A few days ago my husband and I returned home after hiking in New Mexico for a week. If you have ever traveled there in reality or in imagination, you know that the terrain looks challenging. The landscape is breath-taking both literally and figuratively. As our aging bodies pushed upward towards even higher altitude on the rugged trails framed by expansive views of the mesas we paused to hydrate ourselves from the harshness of the sun and to wonder at the beauty of a clear azure blue sky. We paused periodically to view our final destination: the summit of Chimney Rock. We have hiked this path on the Ghost Ranch property that is part of the Carson National Forest almost every year since the ‘80’s. And each year, Danny and I celebrate the gift of being able to make the final steps from the steep trail onto the flat top of the 7,100 foot summit.
This year as years past, my gratitude was overwhelming as I was reminded of the years that I was physically unable to make this climb. In 2003, while attempting this hike, I felt crushing pressure in my chest and my head pounded as if filled with explosives. A month later, I was receiving chemotherapy to treat stage 4, non-hodgkins lymphoma. It was nearly another year after that, that I was able to retrace those steps, still struggling desperately all the way.
Remembering with a Listening Heart
This year, I was deeply moved. My heart was suddenly “listening” to my memories, my current life-experiences, and to my mortality. I laughingly say that cancer survivors have a more vivid understanding of mortality than those who have never experienced the disease, but on the day of the Chimney Rock climb, I had a moment of humbling clarity, a metanoia or in the Greek translation: a profound “change of heart”. It was not coming from the need to turn away from the “Big Sins,” but rather in the need to turn away from a “protected” thinking that comes with the comforted privilege of a white, middle-class life, to turn away from the illusion of perfection, from the pridefulness of self-congratulation at “good deeds,” from a glossing over of my personal biases in addition to little bit of “spiritual arrogance.”
As I stopped to reflect on this moment of revelation, a thunderstorm gathering over the mesa to the north of us caught my eye. We knew from experience, that the rumble of the thunder, sight of torrential rain and the flashes of lightening were an ominous sign that the storm might be headed our way. The reality of the moment demanded that we begin our descent as soon and as quickly as possible. As we did so, it seemed like the storm was chasing us. To be honest, I could hear myself yelling to Danny to “hurry” and talking aloud to myself to move more quickly.
The Cancer Journey on the Climb
Okay, so the metaphor is rather obvious. The cancer journey is often like that climb. After reaching the end of treatment, one often experiences an “ahah” moment. This may happen as well after any kind of physical/mental illness, personal/spiritual crisis, loss, or grief event. But once we start “running back to the safety of our “new normal”, do we forget the lessons of those very challenging and often heart-breaking times of our lives?
Metanoia means one is willing to start to open one’s heart to new, authentic experiences, to challenge one’s preconceptions and, to let go for the need to control and of useless life patterns. To embrace the future with faith in one’s self informed by a community of love and reason. I believe that we are challenged and called to those daily commitments to “change our hearts” Little moments of “metanoia” for ordinary moments of life.
Maybe it has a synergistic effect.
I invite all who are on the cancer journey, as a survivor or loved one, to join the All Souls Trekkers on Wednesday, October 10 at 5:30 p.m. to explore practical ways to effectively communicate and engage with our doctors and medical team. Bring a friend to experience the possibilities that a group of those who stand with Love Beyond Belief can offer. We extend the invitation to loved ones of those who have passed from cancer to join us also, and together, we may seek an ongoing attitude of metanoia.
All Souls Trekkers meets every 2nd Wednesday
5:30 to 6:20 p.m. | 2nd Wednesdays
Facilitated by Mary Lou Keller and Faith Boudreau, this educational and self-advocacy group is for all who are affected by the cancer experience; survivors of all ages and diagnosis, those in treatment, medical professionals, family, and friends.
All Souls Trekkers is one of our many support groups which meet monthly at the church. Spiritually-centered care giving is at the heart of our church and is conducted through our many Pastoral Care Teams. All Souls members have access to pastoral care 24/7 every day of the year.
Faith Boudreau is a long-time member of All Souls and a passionate advocate and educator about the cancer experience. To learn more or to connect with All Souls Trekkers: Living Beyond Cancer, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Faith’s post, Living Beyond Cancer: Knowledge, Faith, Hope, and Love.
Read more from our members, ministers, and friends on our blog, beyondbelief.online.
BeyondBelief shares stories of our free-faith curated from the heartland.