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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why would I want to pray with my illness?

AWBA's next online retreat experience, "Praying With Illness", begins February 10 and continues through Lent. I asked the retreat facilitator,  Michael Landon, to share his perspective on why anyone would want to pray with their illness.  Michael responded,

“You have got to be kidding me!”  This was my first thought when several years ago a friend suggested that I might consider praying with my illness.  She didn’t mean praying to get rid of it, or to be miraculously healed… She meant, actually using my illness, my body that I felt was betraying me.  I had a hard time understanding how this trusted friend could suggest such a thing.  She of all people knew the painful journey I had been traveling!  Even she had personal experience with living with chronic disease, so how could she suggest praying with illness? 

We invite you to consider this opportunity to deepen your prayer life during the Season of Lent.  For details visit our website at Upcoming Events.  For those who wonder how an online experience forms community read feedback from past participants.  The registration deadline for this event is January 28. Read below for all of Michael's comments regarding this powerful retreat opportunity for caregivers and those with chronic disease.

What I came to realize is that up until this conversation, I had been limiting my prayers to praying “about” my illness.  My friend’s seemingly absurd suggestion of praying “with” my illness was an invitation to deepen and expand my prayer life, as well as see my illness and my body from a new perspective.  My friend introduced me to a wonderful book, Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness, by Mary C. Earle.  I had practiced Lectio Divina for years, and had even led retreats and small groups using this prayer discipline.  I knew that Lectio Divina (Holy/Sacred Reading) could be used not only with Scripture, but with any text. I had even known some who used this prayer with art work, but I had never considered the possibility of using my body, much less my illness as the sacred text.
One of the gifts that I received through expanding this prayer form to my body was a change of perspective.  I stopped seeing my body as the enemy, and I stopped seeing my identity as being defined by my illness.  Not that praying about one’s illness is inappropriate or somehow wrong, but I had become consumed by the “about” and wanting it to go away – even though I knew that chronic disease was just that… chronic, and in my case, there was not just one disease process at work, but several – and this was before what I call “the crash of 2009” when my several different disease processes collided into one another, leaving me completely debilitated and ultimately leading to being disabled.  I realized that my friend’s invitation was to discover a new way of living within my body, and to listen to what it and what God might be saying through it.  It was also a reminder that all of our bodies are sacred.
In addition to beginning to practice Lectio Divina in a new way, I found that practicing another prayer form went hand in hand.  The Jesuit prayer of Examen is a way of reviewing one’s day, one’s week, year, life – listening for the places of consolation and desolation, those things that are life giving or life draining.  I found myself returning to a delightful little book, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila Fabricant, and Matthew Linn.  Again, this was an invitation to pray with my illness in a new way, to listen deeper, and to be open to the surprises that might be discovered.
One thing I have learned over the years, is that when it comes to prayer, it is not about the “end result,” rather about the process and being open to the experiences the path of prayer brings.  It is not about doing it right, but being intentional in our doing.  Both Lectio Divina and The Examen are invitations to experience at a deeper level.  The circumstances of one’s life may not change, but the perspective does; thus allowing us to embrace life and live it more fully.
The upcoming online Lenten Retreat, “Praying with Illness” will be a time to learn, relearn, or expand upon each participant's understanding and practice of Lectio Divina and The Examen.  I will be drawing from both Mary C Earle’s and the Linn’s books as we pray our way through Lent.  Each week I will share a little nugget from these authors as well as from my own life experiences.  Each week will have a Scripture verse or passage to connect us with the Lenten journey.  I might also share some poems or pieces of art work, or other sacred text.  However, the main text I will be inviting each of us to pay closest attention will be the sacred text of our bodies.  As this is a group experience, everyone will be invited to share from their reflections, so we can learn from one another’s experiences.  I first learned the prayer of Lectio Divina as a small group experience on a week-long retreat.  It is amazing how the Spirit moves within such groups.
I am excited about this opportunity to walk with you during Lent, and to be with each of you in prayer.  A phrase that you will often see me using when I close my thoughts is: “I will be holding you in the healing light of God’s love.”  Healing comes in many ways, but the source is God’s love, and the Gospel of John describes Jesus as “the light of the world.”  So know that I will be holding every participant in prayer and imaging the God’s healing light surrounding you.  A friend recently shared the following quote with me, and I thought it to be very appropriate to share as you consider being a part of this Lenten Journey.

“So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?"

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Holding you in the healing light of God’s love…  
Michael Landon

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