The last Presanctified Liturgy this morning and the last Bridegroom Matins this evening. The week feels like it is barreling by at light speed. I want to slow it down and hold onto these moments in some way. I want to be free enough of my ties to the world that time doesn’t matter anymore anyway.
In the afternoon, we also had the service of Holy Unction. As one of the Sacraments of the Church, Unction is a time where we encounter the grace of God. Specifically in Unction, we are seeking God’s healing.
The service is a series of Epistle readings, followed by Gospel readings. Seven readings total of each. The Scripture passages refer to stories of healing…body and spirit. At the end of the service, we are all anointed with the Holy Oil of Unction.
During the Gospel readings, the priest turns to the faithful, and we crowd around him. Those in front kneel down, and he places his stole on their heads. The rest of the people touch the shoulder of the person in front of them, so that we are all physically linked, forming one, unified prayer.
The beauty of the Unction service is twofold to me. First, is that unity. Whether we are close friends or not, all of us in the parish are joined in Christ. We are all one body, and saved in community, we need each other. Sometimes that isn’t so obvious, but when we join together in Unction, laying aside our pride and huddling close just to touch and hear the Gospel, we are unashamed to admit that we need healing. For that is the second beauty. Unction isn’t just about healing of bodies. Everybody needs healing, even if their bodies aren’t sick. We all need healing of our souls.
I know about sickness of body. The short story is that I have had over a dozen different interventions/surgeries for cardiac problems in as many years (I think it is: five catheterization procedures for arrhythmia, three pacemaker surgeries, six catheterizations/angioplasties for the damage done to my pulmonary veins from the first procedures, and open heart surgery for valve repair). It is a roller coaster I ride between health and sickness. I am in a blessed time of relative stability right now. I have the usual complaints, but no emergencies, so therefore, I have no complaints.
I do pray for healing of my body at Unction. I do believe that it is possible. How small and simple my problems are in the face of the healing power of God! I could be healed. But I haven’t been yet…and that’s O.K.
Bodies are important. As temples of the Holy Spirit, they are to be valued. Orthodox treat the body with the ultimate respect. We do not believe in cremation of the dead. We treasure the relics of our Saints. It is not that the chip of bone or tissue is a magic wand, but when someone devotes their lives to God, the grace and holiness does not just disappear at death. It clings to the body and is still able to be shared with others. Bodies are not disposable shells.
However, bodies are temporary. Any suffering in them is brief and momentary. It sure may seem like eternity sometimes, but it isn’t! These times that I suffer, they are so short. It is not my worry to rid myself of them. It is my opportunity to make the most of this suffering.
We have had a baby explosion recently at church. Newborns everywhere. I also went to an Orthodox homeschooling conference and was surrounded by mothers with multiple small children. Most of the time, I succeed in not thinking about what I cannot do. I craft my life in a carefully designed web of accommodations. I can do this on this day, but not if I do that. I can bear with this, but not that. Etc., etc.
But lately, I’ve come face to face with what I cannot do. Namely, that I cannot have anymore children. I still call almost six year old Hilary the baby, much to her chagrin, but when I see babies, I know how false that is. And it’s not that I even actually want a baby. I really don’t think that I do. Newborns are so lovely…but I’m not sure I want one in my house, ya know? Seeing nursing mothers, though, makes me think about the day I had to suddenly and unexpectedly ween Hilary when she was sixteen months old, so I could prepare for open heart surgery. Seeing mothers with toddlers on their hips make me think about when Hilary would cry for me to pick her up, and I couldn’t. I thought that was the worst agony possible. I was wrong. The day she stopped bothering to ask was much, much worse. I didn’t get to live my “dream” baby experience with Hilary. The one who had been my second chance. And now, I never will.
So, I had a bit of a pity party for myself, and then, I fell down before God in compunction. I’m not living a dream…glory to God! I’m living a real and authentic life of suffering, and I’ve never been more grateful than at this moment. Would I realize how much I need God if I hadn’t closed my eyes and thought they might never open again? Would I feel the depths of joy in the Light if I hadn’t waded through the darkness of pain? Would I recognize God, if I hadn’t had reason to look for His face?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I would appreciate life…and death…if I hadn’t been through the suffering. I am beyond thankful for a lifetime of graces and mercies, but each and every day, if you ask me what I’m most thankful for, I will not hesitate to tell you: I am thankful that I have suffered. For in the suffering, I have seen God.
During Unction on Holy Wednesday, I prayed for my body, but I spent most of my time praying for my soul. Bodies are temporary. Souls are eternal. Heal my body if it is Your will, O Lord, but if it isn’t, please give me the strength to bear the suffering. In all things, though, Lord, heal my sins…heal my soul. The brokenness. The sickness. The wretchedness of the infirmity of my soul. That is the healing I seek. Heal me, Lord. Heal me…