Sickness and healing


(Photo: Conversion on the sick-bed / by A. Chevalier Taylor, From the Votive Chapel at Wimbledon /

I’m just getting over a bout of pneumonia. I came down with some kind of cold or flu on Boxing Day when I was in Calgary and it turned my Christmas vacation plans upside down. I ended up staying 5 days longer so that I could recover enough to travel. I was shocked, a few days after I returned to Toronto, to feel the symptoms return. I went to see a doctor and found out that the illness had developed into pneumonia.

Consequently, I spent the entirety of this past workweek at home in bed, recuperating. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been this sick. It was very discouraging. Generally, I am quite a healthy person and I felt like my body had betrayed me. I was worried because I had already missed time at work for being sick and stuck in Calgary and I felt anxious about taking even more time off. So it was not with joy that I took to my bed.

I received wonderful care from the sisters though. Sr. Marianna was my nursemaid for many days, bringing me tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, and making sure I was okay. I was offered a space in the infirmary if I felt I would recuperate better there (I chose to stay in my room to have easy access to my books). Meals were brought up to me. Kind words of encouragement were offered. On Thursday the nurse came to check on me and gave my lungs the all clear. I was so relieved. And grateful.

Today is the first day that I have actually had much energy, and it feels fantastic. Although I’m being mindful to not overdo things, it feels so good to follow a more normal routine today. I finally did my laundry! And sorted my mail! Things are looking up.

At first while I was sick and stuck in bed, I fixated on feeling awful. Every symptom took on an exaggerated quality and I couldn’t find any comfort. I couldn’t focus on anything to pass the time other than mindless tv watching and sporadic light reading. After a couple of days, I was able to focus and felt a desire to tackle some reading that was a bit more thoughtful. My candidacy director gave me a copy of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s autobiography shortly before Christmas. I had read it a couple of years ago when I first discovered Ignatian spirituality but I had forgotten a lot of the details. I spent a day delving into his account of his life and it reawoke my admiration for him and for his spirituality.

He was an incredible man – so self aware and observant. Holy, dedicated, always striving to know God’s will in a given moment. I love that he developed the Spiritual Exercises from his own intense attempts (and they were intense!) to understand God’s will and to know God deeply. He recorded all of his insights and developed a powerful set of prayer exercises to help one come to know God, discern God’s will, and to make decisions. I used the Exercises during my vocation discernment, and it led me to the freedom I needed to make the decision to apply to be a candidate with the Lorettos. Using his Examen prayer, I am able to look at my day more closely and see God’s presence. His method of scriptural contemplation helps me to see Jesus and talk to him as naturally as I do to my friends.

Anyway, as I read the autobiography, I recalled the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

Of course, being sick, I was fixated on the part about not wanting health more than illness. I don’t like being sick. I hate being sick. It’s inconvenient, it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s gross. But often a person doesn’t have much control over being sick, and that’s what I felt St. Ignatius was telling me in that moment. I am sick, I can’t force myself to not be sick, so I just have to be sick. And try to find God in this time of illness. This freed me up to be patient, to be sick and not grumble or feel anxious about it, to just be sick and be with God as I rode it out. A very different experience for this girl! (A big thanks to Iggy!)


I expect to write another post about Mary Ward soon. When I finished the Ignatius autobiography, I started a new (to me) biography of Mary Ward. Reading is in progress. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share about her when I’m finished.

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Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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