Yesterday morning our weekly Bible at Breakfast crowd was continuing its ongoing conversation with the book of Jeremiah. At my age and stage it is a real delight to find a group of ten people who are eager to get together at a local restaurant at 7:30 once a week to engage biblical texts with passion and curiosity. In the midst of yesterday's conversation one member noted that we are among the most fortunate people who have ever lived (given the standard of living that we enjoy, the medical care we receive, etc). Before you know it we were deep into a discussion that wondered about how we deal with the privilege of our good fortune. Reading Jeremiah week after week will do that to you! Later in the morning I spent ninety minutes with a doctor at Inspire Health - an integrative cancer care centre - working on a life plan that will integrate a variety of life practices into my daily routine with the intention of increasing my immune system's capacity to work in concert with the chemotherapy I am receiving to manage the chronic myeloma and amyloidosis. He seemed quite surprised to discover that I am feeling calm and at peace with low anxiety, lower than at any other time in my life that I can recall. I suppose that I am surprised, too.
Mainly I feel fortunate. I realize that this seems counter-intuitive given that I have been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and have been quickly through two treatments (autologous stem cell transplant and lenolidimide) that failed to manage the disease. Yet, driving home today from Vancouver on yet another beautiful day (we Vancouverites cannot recall any other time when we have gone this long without rain) having begun my fifth cycle on Velcade, with my disease currently stable, I said a prayer of gratitude for my good fortune, for the privilege of living here amidst such a network of care. To be honest, I don't always feel so fortunate. Sometimes I find myself with feelings of sadness, lament and ache at this chapter in my story. But I seem to have entered a new place in terms of anxiety. I feel more grounded, more at peace, ready for whatever lies ahead. Ask me how I am doing when things are harder. No guarantees that I'll feel as fortunate then. For now, I am mostly grateful.
This past Sunday I experienced that good fortune in the congregation. In speaking with the doctor at Inspire Health I realized that my passion for my vocation comes from the sense that I am part of a pioneering effort - in the congregation and beyond, across North America - that is glimpsing something of the new form of Christian life that is being birthed on the other side of the ending of Christendom. As the mainline church moves to the margins of the culture, away from a dominant place in shaping the society, there are signs of a new vitality and a new way of life together. I feel privileged to have spent nearly two decades in a small congregation that is a part of this newness. If you were to attend you might think it doesn't look all that new. You would hear a church bell ring to invite you in and see candles lit and hear hymns sung and a preacher preach. You might wonder what is so new. Yet visitors and newcomers regularly comment on the energy in the congregation as well as its relative youth. Where we live it is quite unusual for a United Church congregation not to be predominantly grey. When I looked out at the congregation on Sunday it was full - for us that means about seventy adults and fifteen children - and it looked young to my fifty-eight year old eyes. I am not sure of the reason for this though not owning a church building is certainly an important part of it as is the long, slow, patient work of cultivating a congregational identity that is at home with the peculiarity of being Christian in this post-Christian part of the world. Given my life with myeloma and amyloidosis it is no small thing for me to be blessed with a congregation that is passionate about the message of the gospel and is responsive to that message week by week. It means that my work and life is often fun. I think my immune system senses this. I hope so.