Testing and questioning is a very important process called BECOMING.
PICTURES OF GOD CAN HELP US
Our images or pictures of God form the basis of our relationship with Him (or Her), and there are many images in every religion. “Muslim tradition offers a hundred names of God, and the Hindu tradition includes devotional chanting of the thousand names of God.” The Jewish tradition, although having several names for God, predominantly uses El coming from a meaning of power. In this tradition God’s name is so sacred that it often is not used, but even then persons still hold specific images or pictures of God in their hearts and head.
Christianity, the basis for this book, because of its many branches and diverse interpretations of the meaning of Jesus, will use a variety of names for God, some of them attributes and some of them personalization of God or Jesus.
God, by any name, is a spiritual mystery beyond our complete understanding, and yet the journey of trying to understand the nature of God is an adventure, one that makes us look for attributes as we seek to connect with our God. The adventure is based on a basic truth so important that it fills us with awe: God passionately loves us.
The Jesus Connection
To understand the attributes of a loving God, we must look at Jesus who came in earthly form as “Emmanuel” meaning God with us. This naming of Jesus is recorded in Matthew about Mary, mother of Jesus.
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel* – which means, “God with us.
Matt 1:23, 8:8,
When Jesus appeared as a baby, grew as a child and ministered to those around him, he forever changed the way believers view God, and, by helping us get more fully acquainted with God, he made pictures of God clear to us. What did he say that was so important?
Jesus said God is like a caring father or mother who loves us passionately and unconditionally, and wants us to love ourselves and each other in the same way that we are loved.
But God’s divine love goes beyond what is possible for a human being. God’s personal, steadfast, never-wavering love flows through each of us even when we disappoint ourselves or doubt our beliefs. Jesus says it’s a love that cannot be erased, and we neither deserve nor earn it. It is! Just is! This love is so awesome that sometimes it’s hard to believe.
So God WITH us (Jesus) helps us focus our picture of God, walks with us on the trip of the sacred path of cancer, and may empower us to look at our personal picture of God through a new lens. Gone is the sacrificial requirement for a relationship[ with God. In its place is a familial, love is free possibility.
Many people have pictures of God different from ours, so we need to look with a sharp magnifying lens at our past and consider how we are living out our beliefs. Where did we get the pictures of this God who walks with us? What attributes do we give this God and how do they affect our companionship on our sacred walk? Are the attributes we learned in the past contradictory?
When you were a kid, your mom said, “You’re just like your Grandma Lynch. She was peppy, forgiving and generous.” But later your father said, “You’re just like your Grandma Lynch. She was strict and very outspoken.” Well, Grandma Lynch hadn’t changed a bit, the only thing that changed was a parents’ understanding or viewpoint of Grandma.
It’s the same with our pictures of a God who does not change: Only our understanding or viewpoint changes. Willingness to study our viewpoint is an indication of a growing Christian. Our picture or image of God may be one of anger who is punishment oriented or may be an image of God as Santa Claus, one to whom we recite our wish list. American clergyman Revered Harry Emerson Fosdick, reminds us that God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.1
Where Did You Get That Picture?
If not a punishing God or a Santa Claus, who is this God? Jesus says God is loving, enduring and steadfast. So where did you get the contradictions with differing pictures in your head? Perhaps from important persons around you, or even from the Bible when readings from the Old Testament about characters who were seeking God and explaining their daily lives in that relationship. Carefully recorded are the black times in the history of God’s people as well as the “aha” moments. They give us insight and put events in perspective. We are called, however, to move forward and think! What did Jesus say about God? He said God is like a caring and loving Father whose name is to be held in reverence and trust.
Our Father in heaven, we honor your holy name.
Matthew 6:9 The Living Bible
How remarkable to know that a Father who loves us would never send illness us punishment, would never visit us intentionally with pain, would never deny us access to spiritual hugs! And how remarkable that we can explore and change our perspective of God. And, great, good news! He will actually transform our hearts, so that we may do this. Other good news is that we can think and talk the entire process over with God. What a good deal!
FORMING OUR OWN IDEAS OF SACRED
How we process our deepest and most shallow thoughts depends on ways we perceive events and surroundings, and we are wonderfully created so that each of us has a predominant way of perception. If you aren’t aware of how your brain functions to help you in everyday life – including your spiritual life – here is a chance to consider. Remind yourself that God walks in this exploration.
We form our total picture of God through how we think in mental pictures, words, auditory means, visual pictures, odor influences, and the sum of past experiences that used all these means. Each of us has predominate way of learning and making idea pictures, ways that affect our spiritual life as well as our every day decisions. No one thinks in only one way, but each of us has a predominant way, and we can use that one as a gift or strength.
