A Fusion of Prayer and Medicine

Tomorrow morning, June 7, I will be undergoing surgery on my lumbar spine intended to correct some problems that have been worsening as I have aged.

Following the six hour surgery and time in recovery, at some point I will be challenged with the words,

“Get up and walk.”

I hope in that moment to hear the voice of Christ and not just the nurse.  I will need Him  as Peter needed Him when he began to sink beneath the waves.   It will be a moment of synergy – the surgeon will have done his part, Christ will do his part, and I will have to do my part.   A good friend, Dr. N. Eike, says the surgeon’s job is to remove those things which are preventing healing from taking place: a wonderful perspective.

I will not be posting any blogs for a few days as I convalesce.  I have been working on a blog series which I hope to begin in a week or so on PRAYER.

It is something I will be relying on and wrestling with in the next few weeks as my activities will be curtailed for at least one month.  A measure of how well I am recovering might be how soon I am able to resume posting blogs.  I’ve been told for the next 30 days there will be very limited activity, so I’m not sure what to expect in the recuperation process.

Meanwhile, I ask for your prayers.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

(Psalms 51:8)

I am hoping that my bones will be rejoicing after surgery!  The Psalmist is both bold and hopeful.  He boldly expresses his belief that it is God who has crushed his bones – he is not blaming God but acknowledging God’s will in the world.  The Psalmist then asks in hope that God will now allow his crushed bones to rejoice.  It calls to mind the Book of Job the Long-Suffering:

And Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.  (Job 1:21-22)

As I prepare myself for surgery, offer up holy words from  THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH:

“Before you fall ill, search out a doctor for yourself.  Before difficulties come upon you, pray; then, when the time of distress comes, you will discover prayer, and it will provide an answer for you.”

“When you are ill, say ‘Blessed are those who discover the purpose set by God in the things that God brings upon us for our advantage.  God is bringing this sickness for the sake of the soul’s good health.’”

“If you believe firmly that God cares for you, then you do not need to worry about the body, nor need you be concerned about discovering ways how to conduct your life.  If, however, you doubt God’s care, and want to look after yourself without God, then you are the most miserable person imaginable.”

I have lived and wanted to live in such a way as to look after myself and not to be looking for or dependent on God’s care.  Now I am to submit my body and soul into His hands and trust in His care.  It is a step of faith.

“Into your hands, O Lord, do I commend my spirit,

bless me, have mercy on me, and give me eternal life.”

Christ the Physician of Soul and Body

(The above icon was done by the hand of Daryl Cochran.  He gave it to me as a gift in preparation for my surgery.)

Satan and Our Passions

There is a debate among some Christians that the Lord’s Prayer should conclude with the words “deliver us from the Evil One” rather than the customary “deliver us from evil.”  The prayer thus asks God the Father not merely to protect us from generic evil but really from the works of Satan.

Some claim that nowhere in the Orthodox tradition can you find the saints speaking of a generic evil, but rather they all recognize the existence of the Evil one.   However, I came across an interesting quote from St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th Century) which maybe shows some of the Fathers had a far more nuanced understanding of Satan and devils than we who live in a literally dominated society imagine.    Here is the poem St. Ephrem wrote.  Satan is the speaker:

How many satans there are in a person,
but it is I alone whom everyone curses.
A person’s anger is [like]
a devil which harasses him daily.      Other demons are like travelers
who only move on if they are forced to,      but as for anger,
even if all the righteous adjure it,
it will  not be rooted out from its place.
Instead of hating destructive envy,
everyone hates some weak and wretched devil!

(Ephrem the Syrian SELECT POEMS, p 143)

St. Ephrem has Satan call the many passions (like anger and envy) of a person “satans” but really is acknowleding these passions are not demons but things residing within each human.   Jesus speaks about this same idea in Mark 7:21-23 where He notes that evil lurks in the heart of each human but He does not blame the Evil One.

The Lord Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

St. Ephrem says a person’s anger is like a devil, and in that sense is demonic, but it isn’t a devil acting in a person.  The reality is our passions can imitate devilish behavior which is why we need the asceticism of self denial and self control – to contain the passions which are like demons in us.   Perhaps with a bit of humor, St. Ephrem has Satan lamenting that everyone blames him for all their sins and that  everyone hates him alone because they fail to recognize themselves as the source of their own passions.  St. Ephrem cleverly has the Father of Lies demurring the fact that we humans lie to ourselves blaming some poor devil for things which in fact are our own passions (like envy for example).

Satan deserves no blame for the passions and behaviors in which a human chooses to engage.  People blame devils for their faults rather than do the hard work of dealing with their destructive passions.

it is an interesting poem which does not blame Satan for all our woes, but rather St. Ephrem acknowledges that the heart is the home and source of much evil in the world.  We need to engage in a spiritual warfare within ourselves and with our own passions rather than blaming Satan.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.   (James 4:7)