This past week, I deepened my spirituality by spending time at a retreat with members of the Order of St. Luke. Throughout the week, we emphasized how Luke portrays Christ as the healer, and I couldn’t help but wonder, why does God heal some people and not others?
Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight
About a month ago, I was sitting in my office having lunch at my desk. It was a quiet Friday afternoon and I was alone in the church. After finishing my yogurt, I decided to take a break from starring at my computer screen. I could feel my eyes growing dry from starring at the monitor all morning.
I stood up from my desk and wandered over to the large bookshelves that line the walls of my office. I am a bibliophile at heart and my shelves are filled to overflowing with a variety of books: poetry, theology, church history, Methodist history, Christian nonfiction, and even some guilty genre pleasures like sci-fi, fantasy, and historical romance.
My fingers came to a stop as they found the spine of a thick tome. It was a textbook that I had used in college entitled An Introduction to Reading and Understanding Poetry. I gently pulled the book from the shelf and smiled as I regarded it’s slightly worn cover and the brightly colored Post It Notes bursting from the edges of its pages.
“Hello, old friend,” I murmured to myself as I opened the book at random. “It’s been a while. How time flies.”
*(Please don’t judge me because I talk to books alone in my office. Scientific studies show that people who talk to themselves are more creative and better problem solvers than people who don’t!).
I felt my heart give a little lurch of excitement as I flipped through the pages. I had been incredibly weary these past several months. My summer had been anything but relaxing and restful.
Dear Reader, perhaps you also know what it feels like to be exhausted. I thought that perhaps some lovely lines would be exactly what I needed to help me unwind during that quiet Friday afternoon.
As I perused the pages, a random title jumped out at me. It was a poem by T.S. Eliot entitled The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
“Here’s a piece that’s worth rereading!” I thought to myself.
I’ve always favored the neoclassical period (Woohoo! Mr. Alexander Pope for the win!), but lately Eliot had been growing on me. I had explored The Wasteland on my Kindle over the summer and been surprisingly impressed with it. Perhaps I would find a new appreciation for Prufrock now that I was older.
I have a complicated medical history and I’ve had glaucoma since I was four years old. The painful thing about glaucoma is that it is the silent stealer of sight. Sight slips away, bit by bit, over the years. There are long stretches of time, sometimes years, before one can notice what they have lost.
I carried the book back to my desk and began to read- or tried to do so. As I focused my eyes on the text of the poem, I was horrified to realize that I couldn’t make out a word. Frantically, I began turning the pages. While I was able to read the large text of the titles, the tiny print of the poems themselves was all but indecipherable to me.
The blurry pages in front of me were a glaring reminder of what had once been. I had graduated from college 2011. Seven years ago I could have read that text. It would have hurt my eyes after a time, but I could have managed it.
Since years had stolen Eliot from me. .
Yes, I could still read them on a Kindle or an iPad, but I feel as something is missing if the words are not viewed on an actual printed page, especially when it comes to poetry.
How had I not noticed sooner? How hadn’t I noticed that I had been steadily increasing the font size on my iPhone for years and that lately I tended to opt for audiobooks instead of print?
I stood up from my desk and stalked over to the bookshelf once more. Then, I snatched the Harper Collins Study Bible, which I had used ruing my years in seminary, and opened it at random.
It fell open the book of Psalms.
It was a blow to see that the Psalms were indecipherable to me as well.
My vision blurred even more, but this time it was not because my eyes were dry and tired. Biting my lip to hold back tears, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What kind of a pastor can’t even read the Bible?”
St. Luke the Physician
Dark thoughts such as these were lurking in the back of my mind this past week as I prepared to attend the spiritual retreat with the Order of St. Luke (OSL). The retreat is held in a beautiful monastery in Pittsburgh. (For more about my excitement as I prepared for the trip or more information about OSL, check out this blog post I wrote last week!
The Order of St. Luke is an ecumenical group that is open to both clergy and laity. Members of the order are marvelously diverse. We come from all walks of and all corners of the world. We even have chapters in Singapore and the Philippines (Shout out to my fellow Filipino homies!). The goal of the order is promote excellence in liturgical worship and to propagate knowledge of the sacraments so future generations.
The patron saint of our order is St. Luke the physician. Previously, I had done very little work with the saints in my own personal devotional life. The adorable little United Methodist Church where I grew up only spoke about the saints on All Saints Sunday.
I was intrigued to learn more about St. Luke’s unique vision of Christ. The Bible contains four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The author of each gospel emphasizes a different and unique aspect of Jesus Christ. Luke placed a particular emphasis on Christ as the healer.
