Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revived to Rejoice

Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Psalm 85:6 New Revised Standard Version

I belong to a local women’s support group for cancer survivors. We were the tenth such group, limited to fifteen women who would be cared for during an intense ten weeks together. One evening during our group sharing time, the facilitator asked in her sweet Southern voice, “What keeps you going?”
Nearly every woman prefaced her answer by saying, “That’s a tough question.” It reminded me of the scene in the film Princess Bride, when Miracle Max asks the “mostly-dead” Westley, “What do you have that’s worth living for?”
Chemo made me feel mostly dead. I seemed to sleep more hours than I was awake; when I was awake, I wasn’t always very interested in food—except for mashed potatoes and mac and cheese—and I wasn’t thinking very well. Once, near the end of chemo, on a beautiful spring day, I was ready to go ahead and finish dying. I needed to be revived again, just as the Israelites of this psalm needed to be.
That evening in group we went around the semicircle, and gave our off-the-cuff answers. Most women related their need to survive to family members: aging parents, beloved children and grandchildren. My parents are gone; I am single and childless. “I have a book to write,” I said. Each of us gave our version of Westley’s response, “True love.”
            For the psalmist, the reason to be revived was to rejoice in God. That’s a bit abstract for me. Possibly the writer meant some sort of ritual rejoicing; many of the Hebrew religious holidays centered on joyous feasts, such as the one at harvest.
            The need to choose joy every day, every moment is one of the cancer support group’s emphases. I now wear a bracelet that one of the members made, with a heart-shaped charm that says Joy on it. No matter our circumstances, even in chemo, we can choose to rejoice in God, in all of the gifts God sends daily, to revel in being alive, in true love.

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