If we’re awake, sooner or later we’re going to ask the question, “Why is this happening?” It is human to seek meaning in the midst of tragedy, or in times of great challenge. Early in January, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. We expect he will live through this, but as a spiritual seeker, I want to understand why we invited this experience into our lives and how we can best use it.
I grew up Catholic, educated from elementary school through college by socially progressive nuns and priests. It was a good place to start. Although Catholicism is bound by legalities, it is also deeply metaphysical, and after all these years, I find most of what I learned still applies in my life. As I got older, I explored a wide range of other religious and spiritual traditions, and I have taken from each the bits that felt true to me.
Spirituality is highly personal and individual. This is what I believe:
God exists. I feel convinced of this from my direct spiritual experience. If you are not a believer, I can’t persuade you otherwise, nor would I ever want to try. I respect your individual path.
The God I knew in childhood was a loving Father. Jesus was my friend, and His mother, Mary, was my mother as well. That was exactly what I needed then.
As an adult, I consider myself a Christian. I don’t ascribe to the idea that Jesus is my Savior, rescuing me from Hell. But I do aspire to live a Christlike life. (In the interests of full disclosure, I fall short more often than I succeed.)
Today I think of God as the essence of everything, an energy of pure love and intelligence. I believe we are all part of this energy, each of us connected to one another. I believe we are here to practice unconditional love, and to use this world as a playground where we create and co-create our own reality.
Like Shakespeare, I believe “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” We arrive having chosen certain lessons for ourselves, and when we have learned the lessons, when we are ready, we exit the stage. As we step back through that curtain, we return to our larger, more conscious life beyond this world.
In that regard, I have some sense of detachment from the events of my human life. But of course, this experience only works if we are deeply invested, and I am. I love being alive on earth. I love the people in my life. If my husband were to die earlier than we hoped, the larger me – my higher self – would understand it is all part of a pattern I can’t see.
The me right here in front of you, the Jillian who gets up every day and lives my earthly life, would be devastated. My spiritual belief would provide some context, but it would not insulate me from the pain. Whatever lessons would come to me through that loss, I am not ready to learn. Let this cup pass from me.
I’m aware I came into this life to learn at least three lessons. The first is connection. After years of feeling estranged and abandoned, and fearful of estrangement and abandonment, I now live immersed in the rich love of my husband, my children, and my friends. Yet, understandably, a remnant of those old fears has returned to me, inviting me to consciously release it.
My second lesson is trusting God, and in doing so, trusting the process of life. Raising children gave me the chance to practice that one. I am not nearly the control freak I once was, but I still have some delusion that I am responsible for keeping everybody around me safe, keeping all the plates spinning. It’s exhausting, and I have been asking for help in giving it up.
Dempsey’s illness has given me a new opportunity to practice doing what is appropriate, and only that. It’s appropriate for me to research and gather information, to support and comfort him. But his journey, while parallel to mine, is his own. I don’t control whether he lives or dies. I am unable to protect him from fear, or pain.
My third lesson is related. It’s about money, and trusting that I am safe in the world, that I will have enough. As we go through this experience, I am being invited to notice I am supported. Everything we need appears for us.
My husband is one of the best people I know, and an agnostic. He doesn’t disbelieve in God, but neither is he a believer. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever been particularly curious about what’s out there. We do pray together, partly because he likes to make me happy, and partly to cover all the bases.
It’s pretty entertaining, and perhaps not entirely coincidental, that he fell in love with me, and that our friends include several spiritual teachers. The old saying is there are no atheists in foxholes; I suggested the other day that this may be his foxhole. Or not.
Dempsey’s learning, of course, is his own. It’s unfolding for him, just as mine is for me. And around us, our children and grandchildren, our families and our friends, even you reading this, are also sharing this experience, and taking from it whatever may be of value to you.