… Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
— Matthew 9:5
I feel no presence of God whatsoever, neither in my heart or in the Eucharist.
– Mother Teresa
A Bit of Review
I wrote my last bit on the eve of my surgery for gaining more bend in my knee following my first knee replacement. I had a bad feeling that it would not go well. And indeed, it did not.
I woke from that surgery looking up at the surgeon who had a pained expression on his face, “I broke your leg during surgery. I’ve never done something like that before.” I had no words to comfort him. It would be two weeks before I would learn that the next step was another total left knee replacement.
My recovery from the second knee surgery went much better than my recovery from the first. Physical therapy was creating good results and I felt that I was only a few weeks away from beginning to walk again.
Then it happened. Without obvious provocation or cause my leg broke again. But when I went to the surgeon he could find nothing on the x-ray to indicate a fracture. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Come back and see me in two weeks.” Two weeks later the fracture had enlarged to the point of obvious visibility. The surgeon said, “I can fix this. I will go in and wrap a wire around the break and spread some bone marrow over the top.” Those may not have been his exact words, but that is in essence what he did.
My recovery from this last break has not been speedy. It has required my knee being immobilized since the end of September. I am now on cast number two in two months. I will not see the surgeon until 2008.
I don’t give the above recap for sympathy. Far worse things have happened to far nicer people. But as my physical therapist said, “You don’t have to be happy about this. You just have to do the work.”
I think my father carried a certain amount of guilt for my inheriting “osteo-genesis-imperfecta,” and suffered as much or more with each fracture. One evening he and I were in the car and we went to the home of one of my father’s closest friends, Clark Hamlin. He was my father’s spiritual mentor and best friend. We did not go into the Hamilin’s home but sat in the car with the engine off. My father turned and spoke to me with a serious expression on his face, “David, what we are about to do is not magic. The Bible tells us that if there are those that are sick, the brethren of the church are to anoint them with oil and pray in faith for their healing.” I’m not sure why my father had the men pile into our station wagon rather than the church, but Clark Hamlin and Warren Evans and two other men that I did not know, gathered in my father’s Rambler station wagon that had the scripture verse John 3:16 painted on each side. They laid their hands on my head and prayed for my healing and place a small dot of oil on my head. I felt awkward but special in that moment. We drove home in silence. In a few weeks or months I broke another leg. And then another. And then another. There would be thirteen in all. It did not shake my faith that men of faith had prayed for my healing and I was not healed. My father had done his best.
Doubt and Faith
Shortly after writing my previous homily, I opened the Oregonian and saw the headline, “Mother Teresa Had No Faith.” I later read a more extensive article on her crisis of faith. It was remarkable to me that this woman who epitomized faithful, humble, service to God felt nothing … prayers that could not ascend past the ceiling and darkness and distance from God that could only be described as painful. Yet, she rose for prayer. Yet, she cradled the injured and dying. Yet, she summoned others to live lives of faithful service.
My current crisis of faith is more out of spiritual laziness rather than too much suffering. My series of setbacks are not insurmountable. In January my cast will come off. Over the months I will most likely begin to be able to bend my knee. By spring I could be walking with a cane … or not.
I think I believe this … a deep and abiding faith cannot exist in blinding sunlight, it can only prosper in the shadows of doubt and pain. My father would call this a paradox.
My suffering is my suffering. Your suffering is your suffering. We won’t hold them up like recently done laundry and compare them. Right now I do not feel the presence of God. I have entered into what the church father’s call, “the dark night of the soul.”
But I hear my father say, “David, but because you write, you believe.”
I suppose so, Homer. I suppose so.