Last month the monthly letter was from Paul Veitch. He sent it from his hospital bed two weeks before he died.
I, and many of us who knew Paul Veitch, have been deeply affected by the way he responded to his own personal suffering. While he was in hospital I asked Paul for some of his thoughts.
“Ultimately we can’t fathom why we suffer. Look at the story of Job where he suffered. And when God spoke to him at the end he never helped him understand why he suffered. But Job never gave up in his belief in God. He persevered.
Suffering definitely deepens us as a person and enables us to relate to others who suffer. We know how they feel.
The Beatitudes would say those seeking righteousness will suffer and be persecuted. Why? Because they are challenging the system. Think of Mandela and all his time in prison and Tutu for challenging Apartheid. Bishop Romero who was shot for speaking out against poverty and injustice.
Being able to return to a place of peace inside us will carry us through and keep us calm.
The psalms give us a model of transformation. Many of the psalms follow this pattern:
- All is well
- Then something happens and brings suffering and heartache and searching.
- Then there is reconciliation as you grow through it changed and still relating to God but in a more mature way.”
Now it’s me speaking. It seems to me that the really important bit happens in between stages 2 and 3. If you stay with your questioning ‘why has this happened?’, ‘why me?’ it’s very understandable but you stay in a place of confusion, hurt, and anger and you can’t see God through it all.
If you can somehow look beyond you will see God is in it with you. You might never get an answer as to why he is allowing it, like Job. Perhaps it would be too hard for you to understand. But you will get Jesus’ promise to be in it with you and never, never, never leave you. The apostle Paul writes ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ And I think that’s what happened with our Paul. He never gave up. He kept coming back to that ‘centre’ ; opening himself up to God’s love pouring into and out of him.
When I saw him in hospital he spoke of the place where he was as ‘heaven on earth’. Really?, I thought. He explained that there’s vulnerability, people are real and talk about things that matter, all the superficial stuff is stripped away. There is loving fellowship in the community of the ward with the attentive, practical care of the staff. “And look at the beautiful view from my window”.
Paul didn’t feel comfortable being thought of as some kind of guru. He looked cross when you called him an inspiration. ‘I’m not, I’m just being me’. OK Paul, you persevered to find out who that ‘me’ is and you had the determination to be yourself. And you learned that the important thing is to live in the moment and to know that God is in the moment with you. Then you were able to see God everywhere, in everyone and every situation. You wanted to keep on living but you were excited about heaven, whatever and wherever that might be.
I close with one of Paul’s latest poems…….
There is a little solitary cloud in the empty sky
I follow it as I’m washed like a baby.
Do I remember being turned as a baby?
I am a baby again, naked, helpless with pink soft flesh.
But it doesn’t worry me as the wet soapy cloth
washes my ballooned up body, then effortlessly moves down
to my Inflated shiny legs, ending with my back and the long surgery scars,
the spine now forever bent forward, due to tumours on T6, T7.
The start of red bed sores are smothered with cream
pink rubbery pads stick to my heals. I’m hoisted up
in a blue barred contraption, sat on a commode,
left alone, hoisted again onto a high backed NHS chair.
My lungs can’t cope, they pant in and out as I exert
like a bellows, lighting a newly laid fire in a remote Scottish Bothy.
So I remain still, observe how others cope with it all,
catch moments for poems, become thirsty for home, for you.
I remember the solitary cloud, I wonder
whether anyone else in the world
noticed its effortless flight.
I relax into the honesty of ageing baby flesh.