Around 2 o’clock in the morning of July 24th, I woke up with sharp pain in my lower back. Every time I made a small movement in bed, the pain became unbearable. For the next four hours I laid in bed, replaying the accident scene in my head again and again.
It was about 9 o’clock Sunday night (July 23rd). My two boys and I were going home from a nearby Gail Reeves Park. We decided to have a race on the empty street. John was pedaling his bicycle fast and hard and was immediately taking the lead. I was running after him, pulling Joseph on his scooter with my right hand. Suddenly we entered a dark area. I stumbled over an uneven surface and fell on my left side. Blood oozed off from the scrapes on my left knee, elbow, and wrist. Fortunately, Joseph was not hurt. I felt dull pain in my lower back, but managed to walk home and took care of the wounds. I thought the back pain would get better the next day. Much to my dismay, the pain got worse.
I sat still by the table Monday morning, fearing the worst. Many thoughts went through my mind: what if I injured my spine? What if a surgical procedure is needed to fix the problem? I remembered a seminar I attended when I was a senior in the seminary. The seminar was conducted by a representative from the Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL). The rep told us that the some of us would have to face the possibility of a short or long period of disability in the parish. He wanted us to be aware of and prepared for it. He even mentioned the percentage of disability among parish pastors, which surprised me. That seminar took place 15 years ago. Now I was asking myself, “What if I have to stay home for weeks or even months to recover and heal? What if I become disabled? ” These disturbing thoughts and emotions could only be calmed down by prayer and meditation. So, I took out a book that I read before, Wellsprings: A book of Spiritual Exercises by the late Jesuit Anthony de Mello. I read and contemplated these words of de Mello:
I make believe that I am paralyzed from the shoulders down.
I vividly imagine my surroundings and notice what my thoughts and feelings are.
I see the changes paralysis has brought about in my work and my profession,
my attitudes to self,
my life of prayer, my relationship with God,
my views on life
At night, I dedicate some minutes to thanksgiving.
I am thankful for the gift of speech..and hearing…and sight…
I am full of gratitude for taste and smell and touch,
for thought and memory and fantasy and feeling.
And now the time has come to be grateful for paralysis itself.
I look at the blessings it has brought till I can see it as a gift.
If I can bring myself to do this,
I will have tasted a moment of purest mysticism,
namely, of an acceptance of everything that it.
I now reflect on something in my life that I resent,
a physical defect,
an unavoidable situation,
a circumstance I live in,
a happening of the past,
And, step by step,
I do with it what I did with my “paralysis.”
So that, without relinquishing
my desire and my efforts
to get rid of it if possible,
I bring myself to gratitude for it,
for every single thing. (P.120-122)
These words created a space of quietness and peacefulness in my heart. I began to pray to God for healing and hope. I sensed God’s loving and healing presence. By the evening the pain eased off significantly. Tuesday morning I returned to normal activity Tuesday. Two months later, I am still grateful for de Mello’s spiritual exercise. The title of that mediation is The Awakening. Sometimes it takes a painful experience to be awakened to the mystery and wonder of life, and to the healing power of faith, gratitude, and hope.
(I wrote this article in Mid-August. I hope the message is helpful to those who have suffered loss and difficulties in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Pastor Tan )
(This article was written for Mountain Mover [October, 2017], the monthly newsletter of Faith Lutheran Church, https://faithbellaire.org/about-2/mountain-mover-newsletter/ )