Thursday, November 19, 2009

B&W, W&O Chapter 12: The Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick

The chapter opens with Archimandrite Webber recounting a story of a man he knew who died of cancer. He says that, though this man was in his mid-seventies, he had never been seriously ill before. He didn't know how to act, as a sick person - he needed to rely on his wife and Hospice nurses for his care (especially towards the end), which meant telling them what his needs were. And he wasn't very good at that, having been used to taking care of his needs himself. His cancer was very painful, and because the drugs that they gave him for the pain basically knocked him out, it was a choice between pain or unconsciousness. Most of the time, he chose to take the pain. He said, 'Death stinks, but I guess cancer was the only way it could get my attention.'

For him, the sickness came to help him die. (Which is...I watched my grandfather die of cancer. It was...I can't even. Hell, it's been more than ten years, and I'm crying again. Death sucks. Okay? I accept it as an inevitability. I even know that it's a *good* thing. We get to go be with God, in a way we can't be here and now. Still. Death sucks for those left behind.) *But*, that being said, I like this way of thinking. We have to die. Sometimes an illness comes to help us do that.

The Purpose of Illness....

"We cannot understand Christian living until we come to terms with Christian dying. Sickness is a foretaste of that death and a state of enormous spiritual significance."

We, as humans, tend to brush away anything that we don't like, or makes us uncomfortable or seems harder than we deem it 'worth'. A person can spend most of their life drifting through a 'fuzzy reality', if they so desire. Sicknesses are a way that we are strongly encouraged (by whom, you may well ask, well, think about it.) to come into focus and look at a variety of important subjects - the significance of life, what it means to be alone, what it means to depend on people, fear and desire, hope and anxiety, loneliness, isolation, and, ultimately, death.

We don't regard illnesses as a good thing, in this world. However, they do get our attention. They, along with injury, remind us that we do not control our own lives. If, when ill, we try to grab more control over our lives, we are bound to fail. "Sickness and physical death can occur at any time and are always unwelcome. However, when they occur, wanting and not wanting, based on our normal thought patterns, cease to be central in our lives, and the power of the ego with all its boisterous energy suddenly fades. As that happens, we are potentially able to deepen our awareness of God, our dependence on Him, and our desire to seek His Will. Sickness and imminent death both present many opportunities for spiritual growth. Under the right circumstances, as shown in the Gospels, they are both factors through which God may be glorified." In sickness, we learn to be dependent on others, something that, in normal life, we reject as childish and/or weak. This can help us to develop or relearn a sense of dependence on God.

The Gospels stress two themes of major importance with regard to sickness. First, Jesus was a great healer. He brought relief, comfort, and strength, when He healed people.

Second, sickness doesn't equal sin. Think of the man born blind - he wasn't being punished for his sins, or his parents sins, but rather he was born blind so that God might be glorified. God does not delight in our pain, but, when we acknowledge our weakness (so much easier to do when we're ill), the dimension of our dependence on God and His love for us is all the more apparent.

The Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick is not an attempt to convince or force God to act one way or the other, in regards to the sick person, but rather, it is a solemn commitment by the sick person, surrounded by the Church, to place himself completely and without reservation into the hands of God. Whether their illness ends in healing, or death, they acknowledge their dependence on God, and acceptance of His Will. (Which is not, of course, to say that you don't seek medical attention - rather that the outcome of the treatment, which the doctor will prescribe, be in accordance with God's Will for your life, and not yours or your families.)

In this Mystery, a person receives anointing with the words, 'for the healing of mind and body' - an acknowledgement that both the body and the soul need to be in harmony, and in line with God. We are often quick to acknowledge and treat physical ailments, but not so quick with spiritual ones, and both are just as important to get 'treatment'.

Sickness may not always be a test from God, but it is always an opportunity for spiritual development.

On a personal note, I appear to be getting sick.

Timing, people, timing.

Tomorrow, 'maawidge'.


  1. I agree with you. I never liked the idea of illness or injury being a punishment, although a lot of people feel that way. Or they turn to the "everything happens for a reason" argument, which in my opinion does not work either.

    Bad things happen and we have to deal with them.

  2. LK,

    Frankly, that idea annoys the crap out of me. Illness happens. Not because you did something wrong (well, okay, maybe, technically, like if you didn't pay attention to health warnings or forgot to get a flu shot, but those aren't *wrong*), but just because that's the way the world works.

    Bad things are not God's way of 'getting' you for something you did. God doesn't work that way.

  3. Agreed. Have you read "When Bad Things Happen to Good People?" Fascinating book. Its about how God isn't punishing you when you become ill and why there is evil in the world. Covers the story of what happened when Harold Kushner's young son became ill and what he discovered as he explored the reasoning behind pain and suffering.

  4. Hugs about your grandfather. I still cry sometimes about things that happened a long time ago, too. I know your grandfather was very important and special to you.

    I hope you are feeling better.

    I enjoyed this post. I have heard that sometimes a sickness can be God's megaphone. For instance, when you are healthy and won the lottery and life is oh-so-good, people fully understand how you can say "God is so good!" But when they see your health failing or your life falling apart in other areas YET you can still say with joy and sincerity, "God is so good," they really notice more.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Susanne,


    Not yet! Hopped up on cold meds. Blargh.

    *nods* It's easy to be thankful when everything is shiny and perfect. Harder when things are falling apart.

    It's the Job test in miniature!


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