Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 26: Saint Porphyrius

When Porphyrius was living as a hermit near the Jordan River, he was suffering from a disease that caused hardening of his liver. For the jaded 21st century reader, this fact sounds like he passed the long nights in his cave hitting the wine skins a little too hard. Let me assure you, there are ways for a liver to go bad that don't involve the abuse of alcohol, and all of my Googling has revealed not even a hint of Porphyrius maintaining a still in the hills of Palestine. My research did reveal, however, that there is a disease called porphyria in which the red blood cells basically eat each other. The coincidence may be just that, a coincidence. Or Porphyrius may be the only saint I've encountered with a disease named after him.

One day, this desert monk, while praying on Mount Calvary, was "miraculously cured" of his disease. (Cue the Gospel choir singing "Just a Closer Walk.") Porphyrius went on to become a priest and, eventually, the Bishop of Gaza. He died at the age of 68.

Stories of healing interest me. If that healing is miraculous and sudden, even better. I'm, for the most part, an impatient person. I like the notion of submitting a request to God in triplicate, with all the correct signatures in place, and receiving an immediate miracle. Heck, I'll put up with a little wait time. Even Amazon Prime takes two days for delivery. Coming from a society where instant gratification is just a credit card and mouse click away, however, I've learned to expect quick turn-around. In reading the Bible and stories of the saints, I'm always encountering miracles of healing. Sometimes they require taking a healing bath, but pretty soon crutches are being tossed aside and blind beggars have to find another line of work.

My personal experience with healing is not quite so satisfying. I've had requests on my prayer list for years with no indication that I've moved to the top of God's to-do list. (Okay, I know that winning the Pulitzer Prize requires an alignment of circumstances that takes a little time, but twenty-plus years seems a little excessive.) Ever since Beth was diagnosed with bipolar and then developed sexual addiction, I've prayed that God would cure her, balance the chemicals in her brain, silence the unhealthy sexual appetite that sometimes overtakes her. So far, I've only gotten three-year respites between crises. I've been grateful for those quiet times, don't get me wrong. But for a being who created the entire universe, God seems to go out to Starbucks in my life every once in a while. When I pray, I feel like tapping the microphone during these divine coffee breaks and saying, "Is this thing on?"

Now, most people who profess to be Christians will pat your hand and tell you that God has a plan for everything. There's a reason why your mother died of ovarian cancer. There's a reason why your duaghter was raped. There's a reason why you have to hide your hunting rifles from your teenager who has a death wish. There's a reason why your wife would rather have sex with complete strangers than with you at times. It's all part of God's plan, these Christians will tell you.

Well, to quote a good friend whose daughter has schizophrenia, "If God has a plan, I wish he'd give me a shittin' clue."

I don't think that mental illness or sexual violence or teenage suicide or genocide or war are part of God's plan. These things are just reflections of the fact that we've seriously fucked up the world. God didn't plan for my wife to be bipolar. God didn't plan for my co-worker's son to attempt suicide. But, I do believe that God can take the biggest pile of crap and make a daisy or crocus or orchid blossom out of it. God can take a hermit monk with a liver disease and make a bishop and a saint.

Some miracles can be instantaneous: water + dirt + blindness = sight. Other miracles take a lot of time: Colorado River + desert = Grand Canyon.

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