Flannery O’Connor, that cantankerously brilliant writer from Georgia, is reported to have said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
That’s me! I thought when I first saw this. I feel … odd! It was a peculiar twist on John 8:32 (“…and the truth shall make you free.”)
Not long after Martha’s diagnosis, I began to search far and wide for any hint of how we might get out of this thing called Alzheimer’s. I looked into alternative medicines and into alternative spiritual practices.
Martha and I grew up in mainstream Protestant traditions. Yet shortly after her diagnosis, we trekked to Kentucky to see a Catholic nun. While there, Martha developed a “crush” on an 80-year-old monk in nearby Gethsemani, and I was able to whet my interest in Thomas Merton who had lived and written in that monastery.
Over several years, my readings took me into meditation; into practices of the third-century Desert Fathers and Mothers; into the Chinese medical practice called Qi; into the life of an early 20th century Sikh Indian who had his own “Damacus road” experience with Christ; and into Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on Christian Science. I also explored Episcopal and Anglican readings and practices, even a charismatic one or two, and traveled 18,000 miles to Sydney, Australia, to meet a most curmudgeonly minister.
“Why do all this?” you ask.
Because, I respond, when your life is on the line you do odd things. And that’s the truth. At least it’s my truth.
I wasn’t looking to see who had the best understanding of “Truth.” I was looking for what worked and what didn’t work.
Modern medicine offered us no hope. I understood that these other paths offered no guarantees, but I felt I might stumble on to something that would help Martha and our family. Besides, it didn’t occur to me not to search. In his book Head First: The Biology of Hope, the late editor of Saturday Review magazine, Norman Cousins, wrote, “Don’t deny the diagnosis. Try to defy the verdict.” I guess I took his words to heart.
I unwrap many of the above stories in my forthcoming book A Path Revealed.
But of all my endeavors, the one that challenged me most—that cut most deeply against the grain of my upbringing—was my exploration into spiritual healing. I grew up in a small country town in middle Tennessee. In the 1950s, we saw our share of tent revivalists roll through on the sawdust trail. And several miles east, up in the Appalachians, were the snake-handling cults. To my young eyes, these kinds of preachers were expert at two things—shaking fear into you and shaking money out of you.
So I had a lot to overcome.
I stumbled onto a book in which the author expressed a sensibility so unlike the overwrought emotionalism of the faith healers I’d seen in my youth. Healing was written by Francis MacNutt, a former Catholic priest. I began to take a fresh look at spiritual healing and its Christian roots. He pointed me toward a mentor, Agnes Sanford, who’d written a classic in the field called The Healing Light. The wife of an Episcopal minister and daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, her writings and approach were, for me, practical and succinct.
Then a couple years after Martha’s diagnosis, a college friend of ours introduced me to Canon Jim Glennon, who led a healing ministry in Australia. After reading his book and listening to his tapes, we became good friends via fax, telephone, and my subsequent visit to Sydney.
“The whole point about the healing ministry,” Canon Glennon told me, “is that Christ saw past the disease and saw the person ‘complete lacking in nothing.’ That is how God sees us and that is how we should see ourselves and one another. This needs to become a way of life, but regretfully this is quite unknown in the church and with people who pray.”
Canon Glennon’s message grew on me, but it took a long while to work its way into my consciousness. And I’m still learning. I share more of his thoughts here:
- To Be Afraid or Not to Be Afraid? Do We Even Have a Choice?
- Either I Focus on My Problems, or I Focus on God. I Can’t Do Both.
...and even more in my book.
May God bless you 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.