The following few years I attended the University of Waterloo where I got an M.A. in history and did most of my Ph.D. studies before deciding that a life teaching in universities was also not something that I wanted to do.
It was during my years at Waterloo that I eventually abandoned my evangelical/fundamentalist religious background. I still believed in God, just not the doctrines that most evangelicals value. I eventually found a home in the Anglican Church of Canada where I continued to grow and change in my perspectives about humanity and divinity.
Today I find myself with what most Christian believers, evangelical or mainline, would consider an extremely liberal perspective (although that term doesn't do justice to my faith journey). I am nontheistic (meaning I do not believe in a God out there somewhere), but still very interested in questions about spirituality and religion and the ways in which we can experience divine dimensions in everyday life.
What has this to do with cancer? Well, many people diagnosed with a life-threatening illness find themselves returning to church and to traditions that they may have abandoned earlier in life. That kind of return will never work for me.
But...ultimate questions (as Paul Tillich would have called them) are still important, perhaps more important than ever to me. And I still think that the divine - whether we call it God, Spirit, Suchness, the One, whatever - is a matter of personal experience that enriches life tremendously. But I have to emphasize that it is a matter of experience and not doctrine.
During my unwanted journey, I have noticed many things about my own and other people's relationship with the divine. I have come to appreciate once again things like the laying on of hands and extemporaneous prayer, all the while being uncertain what I thought about such things. I also realized that I didn't want to be condescending of others who prayed for me, even though I don't believe in a God who intervenes in human affairs. I didn't want to say, or think, that their prayers were merely expressions of care and concern and nothing else. But I also couldn't say that I believed they were intervening on my behalf with some kind of God who needs us to pray in order to do good things. In other words, I was more than a little confused.
Yesterday I spoke about the 3-2-1 Process in which we consciously uncover repressed feelings and unconscious perspectives about that which disrupts our lives - cancer being the most obvious. But as I drove home from Barrie last week, I also listened to and learned about another process called the 1-2-3 of God in which we also use the perspective of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons to explicitly integrate our experience of the divine.
I am beginning to appreciate a solution to my dilemma about laying on of hands and prayer in treating cancer (or any other illness). With the 1-2-3 of God, we experience God (or Spirit or Allah or whatever term resonates within) as an It in 3rd person; in other words, we talk about, think about, and contemplate Spirit in the 3rd person.
Then we commune with Spirit as "the beloved infinite Thou" (see Martin Buber's I and Thou). Even though I have been uncomfortable with 2nd person expressions about the divine, I am beginning to reverse this opinion, especially in light of my good experiences with others praying for me, explicitly using language in which God is addressed in the 2nd person.
Finally, and this is where evangelicals would probably bow out of the process, we "rest in God as my own Witness and primordial Self, the Big Mind that is one with all, and in the ever-present, easy, and natural state, I go on about my day." This perspective resonates with my current perspective about the divine, but I could certainly work on it further.
What this all means is that I am beginning to find room in my life for different perspectives of Spirit through the extremely simple idea of the 1-2-3 of God process. Maybe other cancer patients and survivors will find something here that resonates for them as well.