I’m reminded daily about how little I know and understand. I work with people who are suffering, whose symptoms may fit prescribed diagnostic criteria but yet defy explanation or reason. They care about what relief I might offer rather than a label that names the illness.
Like so much in medicine, what I witness daily is unexplained and unexplainable. What I do know I carry with me, small and honorable and shareable. I offer it up to each patient, one after another: here is what I think might help. here is your next step to take. here is the hope that goes with taking each breath, the next and the next.
Even when standing in the dark, as we all do at times in our life, we just keep breathing. In and out. In and out. We are filled even when empty.
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee. ~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”
In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls… I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope. ~T.S. Eliot from “East Coker”
On Maundy Thursday, I arrive back to the beginning, six weeks later returning to Eliot: “the unstilled world whirled/About the centre of the silent Word.”
a day of disquiet and silence,
of Christ taking towel and water to disciples’ dirty feet,
of bread broken and fruit crushed and consumed,
of anguished prayer and the kiss of betrayal,
of stilling the sword,
of watching those He loved run off in fear
and deny they ever knew Him.
In my beginning is my end.
And now the light falls and the darkness begins.
We wait, sorrow-filled, our unstilled souls stilled
by our betrayal, our denial, our hopelessness without Him.
“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
To reassure us that persistent prayer makes a difference to both us and God, Jesus tells this story with a bit of irony. If an unjust judge can grant justice, how much more so will the Lord provide justice for those He loves?
We cry out day and night at times, when the burden is heavy. He hears us and will respond with exactly what we need, even if we don’t know what we need.
His wisdom is infinite, and His knowledge of us unsurpassed. We shall pray His justice prevails.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
I am the rest between two notes, which are somehow always in discord because Death’s note wants to climb over— but in the dark interval, reconciled, they stay there trembling. And the song goes on, beautiful. ~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”
On Sunday evenings I often feel I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through a too-brief weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week. As I prepare to sleep at the end of a Sabbath day, I feel uneasily in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known behind.
This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is my moment of reconciliation: my Sabbath extended.
This evening, I will allow myself a steeply sloping hour of silence and reflection before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, yet beautiful nevertheless.
Even the least harmonious notes resolve within the next chord. I will move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.
Trembling, still trembling, always trembling at what is to come.
To-day I shall be strong, No more shall yield to wrong, Shall squander life no more; Days lost, I know not how, I shall retrieve them now; Now I shall keep the vow I never kept before.Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day. ~A.E. Houseman from “How Clear, How Lovely Bright”
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass. There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions — that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread.
~ R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
Last night, as you can see, was a surrounding sunset experience – 360 degrees of evolving color and patterns, streaks and swirls, gradation and gradual decline.
It was all in silence. No bird song, no wind, no spoken prayer.
Yet communion took place with the air breaking and feeding me like manna from heaven.
May I squander life no more and treasure each day.
May I keep my vows to God, church, family, friends, and patients.
May I be warmed on a chill winter day by the witness of such bleeding of last light of day.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. Zephaniah 3: 17, 19-20
There fared a mother driven forth Out of an inn to roam; In the place where she was homeless All men are at home.
For men are homesick in their homes, And strangers under the sun, And they lay on their heads in a foreign land Whenever the day is done.
A Child in a foul stable, Where the beasts feed and foam; Only where He was homeless Are you and I at home;
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. ~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas”
Even when I am weary,
one foot in front of the other
whether in my clinic seeing patient after patient,
or in the daily chores of the barn
I know His respite comes and refuge is near.
I remember how our good God
prepares us in such a place as this,
what He did to bring us home
when we ache for Him.
Our only hope and comfort is in Him.
He brings us home.
Homeless no longer, but homefull.
Though you are homeless Though you’re alone I will be your home Whatever’s the matter Whatever’s been done I will be your home I will be your home I will be your home In this fearful fallen place I will be your home When time reaches fullness When I move my hand I will bring you home Home to your own place In a beautiful land I will bring you home I will bring you home I will bring you home From this fearful fallen place I will bring you home I will bring you home ~Michael Card