What joy! What a ray of light! How we process our deepest or most shallow thoughts depends on ways we perceive events and surroundings. This gives new meaning to the scriptures that continuously tell us how we are wondrously made: You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother/s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it. Psalm 139:13-14 The Way, LB
Jesus Told Us and Showed Us
Jesus told us and showed us God, and the apostle Paul gives us clues for living the Christian life. His choice of the sacred path is a lot more dramatic than yours will be.
As a person who for many years loved to persecute Christians, he was blinded by light, receiving his sight only after a struggle to find his sacred path. It was an adventurous, learning time when he had to add up the facts about Jesus and process them into his new focus. He acknowledged, then championed, Jesus everywhere he went, and he ended up in some very strange situations. Three times shipwrecked, beaten from time to time, and finally imprisoned and cut off from his friends and thwarted in what he intended to do, Paul wrote letters and influenced people beyond his dreams. How amazing that simple letters he wrote to friends and churches are now in the Bible where we can read his suggestions about how to live a Christian life. By looking at how he changed his life, we can get clues for how we can make adjustments in our lives. The book of Acts tells of his dramatic struggle to choose a path that confirmed his belief in Jesus (Acts 9), and his letters to churches and persons give us good advice for living a holy life, and they tell us of hardships walked on his sacred path.
Paul gave careful thought to choosing and understanding Jesus and the world around him. By living his life thoughtfully, Paul seemed to pick his life up and turn it around with a new and radiant perspective. It took a while to soak in and to absorb ideas from the Jesus he had so disliked. He took time to give careful thought to his own transformation and to every situation now involved in his life.
Paul took serious courage in everything he did. He reflected a special bravery in the face of shipwreck, beatings, house arrest and isolation. For a man formerly accustomed to luxurious comfort, it could not have been easy. He gave credit for this courage not to himself but to the Holy Spirit, and he endured it all because he had the goal of speaking Jesus everywhere.
Paul reallocated his energy. He wanted to be out traveling the world, telling people the good news of Jesus. He had plans. Lots of plans. Suddenly he is under house arrest (much like a cancer patient or someone with great personal problems), and he must seek another way to tell the good news and live his life. With careful thought, he found the way to use his energy. It should also be noted that he had a physical or mental impairment that troubled him, a disability that didn’t become the focus of his life. We can speculate about his limited energy, but we know he had to adapt to new plans all the time, and he had to ration his energy to be effective.
Paul’s coping mechanisms in the face of a blinding event might be summed up this way: While living on God’s path, he gave careful thought, used serious courage and reallocated his energy.
Christians for centuries have used Paul’s guidelines for living when they needed to adapt to drastic changes in their lives. Cancer, a drastic change for any life, pushes us to find some guidelines for our lives, and these three coping mechanisms can be on the marquee of our lives. You can read the timeless, biblical guidelines Paul wrote while under house arrest.
THE HUGE PUZZLE
In the midst of healing, in the midst of trusting and reallocating energy comes a burning, realistic question: why did I get well, and my friend did not? Results of scientific studies done of the impact of spirituality on disease are mixed and show that spirituality is not magic and does not guarantee cures. However, many persons know someone who was healed because of prayer and trust in cooperation with good medical care. We don’t doubt it, in fact, we celebrate the total healing. We give thanks for the healing. We celebrate and honor God for it. If there is limited healing, we have questions about the great mystery of who is healed and why others are not.
Why do some people get well and some die? It’s the eternal question, a puzzle that has baffled great thinkers for centuries and a question on the front burner for anyone who is not well. When I see the bronze and marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin called The Thinker who is posed with his chin on his hand literally captured in thought, I think of this eternal question. The Thinker is classified as a philosophical structure, considering the nature of life and the logic of it. But The Thinker gives us no answer, instead he just sits there to remind us to think.
Other great thinkers have chewed on the question, some have written their thoughts in the form of poetry, hymns, books, sermons for listening, and all have found a small piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing. There is no complete answer that is logical, reliable and biblical.
It’s not just a personal physical question about ourselves; it becomes a question about the God we believe in. Hey, God, I have prayed to be well, and you haven’t answered my prayers. Why? Hey, God, here I lie on my deathbed while Peggy who started radiation at the same time is out having dinner with her children. That’s not fair, God.
There are many mysteries about God and about life in general, but it seems that the mystery of healing and non-healing becomes acute when the stakes are so high. In the midst of this ever-present cancer mystery, we cling to hope for healing, help and comfort as well as company in the struggle, and we can trust a loving God to share our journey in life or death.
1 (178, psychoimm))
2(p 142, AWAKENING THE CREATIVE SPIRIT, Painters, Beckman.)