Wednesday

3. Signs and Portents


When you have a ‘bad’ diagnosis you feel very alone. No matter how lovely people are, they are not you and they can walk away. However, I have been showered with signs and portents and blessings from day one. I just had to learn to believe them.

For a minister, a healer, a teacher that should be simple, right?

Yeah, right.

I did believe each and every one of them – for about a week. And then I would go down into fear again. It took a shaman who lived just down the road from me (thank you God!) to tell me that I had to start believing at a deeper level and holding that belief. And as an amazing sign occurred against all the odds in her healing room at the beginning of the session, I really had to start listening.

Here’s an example of one of the signs.

When my first husband, Henry, was given a terminal diagnosis with melanoma, back in 1989, and we were both reeling with the shock, I went to the bible that we had been given on our wedding day and opened it at random, asking for a sign from God.

My finger fell on a line from psalm 118 ‘I shall not die; instead I shall live to praise the Lord my God.’
It felt so good – of course I interpreted it that Henry wouldn’t die. But it meant me. I would not die from this time of trauma, rather I would get through my life-time of being an armchair Christian and start to discover what I truly believed. It didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be a barrow-load of crud to get through first.

Move the story on by a decade and my second husband (whom in this blog I’ll call Jay) had just decided to end our marriage. He unadvisedly told me that it was for my good and that I’d thank him eventually and he was absolutely right but at that specific time I was, to say the least, a little bit sore.

I went up to Birmingham to stay with my Mum and we went to Evensong at the church where Henry’s ashes had been buried. I remember standing by his grave and thinking ‘where did the hope go? This is the second time my world has been destroyed.’ Then I went into the church, opened my hymn book and a sheaf of paper fell out. It was the 118th psalm with a sentence underlined. Which line? ‘I shall not die, instead I shall live to praise the Lord my God.’

A bit of a hint, I would say.

A few months back (three months after diagnosis), I went on retreat to the Poor Clare’s Monastery in north Devon. It was a much-needed time to myself to meditate and pray and I was able to join with the nuns in their daily liturgy. On the last morning, after communal mediation, I left the nuns’ chapel ... I paused at the back of the main church to look at some leaflets and heard them begin to sing again. I realized that I had missed the final part of that morning’s prayer.

It would be about five minutes’ worth and I was hungry for my breakfast so there was really no point in returning but even so, I knew I must. I retraced my steps and went quietly back into the chapel. There, I fumbled a bit, trying to find the place in the prayer book and Sister Maximilian came over to help me.

One of the sisters is Swedish and I had noticed that she sometimes sang verses of the liturgy out of order. Just as I got to the right page in the book, it was her turn to sing. She sang one particular line and the rest of the nuns stopped dead because it was the ‘wrong’ line.

They started again at the beginning of that psalm.

Which one?

Psalm 118.

Which line did the sister sing out of turn?

‘I shall not die, instead I shall live to praise the Lord my God.’

I'd say that was probably time to start listening to what God had been trying to yell in my ear all along.


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