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Monday, January 18, 2010

We Shall Overcome: The Spiritual Art of Resistance and Celebration

There are struggles and battles that are carried out on a global scale - world hunger, grinding poverty, diseases like tuberculosis, dysentery, HIV and AIDS, the pollution of our environment resulting life-threatening smog and global warming and the need to take better care of Mother Earth.

There are those that are more local or centralized - wars and rumors of wars of human fashion as well as those disasters of and in nature: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.

There are also interpersonal struggles and battles on the very human scale - racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, classism, abelism, to name a few. They harden the human heart and become the cornerstones of systems of oppression in agencies, organizations and governments.

An argument could be made that, on some level, all of the above struggles are part of a global struggle. It's what Howard Thurman called "the tragic fact of life."

Sooner or later you and I are visited by "the tragic fact" - individually, as a neighborhood, a nation or a global community.

"The tragic fact" causes suffering, and suffering is part of the human condition. Our ancient forebears tried to understand it and explained "the tragic fact" with a story about The Garden of Eden.

The moral of that ancient story is that if there is suffering in the world or in our lives, it must be because we have "angered the gods" - or, at least "God." It must be "divine retribution" for a misdeed or serious act, even if it is "the sins of the fathers" which are visited upon us.

The theology of Atonement is built, in great part, as an answer to the question of suffering. Somebody (might as well have been Adam and Eve) did something (might as well have been to have eaten an apple) somewhere (might as well have been Eden) and thus, we needed God to rescue us from our wretched selves.

It's a simple theory and, at a very basic level, it does contain its own logic. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of life were that simple?

Problem is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus did not put an end to human suffering. His saving grace seems to end at "natural disasters." Doesn't seem to extend to stop prejudice and bigotry and the violence that arises from it. People and nations continue to go to war over the absolute conviction that God is on their side.

Ah yes, you say, but there's 'eternal life'. That's the real gift of Jesus. That's what Jesus redeemed for us. Now, we have a chance to get 'back to Eden' where we'll be in Paradise once again. No more pain and suffering. No more weeping and mourning. There are no "tragic facts" of life in life eternal.

But, what to do about the here and the now? What to do about 'the tragic fact' of the human enterprise?

Well, there are lots of ways to respond to that question. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s response, based on the work of M. Gandhi, was to resist oppression and all oppressive forces. In doing so, he developed a spiritual grounding for the local and global work of active resistance and passive non-violence.

Resistance - refusing to participate or contribute to "the tragic fact" of our own suffering or that of another - is not only a political strategy, it is "good medicine" for the soul.

So is celebrating. Even small victories. And so it was that a small victory of huge proportion was celebrated last night.

Pictured above is Ms. Conroy and our dear friend Pam. Ms. Conroy lost all of her hair due to an hereditary condition known as alopecia universalis. Pam lost all of her hair as a side effect of the chemotherapy she's been taking after she was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer.

Before the Chemo, however, was the surgery. Two of them, in fact. Then, a third to put in the catheter through which these many long weeks of chemotherapy could be administered.

It's been a rough go. A really, really rough go. If you've ever known anyone who has gone through Chemo, you know what I'm talking about.

Pam has had a week's reprieve from the end of the Chemo and before she begins the next few weeks and months of radiation. She will get daily radiation treatments, Monday through Friday, until March 4.

This . . . this radiation . . . the doctor warned her at the beginning, is reportedly going to make her feel exhausted - especially as the treatment progresses. It's going to "kick her butt," the doctor has said. I don't know how else to describe what the Chemo did.

Here's the thing - Pam, and everyone who loves her, refuses to participate in 'the tragic fact' of cancer or the ugly side effects of Chemo or radiation. It's King's spiritual strategy of resistance practiced on a very deeply, personal level.

This is not some Pollyanna, fiddle-dee-dee fantasy of wishing all the bad stuff away, or simply thinking "positive thoughts" of sunshine, lollipops and roses.

This is hard work. This is active, non-violent resistance against being overwhelmed by a very formidable foe called Cancer and the struggle to kick its butt, thank you very much, if not completely rid her body of its presence.

This is a global struggle being waged on the cellular level which requires the same stamina, the same courage, the same focus of energy as does any other battle.

So, last night, we had an "After the Chemo, Before the Radiation Celebration Party" at the Rectory. Just a few friends from the church for a couple hours, snacking on cheese and stuff and sipping wine.

Then, we toasted Pam with some champagne. She is a s/hero, of this there is no doubt. There is also no doubt - especially in Pam's mind - that she would not be able to wage this spiritual and physical warfare without the support of her community of family, friends and faith.

Somewhere in each of our souls, we understand that every time we bring over a casserole or make a random phone call or send an email or offer to watch the kids or make an entry on her FaceBook Support Page, or remember that she had "a treatment" today - or the other day and might be feeling poorly right now - and shoot over an arrow prayer, we are participating in a radical, revolutionary act.

