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Cancel, postpone, delay, reschedule, suspend, shelve, wait, dispense, put off, disrupt—such verbs prod attention toward unwelcome change, still provoked by Covid-19. Few areas of our lives have escaped the implications of living around its irritant: for some, death occurs.

Quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing, masking and gloving—such nouns mess with communication, intimacy, breathing, and social relating. Gesturing hugs don’t work for me. Such inconvenience tests patience, even raises questions about government regulations, with more states opening up for business.

Such experience dulls the sharpness of the crisis and seeks the comfort/unconsciousness of “the old ways.” Yet the Covid-19 crisis remains, unabated until the protective vaccine is in place.

From my perspective, this crisis mirrors my own: living with terminal illness, also with respiratory issues. Long months of praying, study, and blogging have filled empty spaces with ultimate truth and longing for eternal life. Yet, I’m not immune to the dark games in my psyche that have always wanted me dead before my time.

Like the deadly virus, the snaky hair of the Greek Medusa stings me into unconsciousness, leaving me vulnerable to assaults: terror triggers the “I can’t do it” attitude: learned helplessness from childhood; intense sadness-bordering-on-pain; dry weeping/heaving; rage and depression, voicelessness—my self-care ritual, albeit within limits, beached upon muddy bottoms. Hands clutching my head, Monster powerlessness threatens to eat me alive.

So my spiritual warfare deepens for which there is no vaccine, other than the practice of CPA’s Twelve Steps. They do work.

Step Seven of Chronic Pain Anonymous – Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

In Recipe for Recovery I found the description for Humility, central to Step Seven and CPA recovery: “…we accept and love ourselves exactly as we are.” That meant my sins, flaws, or shortcomings, whatever you want to call them. Clearly, my willfulness had created these emotional, mental, and spiritual glitches that felt like knotted ropes garroting my breathing and exacerbating decades of chronic illness and pain. Clearly, as well, I was powerless over their removal.

To prepare for this meeting with Higher Power, I returned to Prayer, another Step Seven Ingredient. For days, I sat in silence in my wingback chair and listened for the nudge to ask for help. Only when beckoned, did I begin.

It mattered not that my shortcomings appeared like an overgrown lot filled with scrap metal, their jagged edges glistening in the sun. It mattered not that guilt and shame slithered along mud-packed roads to the quarry. It mattered not that masks of entitlement lined the walls of my study. There I was, surrounded by fits and starts that had lost steam and collapsed—the caricature of my birthright.

Then, change occurred: I felt held, then smiled and stretched my back against the wingback chair. I was forgiven—not that my shortcomings had been removed; they were still around but had less influence over my motives, thoughts, and behaviors, now that I was aware of them. Only with daily practice of Step Seven would my shortcomings be entirely removed. That would be Higher Power’s design for my continuing purification.

Step Eight would deal with the harms I had caused others.

 

 

“Sorry I’m late. Got tied up at the rectory, it being Sunday and all—it was the blueberry pancake breakfast for the kids and their families,” he said standing on my front porch, a balmy breeze blowing the boxwood hedges behind him. It was Father Dan, Pastor of the College Church, his Roman collar gracing his long sleeve clergy shirt.

“You’re just on time,” I said escorting him to the dining room table around which we sat. “I’ve been looking forward to this.” I had received the Sacrament of the Sick numerous times before knee surgeries and within healing Masses, but I sensed this would be different— the unexpected pitfalls of my terminal illness, especially the long nights, still cried out for God’s mercy.

“I’m so glad to help you out, Liz,” he said smiling as he withdrew from his pocket the sacred olive oil and the pyx containing the consecrated host. Then he found the place in his worn ritual book and placed it in front of him. Only chirping of tree sparrows enlivened the silence we shared as we waited for the Lord’s fullness to manifest.

Antiphonal prayer followed a reading from the Gospel of Matthew: Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden light. Then dipping his fingertip into the olive oil, Father Dan traced the sign of the cross upon my forehead saying in hushed tones, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Then, other crosses upon the palms of my hands, with the prayer, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” It was done—graced crosses resonated within my entire person: body, mind, spirit.

Fragrance like blossoming olive trees seeped into the wiggle-room of my humanness and soothed the rough edges of my terminal illness. I would not lose heart.

 

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