Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Misfit, mutant,
unrequited, unrelenting.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to escape from a frozen, shrunken kingdom of static nouns?
Chronic illness means chronic uncertainty.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Some of us need to lament our lack of lamentation,
our desire to "move on" without
dwelling in
and reflecting upon
the pain that so grips the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Title

Compounded pain.
Pain upon pain upon pain.
Diversity of perversity.

Pain beheld.
touched, felt, smelt.
Pain all around.
Compounded anguish.
Anguish all around, within, without.
Compounded, confounding, convoluted.
Pain and Anguish.

Who will extinguish,
relinquish the grip,
the grasp, the wringing of the neck,
the piercing of the heart,
the wild, weird weariness in the bones and soul?

Tears counted.
Blood shed.
Pain felt in marrow and mind
by an all-feeling, if maddeningly illusive

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


When the human body betrays its occupant in radically painful and untreatable ways, the sufferer her friends, family, and others encounter the steely stare of raw futility. Nothing can be done, except cry out to a seemingly empty or inactive or even sadistic heaven.

Futility evokes many futile responses: anger, despair, desperate actions with little chance of ameliorating anything. The encounter with futility, vanity, the inexorably painful is the ultimate test of Christian existence. Can one obey in the silent darkness of unrelenting groaning, moaning, lamenting existence? Words fail; prayers fail; natural means for relief fail. Life itself fails. God is hidden; life is ridden with radical sickness.

The whole universe groans unto its redemption; we, too, groan; the Spirit groans, and groans for us in our groaning. We hear and feel groaning within, groaning without, and groaning Above. A three-fold chorus of lament and hope deferred it seems. We would rather close our ears our eyes our heart, but God pries them open. The roar is deafening, calling out to a silent void of unhelpfulness--for now.

Losing Things

The chronically ill often suffer from mental debilities, some call it brain fog: a lessening of memory, a loss for words, and a slowness of reasoning. This often causes disorientation, especially through the breakdown of normal thought and action. A common result is losing items of great importance and losing more pedestrian things.

"It just disappeared," they often say of some needed things: a medication, doctor's note, a glass of water. The mundane becomes maddening, perplexing, frustrating. They are lost; things are lost; all appears lost, out of control, a torture chamber of new and excruciating circumstances.

Yet Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Those in Christ are--all appearances to the contrary--not lost, however lost they feel, however much their caretakers let them down.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Avenues of Access

"Love is patient. Love is kind..."--I Corinthians 13:4.

Healthy people have their tastes and preferences, but they usually fall into fairly normal categories when it comes to communication (whether they are entirely wise in their choices or not). Some are more talkative to others, but they do not recoil from speaking in public. Some dislike the telephone; some like it; but few find it painful or impossible. Some may not like email, but will send and receive it. And so it goes.

This is not true for the chronically ill. Given their limitations, they do not engage the world of human contact and communication in the same way as the healthy of body. This is obvious in the case of the blind or the obviously physically disabled. We do not expect a blind person to read a letter; nor do we expect one sadly limited to a wheel chair go for a jog with us during which we will catch up on our lives. But those who look fairly healthy, but who are chronically ill (and usually depressed as a result), appear normal. So, many assume that their communicative avenues are just as open as the rest of humanity. They can call, write emails, visit our homes, go for walks, and all rest, can't they?

No they cannot; and it is the better part of compassion to realize that all those who are chronically ill are painfully limited in their avenues of access to the larger world. Public meetings are out for those with environmental sensitivities; or, of one braves them, she pays for it for days or weeks or recovery time. Some find phone calls very tiring. Others may use Facebook as the easiest way to interact with others, despite its limitations.

The point is simple: If you truly love a chronically-ill person, you need to find what avenues of access are best for them, given their limitations and possibilities. Please do not heap shame on them if they cannot play your game. Perhaps you love talking on the phone, but your friend tires quickly and would rather send an email or use Facebook. Then adjust to it--in love. Listen to your friend's pain; then try to put yourself into their wretched situation. This is called "loving your neighbor as yourself," as Jesus himself commanded.

This is not easy, but love requires it; and love is often not easy. Yet Spirit-led love will endeavor to find a godly and life-giving way into the lives of the miserable.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lecture on Suffering On-line

The audio form my lecture, "God and Human Suffering," is now on line.

Character Revealed

Our response to chronic illness may say more about our character than anything else. As for me, may God have mercy.

Where there is anger, bring empathy.
Where here is peevishness, please bring compassion.
Where there is despair, bring hope.
Where there is doubt, please bring trust.
Where there is impatience, bring the love that covers a multitude of sins.
Where there is self upon self, bring, I pray, the presence of the Savior from self.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Being in this world.
Being alone.

Being with others.
Being with suffering others.

Being with one's own suffering over the suffering of others.
Being with suffering, suffering, suffering.

Yearning for release from the burdensome
being in the world suffused with suffering.

Waiting, alone, suffering but with others suffering...

for the Being-unto-Resurrection
to come again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

God and Human Suffering

I spoke for about two hours today on "God and Human Suffering." to about seventy folks at Fellowship Denver Church. If it goes on line, I will post the lecture here. I can also send you the outline if you would like one.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Art of Condolence Writing

As I read cards and Facebook posts and emails of condolence, I wonder over the art of writing a condolence message. What, exactly, makes it apt? A few elements come to mind.

Of course, one should express genuine sorrow, which may or may not be captured by a prefabricated card. But if one used a set text from such a card, one needs to add a few of one's own words in one's own handwriting. The sorrow should not be despairing (which is the sin of giving up on God), but respectful and tender.

Another aspect of condolence is remembering and appreciating the life now over: a few words about the deceased smile or laugh or kindness. This sparks bright memories that dispel a bit of the harsh darkness of death.

The better condolences also offer hope for the bereft, the bereaved, the grieving; they offer some non-cliched reason to believe your sorrow will lighten, your life will move into brighter places, that this death will one day be swallowed up in victory (if that can be honestly said of the newly dead).

Other condolences are less wise; their vices include overused phrases robbed of meaning through overuse: "earth's loss is heaven's gain," and so on. Better to use your own faltering words than to steal such stock phrases. Yes, "its the thought that counts"--but why not try to match the right words (one's own words) with such sentiments?

Perhaps the most grievous failure in words of condolence is silence--no words at all. Those close to you and your beloved deceased write nothing. Why is this? Perhaps these souls are overwhelmed by the prospect of writing such weighty words. Instead of failing (after all, how many of them are professional writers or pastors or counselors--people who are supposed to know how to do such things?), they succeed by doing nothing, claiming an inability that renders them mute, thus making the bereaved even more lonely in their losses.