Recently I’ve been studying Pope John Paul II’s series of Wednesday noon lectures (129 to be exact!) that articulate his vision of human sexuality, marriage and family life. It’s slow going. Today, however, as I celebrate the sixth anniversary of my surgery for ovarian cancer I am articulating my own theology of the body.
Theology has been defined as “faith seeking understanding”. During the past six years I have indeed sought to understand, to make meaning of the experience of cancer. From the first moment of the diagnosis I knew that I was in a foreign land. No matter that as a physician, I had accompanied many people on the journey through illness. As a patient I realized that only faith would help me find the way.
Here are three key learnings from my journey so far:
- Community matters. I was carried along by a community of faith and a community of healing professionals. People I knew and people I had never met prayed for me. People came, people called, people read my blog. People sent me books and prayer shawls. People took over all the responsibilities that I couldn’t even think about. People loved me. Their love and prayers healed me.
- Place is important. God created a healing environment for me where I had everything I needed. The atmosphere of peace, solitude and quiet became a kind of cocoon. Or was it a womb? Either way, it was a place for not only healing but also transformation. My body needed that safe place for the repair of everything in me that was traumatized, necessarily, by surgery and then chemotherapy. That place still holds healing energy for me.
- Gratitude heals. I am grateful for each day and I believe that it is gratitude that keeps me in remission. I received good spiritual direction as I went through chemo. I was encouraged to enter the infusion center with a grateful heart, to receive the medication with gratitude and to pray in thanksgiving for all who were giving and receiving treatment in the room with me. Since then, when I return every six weeks to have my port-a-cath flushed, I remember that counsel and give thanks. Similarly, the time spent waiting during each follow-up PET scan becomes a sacred space, full of gratitude for all the treatment I have been able to access over these years. And my journey to San Antonio every six months to visit my gynecologic oncologist is a pilgrimage of gratitude.
The Eucharist, we Catholics believe, is “the source and summit of our faith”. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving. We bring all of our daily experiences of life to the table of the Eucharist and we offer it back to God in thanksgiving. We believe that God transforms what we bring, our very selves, along with the bread and wine into the Body of Christ. Then we “become what we receive” and we give thanks. So for me, gratitude is an essential element of my theology of the body.
The body we are given is indeed a privileged place for the revelation of the mystery of God’s love. Each one is a unique expression of the Creator- one of a kind- perfect in God’s sight. No one says it better than the psalmist: “I praise you for I am wonderfully made! Wonderful are your works!” (Ps. 139:14)