Wednesday, March 16, 2011


My mind has started playing tricks on me, but I've found there's drugs for that.

"Anticipatory nausea" is a new term added to my vocabulary as a result of this experience.  There's almost always a physical nausea that accompanies chemotherapy and the medical team has been really good about keeping this under control.  However, the further I have progressed through these cycles of chemo, the more a Pavlovian response has kicked in; my mind has taken over and started dreading the next upcoming treatment.  Most recently, that dread manifested itself in anticipatory nausea.  When I drive downtown and see the Gonda building, when I smelled the Dial soap in those ubiquitous dispensers distributed throughout the Clinic, even when I walked down the hallway of St. Mary's Hospital yesterday to visit a church member, the uncomfortable urge in the back of my throat begins.

I am SO glad this Friday is "finish line" last treatment.

I know this sense of dread is completely psychosomatic.  I told my doc that I knew it was "all in my head."  "Just because it's all in your hear doesn't mean it's not real" was his wise reply as he wrote me a script for Ativan.

During Lent, I've been reading through the gospels.  It continues to amaze me that Jesus regularly and clearly told his disciples exactly what was about to happen.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  (Matt 16:21)

It really doesn't get any clearer than that.  He didn't say this just once, he repeated it over and over.  Their response ranged from being oblivious to misunderstanding the words.  Sometimes they argued with him that he was wrong, they volunteered to charge into Jerusalem and die with him, and on at least one occasion they responded by fighting among themselves over who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom after he was gone.  With friends like that...

So during Lent as my mind and body have dealt with a sense of impending dread for my bi-weekly chemo treatments, I've found myself pondering how a sense of dread affected Jesus, when the dread of the impending cross began, how he dealt with it and what he set his mind on to get him through.

I think it's easy to look at the portrait of the beatific Jesus leaning on the rock with the light streaming down from heaven and dehumanize him; that is, to believe that his divinity overrode his humanity in Gethsemane and he really didn't feel the full brunt of the dread of the cross.  That famous painting is out of sync with the biblical record.  A raw, Ansel Adams-style photograph of the same event would reveal a man so racked with dread that the blood burst through his skin.  "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..." (Heb 4:15)

When did the dread of the cross begin for Christ?  Certainly it intensified as he approached Passion Week.  No one could endure a dreadful agony of that intensity long term, but it must has started years earlier.  During his three-year ministry when he attended the high holy days in the Temple, when he saw the massive slaughter of the animals at the annual Passover, he must have felt anticipatory dread.  It must have felt it when he attended synagogue and heard the reading of Isaiah 53, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." knowing as no one else in the room could have known that he was the object of that ancient prophecy.  History records the public crucifixion of 30 Galilean insurrectionists in Jesus' day, their crosses erected one after another along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem as a Roman reminder of what happens to "messiahs."  At some point in his adolescence, Jesus must have realized who he was.  But at what point did he fully realize what he was to do?

How did Jesus deal with the sense of dread, whenever it must have began?  The answer is probably buried in the routine of Jesus' life, a routine marked by a dogged determination to do the Father's will and a life of intimate communion with the Father.  Any time he had the opportunity, Jesus unequivocally told his disciples and the crowds that followed him of his absolute devotion to the kingdom of heaven, his commitment to fulfilling the Father's will.  
     "My meat and drink is to do the will of him who sent me..." (John 4:34)
     "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (Jn 5:30)
     "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (Jn 18:11).  

Perhaps the best indication of how Jesus fought a sense of dread by a total devotion to the Father is found in the fact that that devotion was recognized even by his most bitter enemies.  Those who forced Pilate's hand and urged on the torture of the soldiers sat down to watch the spectacle of Jesus' crucifixion.  They yelled out, "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him" (Mt 27:43).  Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father was famous even among his enemies.

I've dealt with the dread of chemo by focusing my mind beyond the finish line.  Once I get "hit by the bus" and crawl out of the "chemo ditch" for the final time, I'm looking forward to tasting my food again, regaining my strength, leading worship on a weekly basis, dating my wife and getting back to a regular workout routine.  Setting goals beyond the chemo is essential to surviving the mental side of this battle.  So what did Jesus look forward to to deal with his dread.  When he stood among his friends in the upper room, breaking the bread, pouring the cup and surprising them with the words, "This is my body...this is my blood," where was his mind?

Certainly his immediate purpose was to fulfill the Father's will, but Heb 12:2 says that, "For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Part of "the joy set before him" was a reconciled relationship with you and me.  He overcame the dread of the cross and suffered inexpressible grief for the sake of spending time with us. 

I am encouraged in my dread by knowing the Jesus knows exactly how I feel and endured his dread for the sake of knowing me.