Hello everyone, this is the latest news and wisdom from Sr Rita, who is on a journey with cancer. You will find the six previous “Wisdom Companion” pieces from Sr. Rita by searching this site.
First, thank you for all your prayers, healing energy, light, card, and good wishes. I am convinced that it’s boosting my immune system and spiritual resources. Yesterday I had my first infusion of Taxol. First, they check my blood work to see if I’m able to tolerate the drug. If that is a go, they open the port and start saline to sanitize. The next part is administering a steroid, Benadryl, to head off any allergic reaction, an anti-nausea drug, and a drug similar to Pepcid to protect the stomach lining. When those are entirely in my system, they begin the slow infusion of Taxol, which takes 60-90 minutes. The clinician from my oncologist’s office came with a thorough information packet of home care, dietary, and emergency info. I am so impressed by the team’s blend of caring and competence. They even brought lunch since I was there over the noon hour.
Right now, I am feeling the false energy of the steroids and trying to make the most of it without overdoing it.
From March 1 to March 13 I found myself afforded two privileges: directing a short retreat at St. Joseph by the Sea in Sea Isle City, NJ, and, while there, the gift of time in which to ponder where I am and what matters. Part of my spiritual journey has been learning to call things by their correct names. Submission and surrender are paramount in my mind and heart right now. Both words begin in the same place (that ‘sub’), and I cannot deny that they elicit a string of connotations that signal defeat, giving up, being powerless, and finding myself overpowered. In other words: the worst possible place.
For me, allowing myself to simply ‘be’ in that seemingly inhospitable and painful place was an important threshold to recovering from long-buried trauma and all its ugly trappings. I had to admit that there were death-dealing forces at work in my body, mind and spirit, and despite my exhaustive efforts to uproot, oust, and defeat them, I could not.
In the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, what feels like submission s revealed to admission — life on life’s terms. It goes like this:
Step 1: I can’t.
Step 2: There is a power that is not my ego that can.
Step 3: I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God.
Although the Big Book of AA never uses the word surrender, Step three marks a shift. It is a decision in which I entrust myself, my will, my life to a deeper/higher power. The decision to entrust moves away from groveling submission and toward something benevolent. Surrender is not magical ecstasy. It begins more like learning to float, even while feeling fear, while simultaneously trusting in the sure and reassuring community supporting you until you discover for yourself that you’re safe.
On page 46 of the Big Book we meet the God of AA philosophy:
“Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.”
Nature is one of the most accessible gateways to the divine. It was and is the first cathedral. Much of my prayer has been allowing turtle, tree bark, monarch-drenched shrubs, hawks, and mice to reveal heart-changing mysteries.
The romantic poet Wordsworth captures this in “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798:
“And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth.”
My Catholic faith, especially the mystical tradition, offered me a solid set of tuning forks and an alluring experience that matched the depth of my longing. It spoke of:
This Presence is so immense, yet so humble; awe-inspiring yet so gentle;
limitless, yet so intimate, tender and personal.
I know that I am known. Everything in my life is transparent in this Presence.
It knows everything about me– all my weaknesses, brokenness, sinfulness
– and still loves me infinitely.
This Presence is healing, strengthening, refreshing– just by its Presence.
It is nonjudgmental, self-giving, seeking no reward, boundless in compassion.
It is like coming home to a place I should never have left,
to an awareness that was somehow always there, but which I did not recognize.
–Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart
Unfortunately, my interior experience was predictable: “Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.” I described my internal disconnect to my spiritual director: “It’s as if I am a piano. At work in this, I can feel the tap on the key, I can sense the hammer moving, but there is no music in me.” Wisely recognizing a form of God’s presence at work, she asked me, would you trade the tap, the hammer movement for the music?” My response was, “Oh Shit! (My go-to place when I know I’ve missed a grace being given.) God was going slowly with me, but, as many survivors do, I wanted everything quick and over with rather than God’s painstakingly slow and thorough work.
My prayer for all of you is to discover God’s way with you, to treasure and mine your experiences, allowing deeper Power to develop the confidence in you that allows you to surrender, i.e., to entrust yourself to Love at work in your depths and in the depths of the world’s trouble and beauty.
Sorry this is so long. Chalk it up to steroid energy.
Never apologize, Rita. I could talk with you all day….