Wisdom Companion #2 Sr. Rita’s Journey

Many of you, friends and readers, have heard me talk about Sr. Rita, who has been my aman-cara, my heart friend, for many years, and who is the inspiration for the character of Sr. Eileen in my latest novel, EVEN SO. 

Sr. Rita had breast cancer some years ago and we have now learned it has metastasized and will be with her for life, as her ‘wisdom companion,’ the one who will eventually take her home, as she puts it. 

As a writer she does what all writers do– she turns to the page to share this journey with us.  She has given me permission to post her writings here, as she lives fully in this experience. I am deeply grateful for her grace in letting us receive her wisdom, inspiration, and example. So here is the second installment (The first can be found here). More — many, many more — will follow.

September 7, 2022 Today’ reading  of the beatitude  and woes in Luke are consoling. I begin treatment today. The great  irony is that I feel well despite the disease that hides in me, and treatment, though it is focused on healing, brings some loss.  Jesus’ preaching dismantles conventional wisdom, judging by appearances, old tropes that associate painful situations with punishment, sinfulness, God’s displeasure. It points to the impermanence  of both suffering  and well-being. What lasts is love that transforms. The most devastating losses hold a gift, albeit  a difficult one. Poets know this:

Image by “Altar of Sorrow”

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

The ”woes” ( which are better translated  as the Jewish exclamation OY!) point to something recent science has noted. Empathy frequently decreases with increased security, esteem and power. The subtle danger is that good times can make it easy to forget that all is gift, and that gifts are given for us to share. How we hold what we are experiencing has the power to bring us blessedness if we are living awake and aware.

My evening prayer tonight is the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. His young son died, He business went up in flames in the Chicago fire of 1871. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead to England, while he sorted out his business. His four daughters would drown in a shipping accident, his wife would survive … Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.
That is some testimony to God’s grace. Truly amazing.

Sr. Rita’s writing here makes me think of something I came across Francis Weller’s book, “The Wild Edge of Sorrow,” which I’m studying at the moment. He says,

“When we are in the grips of illness, a major focus in our mind is the hope of getting back to where we were before this sickness began. But we are not meant to go back...we have been uprooted by our cancer, our heart attack, or our depression, and we have been set down on some new shore.”

No one among us lives our lives without a shipwreck of one kind or the other, do we?

“Shipwreck” by Knud Andreassen Baade (Norwegian, 1808–1879)

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