All of it, all of it, is prayer. All of it, all of it, is how common, everyday, ordinary s/heroes are made.

So, here's to you, Pam, and here's to us and The Spiritual Act of Resistance and Celebration. We need both - resistance and celebration - in our lives, if we are going to triumph over "the tragic fact" of life.

It make take a village to raise a child, but I am convinced that it takes an entire community to beat Cancer.

We shall overcome, my dear friend. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, one fine day in the not too distant future.

We shall overcome.

We'll just keep resisting. And, celebrating. Every step of the way.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Amen! Thank you for this, dear Sister!

it's margaret said...

She will need it.

The doctor is correct --the chemo will make mincemeat of you. And radiation kicks the ol' butt. I found radiation much more difficult to endure. (9 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation)

I found radiation devastating, not just because of the exhaustion, the blistering and all that. (Radiated on the chest.... blisters erupting on the back... the FEAR of what might be going on between.)

What was most devastating for me in all of it, was the loneliness --see, chemo was done in a big open room, little curtains between, but people all around all the time, people to talk to, joke with, laugh with, cry with. Radiation is dreadful, because you can drive yourself there and back--so generally one is alone; and when you enter the treatment room, the technicians get you situated and then everybody leaves --a voice through a speaker and the whirring and movement of the machine taking aim. All. Alone. No. One. No human touch. No hands. No faces.

THAT is why radiation sucks. Kicks butt. It is devastatingly lonely.

While you be that village with and for her, be very mindful how you might address the loneliness of this treatment.

You all will be in my prayers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Margaret, I can't even begin to imagine. Thanks for the heads up. I'm thinking, if the exhaustion is that bad, it's awfully hard to reach in there and let the "exhaustee" know s/he's not alone. We'll give it a good try, darlin'. Believe that.

IT said...

Damn the fight with cancer: slash, poison, and burn. No wonder we use the language of the battlefield to describe it.

Thanks for the insight, Margaret. It is important for those of us to whom this is (for now at least) a purely intellectual problem, to stay connected with the real people in the equation.

A few years ago the American cancer Society introduced stakeholder s (= general public) to the grant review process. The scientists were worried that these lay people wouldn't GET it. (Basic research can seem rather remote from clinical and patient issues). But, it forced us to articulate the logic of the science and the stakeholders were all intent on learning. It's been successful, overall (although there is still an educational curve for the newcomers in the process, to learn the contribution of basic research as well as applied). I continue to be reminded with the ACS as well as with my university's alumni, as I was with my research institute's donors, athat engaged "lay people" can and do totally get it if we scientists do our job and explain what we do and why.

I've often said the academy seems not unlike the church from my perspective, and it's my job to empower the laity.

Which is why I like to remind my colleagues standing on their scientific high horse that our title of doctor comes from docere which means..... to teach.

KJ said...

Amen, Elizabeth. Prayers for Pam, whose course of treatment sounds similar to my sister's treatment that concluded, successfully, last October. Please keep us apprised. I've switched from a "pink rosary" on my wrist, to Lance's yellow "Livestrong" one, since as for now, those in the battle will apparently always be on my prayer list.

My father's treatment for colon cancer has included the slash, poison and burn treatment (Thanks, IT. My dad will like that.), to date, without positive effect. Yet, Dad's spirits are great, and I suspect that the docs think he's just a bit "off." However, Dad has always been a bit of a queer believer in the original sense of that term.

Peace of Christ

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so much for your comments and prayers, IT and KJ

KJ - Prayers for your sister and dad.

Caminante said...

Prayers for Pam in the 'cancer sucks' club... and having gone through the drips now the lasers (as Naomi used to call it). May she hold her head high in its beauty, may she have ways to remember all those praying for her even in the loneliness of the radio treatment room, the vast communion of saints interceding for her.

word verification, if you can believe it, really is: bayer

KJ said...

Thanks for the prayers, Elizabeth. My sister's name is Karen, and we're in the giving thanks "mode" for her. My dad's name is Lloyd. He too is in the giving thanks mode, but challenges with the care of my mother, who is "fading," abound.

JCF said...

My friend Cath is a veteran in these wars (Stage 4 Lung Cancer: she's never smoked). Her story (online and in-person) inspires me daily---as does your friend Pam's.

How much more Bullsh*t---such as happened in your native Massachusetts' Senate race yesterday, Lisbeth---will we have to endure, before we get a health care system that 1) works adequately for ALL (e.g. Uninsured Me), and 2) receives the necessary funding out of our (Fat Cat's!) bounty, to make a PRIORITY out of curing effed-up diseases like cancer (all kinds), or Alzheimer's (like your bro's Lisbeth: he remains in my prayers), or ALS (which killed my mom a couple of years ago)?

God have mercy: when will we receive justice? WHEN???? :-(