There are few blogs I read regularly. After moving to Dallas and meeting Rod Dreher I started reading his blog regularly, and read his book. Rod and I have a lot in common (facility with words aside). His blog, which is an eclectic commentary on politics, culture, Church, and food, is often thoughtful and interesting. (Again, not something we have in common.) More valuable however, are his more personal entries; helped no doubt by the fact that he is a dear friend. I found him to be honest, observant, and relate-able. His personal insight aided my own.
In January Rod moved from Dallas to Philadelphia. My wife and I have been mourning the move since Rod first mentioned the possibility to us this summer. Indeed our entire parish family was hit very hard by the Dreher’s departure, but we knew that we’d still have them as family.
So when Lent started last week, and my spiritual family started enduring the things come with Lent, I counted Rod’s trials among them. Our parish suffered car troubles, a priest breaking his leg, sickness, and Rod’s only sibling — his sister Ruthie — being diagnosed with Stage Four cancer in her lungs and brain.
In his usual frank and honest manner Dreher invited his readers to experience along with him pain, struggle, and lurking despair. Do yourself a favor: read all the posts in which he tagged his sister. Because pain, struggle, and lurking despair is not what this story is about.
Shortly after arriving at his sister’s bedside, Rod shares his exasperation with the silence of God and the sense of futility.
I am finding it hard to maintain my prayers right now. I know in my head that just because my sister has not experienced a miraculous recovery and jumped out of bed to second-line out of the hospital, that does not mean my prayers have been in vain. I’ve got enough sense to know that’s not how it works. But emotionally, this is difficult. All the praying, the begging, the anguishing, the fasting — and there has been no miracle. She’s still very sick indeed. I realized tonight that in my frenzy to call the attention of God to my sister’s plight and to convince him to heal her, I’ve been playing a kind of saints roulette, trying to hit on the right saint to ask prayers of, as if somehow my placing a bet on the right saint’s name would make an electric connection with heaven, and divine energy would course right down to my sister’s hospital room and save her, bam, just like that.
I know it doesn’t work that way. Believe me, I do. But I don’t know what else to say to God, or the saints, on my sister’s behalf. I know this isn’t like a courtroom, in which I need to come up with the cleverest argument to convince the judge that my sister’s life is worth saving. I know that magical thinking is a fallacy. I know that the communion of saints is not like a cocktail party in which I’m the wild-eyed stranger who’s walked in off the street and is annoying partygoers by interrupting their conversations to see who can spare the time to come out and help me get my car unstuck from the snowbank on the curb.
But I don’t know what else to do. And it’s not working.
Reading this went straight to my heart; and not because I judge Rod for feeling this way, but because I too have found myself Dark Night of the Soul. The Dark Night is difficult to be sure, but it is not bad. When we’re lost in the dark woods, with the right road wholly lost and gone, God provides. As Rod points out, Lent is a time for sorrow, but by God’s grace, we may have “bright sadness”. The brightness is God’s, shining through Ruthie.
I wish I had the words to express how brave my sister is. I write this through tears tonight — tears not of sadness for her, though God knows that’s there, but tears of admiration. Who among us could get such news today, and react with such evenness? Not me. She apologized to her husband, saying softly, “I’m sorry, I was hoping for better news.” Later in the day, I spoke with Dr. Tim Lindsey, her GP, and we talked about how astonishingly courageous she’s been throughout this short, terrible ordeal. He went on about how she’s not wanted to hide from anything, and how she’s withstood horrific blows without bowing. Dr. Tim and I agreed that there is something miraculous about the witness she’s showing to the rest of us, in how to suffer. He said that however long she has to live, whether it’s weeks or years or decades, her children will always remember the courage under fire — Hemingway’s definition of grace — that their mother showed in these days.
And the story gets better, sweeter, and more powerful. Our God is a good God, and Ruthie a good person.