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The Second Meditation: As the body begins to shut down

When the young shepherd David approached king Saul, he knew who was in charge (I Samuel 16:14-23). Years later, when Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, entered David’s chambers, he acknowledged David as king (2 Samuel 9:6). Nevertheless, David spoke face to face with Saul, and Mephibosheth spoke candidly with David. In the same way, the distance between the greatest person and God is infinite. That gap is no more easily bridged if someone is great or if he is nothing. A person’s status does not matter before God. Yet, however little I am, I can talk to God.

I beg Him, “God, are You suddenly angry with me? Why do You melt me with this sickness? Why do You spill me on the ground like water out of a pitcher? You were patient with the children of Israel in the wilderness for forty years. Can’t You be patient with me too? In my illness, I feel like You have declared me your enemy. You’ve waged a war against me: defeating and capturing me and leaving me for dead.

This illness has overwhelmed me. This doesn’t seem like God’s work. God doesn’t come in a whirlwind, but in a soft, gentle breeze. Your first breath breathed a soul into me. Will You extinguish my life with that same breath? God’s breath is in worship, the Word in the church; it is full of comfort. Will your breath in my room breathe destruction and separation of soul and body?

Surely it’s not You afflicting me like this. Everything that poor Job went through —the death of his loved ones, fire, harsh winds, disease—those were Satan’s doing, not yours. You have always been beside me, God, leading me by the hand since I was a baby. I know that You will correct me with your own hand. My parents wouldn’t give the job of disciplining me to someone else. I know you won’t either.

Like David, I am in your hands; and, like David, I see that your mercies are great. With your mercies’ help, I can shift my focus away from this disease that quickly is ravaging my body to look instead toward the resurrection. For in the twinkling of an eye, God will return. I will hear the angels proclaim, “Rise, you dead!” And, just as quickly as it was destroyed, my body will be recreated.

Even though I will be dead, I will hear the voice. In the same moment, the voice will sound and the work of redemption will be complete. And we all will rise more quickly than we have died.

O Lord, you have increased my spiritual senses by taking away my physical ones. My sense of taste has not disappeared. Instead, it sits at David’s table, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. My stomach is not gone. Instead, it has gone to eat of the supper of the Lamb, with all the saints in heaven. My knees are weak, but I more easily fall to them and pray. A strong heart is the life of the body. A heart directed toward You is also strong.

I am restless because I know I’m sinful. Place my sins on Christ Jesus, with whom You are so well pleased. Then I can rest in peace. O my God, You were the light in the burning bush. In these brambles and thorns of my sickness, appear me so that I will see You and know You are my God. I need to know that You are with me, even in this sharp and thorny experience. Do this, O Lord, for the sake of Jesus, who, despite his earthly crown of thorns, was no less the King of heaven. Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Donne for the Day

  1. I never feel this way about God. I don’t feel he’s declaring me an enemy or angry with me. I don’t ask why me. Am I naive? I feel as though he’s with me, helping me with this horrible illness that makes me feel like giving up sometimes. But with prayer, I wake up another day and feel as though a switch has been flipped and I feel better. Strange, what Donne says. At least to me.

    Marty

    • I don’t know how I might feel in the same circumstances. But I do enjoy how Donne turns his thoughts around. “Surely it’s not You afflicting me like this. Everything that poor Job went through —the death of his loved ones, fire, harsh winds, disease—those were Satan’s doing, not yours. You have always been beside me, God, leading me by the hand since I was a baby.”

      On the other hand, he did live 4 centuries ago–a very different time. Not everything translates well to the 21st century.

  2. I wonder if, in addition to echoing Job’s experience (or the Psalmist’s too, who often asks God “Why?”), Donne’s comments reflect his historical placement in the afterglow of the late middle ages ars moriendi. The connection of ill health with God’s wrath was a common assumption in the middle ages (and also in Biblical times).

  3. Clarissa, that could be very true. But a lot of people today also ask God why. I wish I knew a ballpark percentage. But of the many books I’ve read, and, Rob, you could probably confirm this, most of the authors who are working through life-threatening illnesses, at one time or another ask God why. I guess I’ve always felt why would I be any better than anyone else. Why not me is more my question.

    I don’t say this to make me sound like a saint. It’s just the way it is.

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