Fires can be either useful or destructive. In the photo above, the fire is useful, cooking a shore supper. In today’s first reading Nebuchadnezzar, in a furious rage, commands three men to worship his gods and the golden statue that had been made or to be tossed into the furnace of a blazing fire. This does not seem so useful immediately but upon closer inspection, it becomes of great value. The men chose God, saying they did not need to present a defense to the King in this matter. They were prepared to die rather than forsake their faith. They told Nebuchadnezzar that they would not serve his gods nor worship the statue of gold which enraged Nebuchadnezzar even more. He turned up the furnace seven times hotter than normal.
God, however, had different plans. An angel of the Lord appeared and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace, protecting the men so that they experienced no distress. The King becomes aware of this fourth being joining the three men and is astonished. How could he not be? There is no earthly explanation for what took place. Nebuchadnezzar ends up praising the God of the three men he sought to destroy.
If you have ever been in a sweat lodge, you know how hot it can get. The stones–the grandfathers–are brought in and slowly the heat is released. The one time I went into a sweat, I did not feel that heat. The temperature was comfortable for me. My friend who was right beside me had a different experience. I somehow felt like I was not in the fiery heat of the grandfathers, without comprehending why. I only felt the loving warmth without being overpowered by it. Perhaps that was all that the three men experienced too?
The furnace of a blazing fire can overcome us. I know this. Like gold tested in fire, our lives can become too much to handle. Once again, I sense the protection of Mary’s mantle and Jesus’ cloak. I feel a fire roaring just beyond me and I know that I will need to enter that furnace at some point. For now, God is being merciful. I liked that not a hair on the heads of these men were singed and that not even the smell of the fire lingered on them. God definitely has this.
I had lunch with a friend today who also has cancer. We sat at one point talking about our health, the treatment, our understanding of certain things, and doctor-assisted suicide. We both agree on the later issue not being an option for us. She has actually given it much more thought than I have. At one point, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back she was engaged in conversation with the man who was sitting at the next table. They were discussing our previous conversation to a certain extent.
The three of us, like those three men in the first reading, fell into step as we walked around what might have been a difficult conversation. I mean, really, who discusses cancer, death, suicide, and the such with a total stranger in a restaurant? We could have bemoaned the fact that it was going to snow again or some superficial subject, but my friend had noticed the man saying his rosary and blessed him by mentioning it. By the time, I got back to the table, they were fully enveloped in flames. There was no returning. I entered that furnace with them.
Something beautiful unfolded as we spoke. I suspect all of us were blessed. I know having my thoughts about doctor-assisted suicide heard by a stranger and accepted heartened me. I talk about this first-world problem where living is seen as a luxury that can be thrown away before it is fully used well. My travels throughout the world have taught me that not everyone gets to live well into their nineties. I am already older than many people in developing countries. I have never felt entitled to a long life. Perhaps it is because my sister died when she was only 26…or maybe it is the influence of the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises that allow me to say that a long life is not necessarily a better life. However, I am not the one who gets to decide the number of days here, nor am I the one who knows when my purpose is over. I will leave that decision to my Creator, not to a doctor. As with those three men, I will not worship a golden calf of entitlement. I will not only not serve other gods, I will not play God.
That man helped me to be a little braver about my thoughts. I know that not everyone will agree with me, and I certainly cannot conceive what my final days will look like. I am already praying for strength for that part of the adventure. I have much to learn about redemptive suffering and I know that the thought of having loved ones watch me suffer causes me much grief. However, shortening my life collapses the blessings that can occur for all of us. I have walked down this accompaniment road several times in my life. I have been a poster child for grief. Based on this, I know that there are mysteries to be revealed and healings to happen right until the last breath is expelled…and beyond. I want to walk into the fire singing hymns and praising God. May I not waiver from being faithful.
What other gods distract you from God?
Is there a blazing fire that seems to be destructive that God can use for good?
I have no God but You, Creator. You send everything I need for the path upon which you set my feet. Let me walk it with confidence and trust, knowing that You walk into the blazing fire with me. Amen.
Suzanne, lying on a bright red couch in a very high rise apt building in Kula Lumpur. We arrived yesterday. Renting this apt for a week to rest up a bit and live a little more normal for awhile. I just went to the grocery store to by a roasted chicken as they did not provide many cooking utensils. I have 1 pot, but in that pot there is potatoes, carrots and French beans. I am good at improvising and I know the dinner will be a welcomed treat. As I wait for the vegetables to cook, I’m reading your post. Tears are streaming down my face and I wish I had some words of comfort for you. I do know though your faith will not waiver and God will give you strength as you need it. I also believe in Doctor assisted death when suffering is happening and you know the final outcome. You have such tough decisions to make. You are a strong woman and an inspiration to me and many others. You are truly a role model on how to face death. No, your purpose here on earth is not over yet….maybe this is your purpose….I feel this adventure as you say:) is meant to impact many of us in a sad but also powerful way.
May god bless you Suzanne and watch over you as you travel to Barcelona soon. This trip (pilgrimage) you are about to journey on is meant to be.
Sending you a big hug and lots of love, Your friend, Karen💜✌👣
Sent from my iPad
Karen, thanks so much as always for your thoughtful comments. I am actually not in favour of doctor-assisted suicide. I’ve edited the post to make this a little clearer and so I appreciate you pointing out that you thought I was. While I am not afraid to die, I do not think that shortening my life is the way to go. I believe that there is a purpose right up until the end.
I’m glad that you are settling into a more comfortable lifestyle for a bit. Travelling can take a lot out of you, especially when you’re gone as long as you are. Sounds like you are still enjoying it, despite the traveller’s fatigue.
Thanks for your thoughts about doctor assisted death. It’s such a difficult and quite a personal topic. At the very least I believe that doctors should be able to freely refuse to participate. It’s interesting that even the Hippocratic oath reads “.Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so”. Your thoughts about not being entitled to a long life are very meaningful to me. I love your words “May I not waiver from being faithful”. Your faith inspires me. Have a wonderful trip to Barcelona. I hope we’ll hear about it in your posts.
The topic is personal and complicated. Doctors are put in a precarious situation as you suggest. Having travelled in countries where health care is not like here, I know many people don’t have the same access we do. We have the luxury of a great health care system but we don’t seem to trust it.
I will be blogging about my travels. Stay tuned.
I have to says that the thought of doctor-assisted death had never crossed my mind in regards to your health. It just doesn’t seem to fit with what I know of you. That being said, I think it is an option that should be available for others to consider.
Regardless, it makes my heart so sad to think about what the future holds for you. I have a feeling you may not agree with my statement but I think it’s not fair that this is happening to you. It just plain sucks to be honest. There, I said it!
Hugs to you.
Heather, thanks for understanding that physician-assisted death is incongruent with who I am.
I do not disagree with the fact that on some levels this sucks. Many people have said those exact words to me so you are in good stead. I am insisting people need to feel whatever it is they feel, which may be different than me and that is just fine. No one needs to apologize for how they deal with what is happening.
Thanks for being you!