I've needed several outpatient surgeries because of the cancers. This meditation was written in the spring of 2009, after one of them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8, New Revised Standard Version
Having cancer means having the opportunity to learn a great deal more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Because I am being carefully monitored, I know now that I also have celiac disease, which means that I can’t digest gluten. Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, and barley that makes bread taste good and is added to a host of other products as well. I wouldn’t care, except that the information on celiac threatens me with intestinal cancer if I keep ingesting gluten. Two cancers are enough.
In a congregation of more than a hundred people, two of us have been diagnosed with celiac disease. So my priest ordered special wafers for us that she sets on the side of the paten.
Our hymn during Eucharist recently was “Taste and See,” a melodious setting of Psalm 34. As I knelt to receive my special rice communion wafer and sip of wine, everything collided in my head: the song; the taste of a gluten-free Body of Christ; the generous gulp of wine the chalice bearer served me, so that it nearly ran down my chin; and the fact that I was five days out from another surgery and not eating much or with joy.
Wednesday had been my fifth outpatient surgery in twenty-seven months. Strangely, in between I forget how these invasive procedures affect my body. I rarely lose my appetite; this time, however, food didn’t appeal. The experience of not eating for a few days had caused me to think about fasting, about Jesus, Moses, and Elijah going without food for forty days. About how much easier it is to fast when the mind is preoccupied, whether with prayer or pain.
Years ago, someone pointed out in a sermon that the exhortation of this verse seems backwards—normally, we look at food before we taste it. No, says the psalmist—eat, and you will see that the Lord is good. The whole of Christianity is trust. Eat this thing, this cancer that is trying to eat you first, and see that the Lord is good.
Make no mistake—I don’t like having cancer, and I’m not one of those people who say they wouldn’t trade the experience and what they’ve learned. Call me shallow—I’d like my complete health back, a freedom from worry about the next recurrence/checkup/surgery, and all the money I’ve paid out to be well on this drippy gray spring morning. I love the people I’ve met. I’ve even adjusted a bit to being lavishly cared for and knowing I’m deeply loved. But I’d happily go back to a life that didn’t include knowledge of my own mortality and that of those who are important to me.
I am still tasting and seeing. Gluten-free rice wafers are crunchier and tastier than the standard wafer. I think they’d be great with cheese. I don’t like having celiac any more than I like having cancer, but I can taste and see that the Lord is good.