This statement by William Blake, the Romantic poet and artist, is profound in its simplicity: “We become what we behold.” (Jerusalem).
What I was beholding was ugly and dreadful—our future. That was when my too young wife Martha and I got word that she may have Alzheimer’s.
A mentor of mine put Blake’s statement another way. Canon Jim Glennon called it “pointing the bone” in some tapes I’d been given. This Anglican minister from Sydney was describing a longstanding practice among Australia’s Aboriginal tribes. In their tribal life, if a man broke a taboo, the witch doctor came to him, pulled the leg bone of a bird from a bag, and pointed it at the man. Thus, “pointing the bone.”
“And that means,” Canon Glennon says, “that because the man has broken a tribal taboo, he is going to die. There are documented cases of him falling down dead at once. He will almost certainly die within a few days because he believes he’s going to die.”
What was Canon Glennon’s point to this story? “We all have faith,” he says. “And if you believe that you’ve got a disease that’s fatal, that’s your faith. You believe you’re going to die.”
The first time I heard this in 1999 I shrank from the realization that Martha, our children, and I had been branded. A dread burned deep within me—the bone of Alzheimer’s was pointed at us, and Martha and I had accepted it.
I knew then I had to talk with Canon Glennon. That was the beginning of our long-distance friendship. As I talked with him, listened to his tapes, and read his book, I learned that Jim’s message of healing centered on two major themes: the absolute need to forgive—regardless of who’s at fault—and the need to understand God’s “kingdom” and experience its dynamic.
Only then, I began to see, could my heart focus on the wholeness and well-being that’s hidden deep within both you and me.
I used to think forgiveness was easy—all you need to do is say “I forgive you,” and that’s that. I was wrong. As Martha and I recounted our resentments I came to see that I was unaware of the bitterness that I’d let build up layer by layer, year by year.
Meditation helped me ventilate—and vent—issues between my Dad and me. And I had to spend a week alone in the woods in Thomas Merton’s cabin to fully realize the bitterness I felt toward Martha’s parents and their behavior that may have contributed to her current condition. And once realized, I was led to forgive them.
Going through such exercises, Canon Glennon’s message snapped into sharp focus: Unattended resentment can wreak havoc on my mind, body, and emotions. Finally … I saw that forgiveness is not some pious virtue that I should get around to when I’m not so busy. Instead, forgiveness, or its lack, could be a matter of life or death, of good health or ill.
There’s not enough room here to describe all the emotional places Martha and I had to visit in order to let old resentments go. Yet in my forthcoming book A Path Revealed, I detail these more fully.
Meanwhile, Jim Glennon’s emphasis on the “kingdom” of God initially confused me. When I first heard him talk about it, my mind conjured up images of autocratic regimes, armies, geographic territories, and massive wealth. I couldn’t connect these images with the healing of body, mind, and soul. But over time I began to see what he meant. And more importantly, what Christ Jesus meant as described in the Gospel accounts.
This kingdom, in their view, is charged with God’s nature—an infinite array of forces like life, love, courage, spirit, humility, clarity of mind, strength, persistence, wholeness, boldness, mercy, transparency, and confidence. The dynamic of this kingdom lies within each of us, I’ve learned. But it lies as a dormant seed until we recognize it and are willing to let our Creator call out its strength, qualities, and beauty.
As my insight into this kingdom deepened, my insight into this statement by Jesus sharpened: “No one can serve two masters.”
That forced me to make a decision: I cannot keep waffling. Either I focus on Martha’s symptoms, or I focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness. I can’t do both.
I finally decided to focus on this spiritual kingdom, but not without a great deal of internal resistance. It was much easier to stay focused elsewhere—easier, that is, until I let Martha’s symptoms thoroughly victimize me.
Practically speaking, what does God’s kingdom mean when you’re trapped in a crisis like ours? Martha’s symptoms too often depressed me, especially early on. Our crisis made me crawl under my sheets, wishing never to come out. Those sheets often were soaked in fear—a fear of losing Martha, of failing our children, of losing myself.
Cemented over time such fears, I learned, assume a reality of their own, often playing out in our minds and bodies in a variety of ways—aching joints, heart palpitations, constipation, headaches, upset stomach, or almost any form of illness.
Throughout our long-distance friendship, Jim Glennon kept pointing me to this kingdom’s dynamic: “The perfection is within you, Carlen. Why ask for what you’ve got? You have what you accept.”
And then he often added: “We don’t say how sick we are by sight. We say how well we are by faith.”
You may be interested in learning more about Canon Glennon’s view of forgiveness and this “kingdom.” If you are, the book he published three decades ago is still in print—Your Healing Is Within You.
God bless you real good.
I am offering a free guide, "How Can My Crisis Be Turned Into A Spiritual Journey Filled With Meaning?" which shares my experience in learning how to negotiate such a trek. To receive it, and sign up for my weekly newsletter, please fill out this form:
P.S. In closing, I remind you that I’m neither a licensed psychologist/psychiatrist nor an ordained minister. What I’m sharing in this post and others is drawn from nearly two decades of experience wrestling with the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease on our family. Each person’s odyssey is unique. As you travel your own path and encounter serious obstacles—be they mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual—I strongly encourage you to start an ongoing conversation with a trusted counselor, guide, pastor, or doctor.