I found myself gazing toward a blue strip of ocean, feeling great contentment and joy in life. The sort of joy that words can’t frame; the sort of joy I didn’t expect to find in a hospital.
Hospitals can be extreme or mundane. On any day in hospital you might become acquainted with the gamut of your room-mate’s bodily functions; or share the tea room with a family struggling with unbearable loss; or just silently pass the hours between doctor’s rounds. My doctors had come to the fairly limp conclusion that, “You may get better, or you may get worse”. Getting better sounded good; but in the Neurological Sciences ward you are surrounded by confronting examples of what the alternative might mean.
On this particular morning the early sun was warm and hopeful, the day was young and there was an undeniable sense of order in the world. None the less, a niggling sense of guilt was invading my peace. Uninvited doubts began to rattle around in my mind: Is it right to be happy when life is precarious? Are feelings of contentment, peace, even excitement, appropriate when people suffer beside you? Can we laugh when others are weeping? Should I rejoice when I might be dying?
Should I be happy? Should – now there’s a dangerous word. I read once of a man who said he would have gone to church, but every time he stepped in the door he trod in a big pile of should! ‘I should do more of this’. ‘I shouldn’t say that’. Such statements smack of imposed obligations, rules we don’t want and possibly don’t even believe. The word should is man-made and devoid of all grace.
Where did my un-ease come from? Perhaps the word dis-ease holds a clue. Just a year earlier I was boasting of my good health and of my prowess at the gym. But if one can take pride in health, then it’s very possible to be ashamed of illness. Other niggling anxieties creep in as well: Is this all somehow my own doing? Do I deserve this? Would stronger faith allow me to be healed? What do I really believe? If I had taken a different path at some point would this have happened at all? Do I secretly prefer abdication of responsibility? And worst of all: Is God disappointed with me? I have tasted all these temptations, and on that morning these nameless fears were baring their teeth.
The window I was looking through had a curious feature: a thick rail of unknown purpose placed exactly at eye hight. From where I sat there was actually very little of the bay to be seen, just a lot of railing. For no special reason I leaned down a little to look again at the panorama that lay behind the railing, and at that moment glimpsed the tell-tale spray of water that might … if you’re very lucky … be a whale! Sure enough a minute later two magnificent creatures breached, splashed and spouted in the distance, and continued a slow and playful progression down the coast for the next half hour. It was God! Immediately my anxiety was absolved and I was immersed in the presence of the Almighty.
I cherish those moments – and they come often enough – when ‘signs’ from the world around carry the very voice of God. Ordinary events bear heaven’s stamp, and fill me with a clear sense of truth. I remember a day in January ’07 when my wife and I had prayed earnestly that God would “show us a sign” to confirm His presence in a particularly trying set of circumstances. Around dusk I was watching the trail left by a jet in the darkening sky. Family members gathered as the trail continued to get brighter and longer; eventually filling a quarter of the night sky. We were looking at Mc Naught’s Comet, the brightest comet to have been seen in 40 years. To this day I am convinced that comet was there just for us! And, no doubt, for a great many other purposes as well.
This is the thing: I know His voice! There are many questions which have no answer; there are fears that conspire to steal. But the peace of God is above them all.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).