The yellow sickly-sweet smell of jaundice, iodine and antiseptic.
The flurry of nurses, doctors, and diagnostic tests.
The haze of pain meds, sedatives and general anesthetic.
An ambulance ride from the local hospital to the big city hospital for a specialized procedure, and then back to the local hospital for surgery.
It wasn’t the plan for the week, but one trip to the emergency room changed everything.
The four walls of the hospital room were giant white walls that blocked out the world. Cut off from family. Cut off from life.
The dark shadows of fear and sickness and despair crept from the corners and overwhelmed the room.
God was an abstraction, blocked out by those impenetrable hospital walls.
There was no praying.
There was no worship.
There was no seeing or feeling anything beyond those four white walls.
I was alone. And my faith was failing me.
And then, that mild Saturday evening, day three of my seven day sentence, the pastor arrived. She was quiet and sweet and kind-hearted, just as she was every Sunday at church. She came and she listened. She chatted. She told stories. The dark shadows began to recede back into the corners, held at bay, even just for a little while.
Can I pray with you? She said. And then she pulled out a present: a string of Anglican prayer beads.
Prayer beads to give rhythm and structure to my prayer instead of flailing words lost and uncertain.
Prayer beads to help me pray the prayers not of my own creation, but the prayers of generations of faithful Christians. I could be carried on the strength of their prayers instead of trying to rely on the weakness of my own.
My God, my God why have you forsaken me. Christ’s prayer would become my prayer.
Prayer beads that, even if I couldn’t say any words, I could physically cling to the cross at the end of the circle of beads. I could hang on to the cross of Christ that for 18 years had been transforming my life.
And so, starting at the cross at the bottom of the circle of beads, I prayed.
O Lord make speed to save me. O Lord make haste to help me. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden…
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…
Around and around the circle I went for hours, the rhythm pushing back the shadows until dawn broke and the summer sunshine would rise and wash over the white walls.
And then came surgery day. After being wheeled back into my room, in pain and groggy, I reached for those brown beads, and held onto them tightly as the sedatives worked on my weary body, calling me to sleep.
And that little circle of beads allowed my soul to rest in the knowledge that those four white walls did not have the power to hold out the Almighty One. There, in the very midst of pain and sickness and suffering, was the One who Suffered. There, in the midst of the doctors’ training, and the nurses’ gentle hands, was the Healer. There, in quiet and stillness of the white walls, was the assurance of Resurrection and Glory.
And that lost week that wasn’t planned turned out to not be such a loss after all.