“… we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean
progress in all things,
a peaceful life,
the enjoyment of honors,
all the other supposed blessings of this life.
We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as
the fear of loss,
and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.” (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA , Kindle Loc. 28948-67)
In the quote above, St. Peter of Damascus (whose Namesday it is today, February 9) gives us a long list of blessings which lead us to God. These are blessings in this world and in this life – blessings even monastics, who are not supposed to live for this world alone, recognize and appreciate. Even hardships (of which he also makes a long list, and monastics and non-monastics alike can agree they are things we want to avoid) become a blessing because they can increase certain virtues in us as we deal with them in faith, hope and love.
All of the above was simply an introduction to the good news I can share about my own health. First, let me thank all of your for your continued prayers as indeed the last 4 years have been difficult with 4 major surgeries plus chemotherapy for cancer. This week I had both an oncology appointment and a 3-month post operative appointment with my neurosurgeon. The good news in oncology is no news – labs continue to show no change (I continue to be anemic but that seems expected due to the surgeries and the on-going chemo). I will have my next CT scan in about a month as they keep vigilant watch for any new tumors. There have been none since the lung resection surgery in May of 2015.
The neurosurgeon is totally happy with the spinal fusion which seems to be holding in place. I can walk without a cane and have none of the crippling back pain that led me to accept surgery. I will have to live with a number of physical limits, but I no longer need the back brace (pictured above, in case you can’t recognize what it is). That back brace first hugged me on November 8 and embraced me like a python 23.5/7 ever since. My cane (pictured here) – I was able to lay aside immediately after surgery. It now stands in a corner awaiting a new walking partner. The good news is for the time being I need neither of those devices, though I have a handful of other tools and devices which help me pick up things, reach things, get my socks and shoes on and the like. My back will never be what it was years ago, and will never be “normal” (though it is now a “new normal”) but I am able to continue to function, for which I am grateful daily.
I have learned to rejoice in the blessings of life and to see blessings in the hardships as well. I have learned to admire those who cope with and even overcome disabilities. I am ever thankful for those who have invented the medical devices that made my surgeries possible as well as those who improved them through engineering. I am grateful for all of those who have learned to use technology in the medical sciences – doctors, nurses and technicians.
I give thanks to God that God has entrusted such wisdom in the sciences to help us all. God has made it possible for us humans to remove all obstacles to our being healed by God. Medical science removes the physical obstacles to our healing, and repentance removes the spiritual obstacles to our becoming whole and human. Medicine and confession are thus both gifts from God which make healing possible. Both require human help and intervention.
I have accepted that in this life there are trials and illness. A few have asked me as to why instead of healing us, God doesn’t just prevent disease and injuries in the first place. I can only speak about reality – in this world, we have sickness, sorrow and suffering. Perhaps in some other world it doesn’t exist, but in our world it does, and it can serve a purpose, even be beneficial to us, though it doesn’t always seem so. I can ask why is grass green instead of being orange or purple? Maybe in some other world it is, but in this world, the only reality I know, it is green and must be so of necessity. Photosynthesis requires it, we and animals depend on it for food and oxygen. I also am reminded of a quote from St. John Cassian:
“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way – that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.” ( THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1326-29)