Saturday, June 30, 2007

A universal secret

Recently, Paul posted this
"Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."
(Douglas Coupland, Life After God)

I wish I’d remembered these words yesterday. I was talking to one of our congregation who lives in a rather wonderful Care Home run by the Sisters of Nazareth here in CK.. The majority of the residents are elderly, and several suffer from dementia, which my friend finds very distressing at times. Together we were reflecting on the awfulness of Alzheimer’s, the way it strips away the reference points that give a sense of self, the heartbreak of watching someone you love vanish slowly, while their beloved shell remains. Inevitably we began ask one another where we found God in all this. We wanted to make some sense of it all, and our attempts felt increasingly inadequate – band-aids applied to staunch a haemorrhage of pain. Try as we might, we could not arrive at a nice tidy conclusion that felt good, so in the end we decided we had no option but to live with the mystery.But in our conversation, I was aware of something nudging away at the edges of my mind, a sense that for me rock-bottom has always been a good place to look for God. I tried to articulate that, but my friend’s experience had been rather different and she imagined that the world of dementia might be equally cold, dark and lonely.
Coupland’s secret, which seems to me pretty well universal, might give us another perspective. When we’re unable to do anything for ourselves, when we are utterly helpless in every respect, God will act in us and for us. That’s so hard for us to accept. We long to hang on to autonomy, to the illusion that we are able to go it alone. And as long as we can almost cope, we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re in charge, that we are capable of independent life, not just independent existence. We fight to resist God’s boundless love, standing defiant like so many Canutes while all the time it sweeps towards us in a vast and unstoppable tide. Maybe those whose personalities have disappeared, who seem to spend their days in empty darkness are actually in a stronger position than we are, when we try to go it alone. Maybe we shouldn’t attempt to keep our need of God secret.. The less there is of me, the more space there is for God to fill….

4 comments:

MikeF said...

Wonderful post, Kathryn - thank you so much for this. Watching an old friend slowly disintegrate with Parkinson's Disease, I share this strange pain, and yet in the absolute lack of everything else, God is there. As St Francis saw so clearly, the less we have, the more we have God - even when we no longer have the equipment to recognise that, or to communicate it if we do...

Sally said...

Great post- and I love that Coupland quote- I probably over use it- but it has so many depths!

Leah Sophia said...

I concur--thoughtful and beautiful! Thanks.

Karla Jean said...

Thank you for this post...as I watch my mother-in-law deteriorate and change completely with Alzheimers, it it is a question we ask ourselves often. Where and how seem to be the questions of many days in this illness.