Candles burn bright and long in my small community these days, even when summer asserts itself for a few more sunny hours. Many of us have turned to these flickering flames to symbolize what Quakers call “holding one another in the light.” The one we’re holding is a beloved man, husband, father, brother, teacher, mentor, friend, neighbor, storyteller, juggler, pilot, sailor, hiker whose world was turned upside down two weeks ago when a doctor told him he has a brain tumor. Now, Greg has a giant half-parentheses incision spanning the right side of his head, and he and his family and a wide circle of friends have been awaiting results of the pathology report.
Two days before Greg’s surgery, our Quaker meeting gathered around him and his wife, Nancy, for worship with an intention to “hold them in the light.” Marcelle Martin writes in the Pendle Hill pamphlet, Holding One Another in the Light, that this is the term Friends use for intercessory prayer—prayer for another person—and that it comes in many forms. “It may involve lifting up specific requests on behalf of someone else, or simply joining with God’s constant love for that person. It can be done when we are alone or with others,” she explains.
On that Sunday, about forty of us gathered. Our clerk lit five candles (one for Greg, his wife, and their three daughters). Out of the silence of worship we expressed our love for Greg and his family; our appreciation for his surgeon and other caregivers; and our hopes for healing, courage, strength, and Greg’s vision that what the doctor would find was a glob of blue jello and marshmallows. Two days later, another group of us met at Greg’s home at the hour he went into surgery at a hospital 100 miles away. Again, we lit candles and spoke aloud our requests that Greg be well cared for and that his tumor be released.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been holding, praying, pleading, and questioning almost constantly. I’ve lit and re-lit candles on my desk and the kitchen table, in the living room, and in the meditation corner in my bedroom. This candle lighting is such a tangible act for something I don’t understand.
Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I prayed to the God of the Bible stories I read in Sunday school. God was an all-knowing, all-powerful man who, I believed, listened to my every word and might just do or give as I asked. As I matured and my faith at times wavered, but mostly deepened, my mental picture of God became less human-like. Now I experience God as a presence, mystery, an essence of love and wisdom far beyond my human comprehension and constructs.
So when I hold Greg and his family in the light; when I pray for healing, strength, and courage for him; to whom or what am I praying? I no longer believe there is a Great Listening Ear hearing my cries for peace, justice, and restoration of the earth. I don’t picture a white-bearded man nodding thoughtfully or shaking his head in response to my requests (though that doesn’t stop me from chanting silently in my airplane seat during take-off and landing, “Please, please, please keep us safe”). And yet I believe in miracles. And I believe there is a mystical power that receives and responds to my outpourings of love, fear, rage, and hope. A presence that hears my desire to serve and be light in the world. A force that guides my actions when I open myself to its cues and signals.
Earlier this week, Greg wrote on his Caring Bridge website of his anger about this threat to the hopes and dreams he had for the future. He’s mad and asking why this is happening at a time he was looking forward to retirement from a teaching career, just as he was anticipating alternative work, new adventures, and telling the stories he’s collected over 61 years to future grandchildren. That anger and those questions are understandable, seem healthy and right. And I suspect God, that great lover of life and joy and peace, is asking them, too.
Yesterday, Greg got a phone call from his doctor that the cancer cells he cut out of my friend’s brain are stage 4 glioblastoma. Greg has a difficult road ahead living with this tenacious cancer. I don’t know who or what has heard my prayers for a tumor that responds well to radiation or chemotherapy. It’s tempting to believe my prayers were ignored. But as heavy as my heart is today, I know that Greg, and his family, and all of us are being held by an ever-present love and power. And I continue to light candles.
Blogging journey update – One of the finest uses of blogs is Caring Bridge (http://www.caringbridge.org), a site to help people “stay connected with loved ones during a significant health challenge.” Or as we Quakers say, it’s a way to hold someone in the light – electronically!
Comments on my last post led to a bit of dialogue and connection to other Quaker bloggers finding their way with this spiritual discipline; I don’t think these exchanges would have happened without this technology.