A message from our Team Rector, Reverend Peter Reiss

It is now 4 ½ months since I went off sick to have treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer of the blood. Bolton Hospital have been excellent in their treatment of both the cancer and me as a person with cancer. We are fortunate to have a National Health Service where treatment is free at the point of need.

I have been off for Lent and Easter – different seasons in the church year; unfortunately the chemotherapy (and cancer) has left me with little energy and what the nurses call ‘chemo-brain’ where it is not only hard to concentrate for any length of time but you forget basic things for a while. By the time this goes out I will have had all six sessions of chemotherapy and be awaiting the scan which will show whether or not the treatment has been “successful”, which I hope and pray will be the case. It will then take a while for me to recover and regain strength – the chemotherapy also damages the body along with tackling the cancer cells.

I am very aware that many others also have been through this or a similar process, and / or have supported family members; and in some cases the treatment has been “successful” and in others it has not. There is a mystery element as to why some get ill in the first place and similarly there is something unknowable about who will receive a clear bill of health and who does not. In the Bible, Job argues with his friends who link his sufferings to his sin, and he wants to confront God with his case. As I reflect on this dramatic story, I think Job comes to realise that he is right to reject the idea that sickness is a punishment on a sinner, and also that while we want to argue with God, ultimately God is fargreater, beyond, above, .. whatever words begin to express what theologians call the transcendence of God, God’s otherness. But God is not distantly other – God speaks to Job and Job can speak to God not just shout at God. Job wants to argue with God and confront God face to face and is faced by God who speaks out of a whirlwind. The Creator is awesome, or as CS Lewis puts it in the language of Narnia – “Aslan is not a tame lion”.

Worship and praise are human responses to the greatness and otherness of God, a reminder that this world, with all its beauty and its storms is a Created world not just a fast-spinning planet within a solar system within a galaxy etc. When we struggle with sickness, physical, mental or emotional, when others face war, violence, injustice or hunger, it is not easy to worship or praise (and I am very grateful for the prayers of others, for me and more generally) – and the Scriptures remind us that God receives our tears as well as our praise. This is now my second stint of ‘serious’ illness. One of the changes that happened to Job as a result of his suffering and encounter with God is that he learnt to enjoy each day, his family, what he has in a much freer way than previously. He becomes less anxious before God. I hope this may be the case for me, but a) I cannot take it for granted – old habits die hard, and b) I am very aware that some find suffering, their own or that of others, crushing of the spirit, even soul-destroying or life-destroying. There, but for the grace of God go I.

In a prayer based on words of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, we pray each day,

“Blessed are you, creator of all .. may we rejoice in this day you have made.   .. open our eyes to behold your presence, and strengthen our hands to do your will, that the world may rejoice and give you praise”.

This seems to me to be a very good prayer to pray each morning if we can.