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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meditation on Breast Cancer Sunday

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

In the spirit of full confession, let me admit to feeling queasiness about our annual breast cancer Sunday.  I feel a bit nervous by just confessing my queasiness.  I am not opposed to healing services.  But this particular Sunday with its focus on this particular disease makes me uneasy.

We could argue that we need to make people aware.  But surely anyone who's been conscious for any amount of time understands how to screen for this disease and the importance of early detection.

In fact, I would argue that the focus on breast cancer obscures other health issues.  Did you know that breast cancer is not the cancer that kills the most women?  No.  It's lung cancer.

And if we want to focus on the biggest killer of women, we'd have Heart Disease Sunday.

I know plenty of people who have suffered from breast cancer.  It's not that I don't have a face to go with the disease.  There are far too many faces in my memory.

Happily, most of those faces are still attached to living bodies.  I know of more people who have died of other cancers.

I will confess to theological thoughts that seem almost heretical in this past year of many cancers.  I don't usually spend much time thinking of cancer, but this past year, a colleague has died of pancreatic cancer, a friend died because of a cancerous brain tumor that returned, a colleague has battled colon cancer that travelled to his liver, and my friend from high school has battled cancer of the esophagus.  The thought of cancer is never far from my consciousness.

I have found myself wondering about where cancer fits into God's plan.  I don't believe that our lives are set on a predetermined path, but I do believe that God has created everything with meticulous attention to detail.  How do I square that belief with a cancer cell?  The cancer cell undoes such a beautiful creation, the human body.  It looks like a design flaw to me. 

But here's the heretical thought:  maybe it looks like a design flaw, but it's not.  Maybe I think of it as a design flaw because I am human-centered.  Do we believe in a God who loves every element of creation equally?  I say that I do, but my belief falters in the face of cancer cells.

I think of those Bible verses that has God caring for a sparrow and knowing every hair on the human head.  Does God care equally for the cancer cell?

If I was a good theologian, I'd have an answer.  I don't.  I don't even have a Bible reference that helps me make sense of my quandary.

I won't be at church Sunday, but it's not because I'm boycotting this service.  I'll be travelling back from Lutheridge, where I'll have been at a retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat.

My creative practices help me with my theological quandary about God and cancer cells.  My creative processes have helped me to be comfortable with long periods of not knowing a clear direction.  I begin to write a novel, for example, in a place of uncertainty.  Do I have characters who are worthy of a book?  What will happen to them?  What's the purpose of this novel?  I don't have to know for sure, but I have to keep going.

I don't know for sure how cancer fits into the plan for creation.  Is it evidence of a fallen aspect of creation?  Or perhaps the cancer cell fits a larger purpose that I can't even conceive of--because, after all, I'm not God.

But I have trust in the Easter message that death does not have the final answer.  I have trust in a Creator and a creation that commits to resurrection on a daily basis.  With that faith, I can continue.

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