Faith is a weird thing. For me, it’s always been there but hasn’t always been important or central to my life in the way it often seems to be to other people. Some people go their entire lives without any faith in anything, others define as ‘spiritual but not religious’ and especially here in the UK it seems common that the only time people enter a religious building is for ‘holidays’. Recently, faith has become much more important to me – it’s gone from that peripheral thing that was usually there to being central.
Having said that, pseudo-Christian platitudes about all this being part of God’s plan can go away. There’s so much ableism around in Christian rhetoric on illness and healing in particular. I think where I’m at now is that healing isn’t about magic or miracles or being made ‘better’, but about wholeness. For four years I was on the General Council of the Student Christian Movement and one of the phrases that was used a lot in the work they do was ‘life in all its fullness’ – I can’t do a lot of the things I used to take for granted now, but within what my body lets me do, I am trying to live life as fully as possible. It’s not being made better I’m looking for (though if this could go away I certainly wouldn’t say no!) but a feeling of wholeness despite that. A lot of the time the church is so focused on cure that it forgets to meet people where they are and look at their needs. This is an issue in secular society as well, I’m sure, but this post isn’t about that. Basically, this isn’t the most helpful thing to hear. I would imagine it’s similar for people living with chronic pain. Healing, especially religious healing, carries with it so many unhelpful associations – for me, it’s been much more helpful to view it as being made whole and giving me some form of inner peace (which probably sounds very up-myself but I’m not sure how else to phrase it!) than it is about holding out for a cure.
One of my favourite people is the 14th century Julian of Norwich. Many people know her for the Revelations of Divine Love, and the most famous quote from that is probably ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of the shall be well’. My favourite quote, though, is this:
He said not “thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be diseased” but he said “thou shalt not be overcome”
These words have been things I’ve returned to several times over the last few months. I think they acknowledge the very real situation I’m in and are more honest than many well meant platitudes.
One thing that is often written off as a platitude is the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ – it seems to be everywhere after a tragedy occurs and gets a lot of backlash because it is an easy way to avoid doing anything. But in my situation I’ve felt so held up by people’s prayer. I’ve never been good at prayer, especially off the cuff, but knowing that I’m being prayed for across the world really helps (the furthest away place I know of is Minnesota!) – it’s not that I think it’ll have much effect on the outcome, mostly because I don’t believe that’s how God works or prayer works. The idea that if you pray hard enough then God will magically listen and do something about it really doesn’t sit well with me. Instead, it feels like it’s about being held by God and by other people. This may not make any sense to people reading this at all!
This brings me onto another of my favourite Julian of Norwich quotes:
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who was always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown, that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.
If you haven’t read Revelations of Divine Love, I’d strongly recommend you do – not only was Julian a medieval woman writing and sharing her own voice, that voice is a beautiful one. As someone who had very personal experience of being ill, she can speak to that human condition in a way that feels genuine, regardless (I think) of whether your faith or faith background is.
As this has, inevitably, turned into yet another Julian fangirl moment, I’ll stop writing now and may update these thoughts as I have more of them.