A World Without Words
Throughout the week, the following scripture verse was read repeatedly. It is taken from the Gospel according to Luke. In this passage, Christ prepares to begin his earthly ministry by visiting the synagogue on the Sabbath. The scroll of Isaiah is handed to Jesus and he reads the following out loud:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To set the oppressed free. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4.18-19, NIV).”
We read that verse so many times that I came to know it almost by heart. But each time we read that verse, my mind mentally stumbled over the words, “recovery of sight to the blind.”
Every time we spoke at the retreat about Luke’s work as a physician or Jesus as the great healer of all, I confess that I inwardly gave a deep cry of lament.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Haven’t I done my best to be a good and faithful servant? I believe that God is capable of doing all things. Why won’t God send me a miraculous healing?”
I was tempted to stew in the fact that one of my greatest loves is language. I do not fear a world of darkness. I have dear friends that have shown me that people who are blind can live full and complete lives. In my heart of hearts, what I fear is a world without words. I never learned braille as a child; therefore, the loss of the printed word for me would be a loss of complete literacy.
How would I write my sermons if I became illiterate?
Even worse, what would it be like if I was no longer able to read the Scriptures for myself?
Lord, Help My Unbelief
At last, it came time for the service of healing. During the OSL retreat we have three corporate worship services each day. Each service was an exercise in excellence when it comes to worship planning. I was overwhelmingly impressed with all the extraordinary talent involved with worship. There were amazing musicians, passionate preachers, and all of those who worked quietly behind the scenes to make each service a work of art.
I viewed the healing service with a sense of trepidation. All I could think about was the time I was invited to a healing service when I was in seminary. I could still hear the words of a fellow seminarian from years ago echoing in my mind. “If you would just pray hard enough, God would heal you.”
I argued that I had prayed for years. In response, he simply shook his head at me and crossed his arms. “Then you must not believe enough. If you only believed enough, God would heal you.”
I did not want all of those gathered to see me lose my composure. I was afraid I would crumble into a ball of snot and tears. I considered claiming that I was sick and considered spending the day in my room, but I decided that would be a sign of weakness. I might be disabled, but I am anything but weak. Furthermore, I know that I am anything but weak when Christ walks with me.
Therefore, I said a little prayer, cinched my robe around my waist, and donned my red OSL scapular. “Lord, I believe.” I prayed. “Help my unbelief.”
Christ Is the Word
As I looked around the room at all of those gathered for worship, I felt a sense of calmness wash over me. Throughout the week, I had been blessed with the opportunity to speak with many people and make many new friends. Although the faces were blurry and we were all dressed alike, I could still pick out one or two distinct forms within the crowd.
The organ filled the chapel with beautiful music and I brought my eyes to the image of Christ on the cross that dominated the front of the worship space.
“I once was blind, but now I see.”
The words popped into my head like a whisper. Sometimes, God speaks like a booming thunder, but sometimes God speaks in a still small voice (1 Kings 12.12).
As I gazed at the cross surrounded by my friends in the Order, a quote from St. Augustine floated to me on the air. “We are an Easter people.”
I blinked repeatedly to fight back tears as my heart filled with hope.
We are indeed an Easter people. We do not live in the darkness, but instead walk in the light. Even if my sight should grow entirely dark, I know that the Word of God is the lamp that will illuminate my path (Psalm 119.105).
We are an Easter people. Alleluia is our song (St. Augustine). Each Sunday is a tiny Easter, but each morning is also a resurrection. Every time I see a sunrise, God offers me a unique healing all my own.
I do not profess to understand the ways of God. Sometimes God grants healing in this life. Sometimes, God calls us home. But if we truly believe in the mysteries of our faith, then we know that death is not the end. With faith in Christ, death becomes the ultimate healing. Through death, Jesus releases us from earthly captivity and calls us home to paradise. Sometimes, healing simply doesn’t look like we expect.
“I am the Word.”
I smiled through my tears as I remembered the simple Bible verse which I had memorized for Sunday school as a young girl:
“In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the word (John 1.1, KJV).”
As long as I have Christ, I will always have the gift of the Word.
With God, I will never be illiterate.
In conclusion, Dear Reader, my prayer for you this day is that you will also find strength and healing through the Word as I did this past week.
May the Peace of Christ Be With You Always,
P.S. To find out more about the Order of St. Luke, visit our website here.
I also encourage you to check out the lovely book of poetry, “I Had Too Much Too Much to Dream Last Night,” by fellow member of the Order of St. Luke, Br. George Crisp. I’m particularly moved by his haikus inspired by Hawaii (Woohoo for the Pacific Islands!). You can find his book here on Amazon!
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