There was an article in yesterday’s newspaper, about Father Damien and his impending canonization. I worked in Kalaupapa over a two-year period as a nurse, so I was interested. Damien has long been one of my personal, spiritual heroes, which is why I wanted to work in the colony; I wanted to serve the same people he did, lived where he did, and walk the land the way he did.
I started to think about Damien’s life, and the fact that he succumbed to leprosy (or the now more correct, Hansen’s Disease), most likely as a result of his close contact with those he ministered to. I teach that our bodies are the outworking of our consciousness and that perfect health is a Divine Idea—God’s flawless vision of who we really are. Disease, then, is most often seen as a defect or something that needs to be healed. This is tricky for me because it involves my nemesis: judgment. Somewhere along the way, the collective “we” have judged “disease” as a bad thing; a reflection of some area of our consciousness that is in error. I think Damien’s life teaches something else.
Father Damien loved his people with all his heart and soul. I can imagine that he wanted nothing more than for them to know a deep connection with God and each other. I can imagine that he must have felt some separation from them, first, as a “haole” (Caucasian), and then as a “well” person.
Richard Marks, a resident of Kalaupapa, told me the story of how Damien revealed his illness to his parishioners. He began his Sunday homily with the words: “We lepers…” He was, at last, one with his flock. What a great love it was that brought him to that place with such grace and wonder.
So his illness was actually a supreme act of love, an ultimate gesture of oneness. How then, could I call this a defect of consciousness? How could this be a manifestation of error thinking?
I have friends now who struggle with cancer and other illnesses. From now on, I refuse to see them as somehow flawed or unhealed. I’m going to look for the love, the reaching, lessons that their condition is bringing forth. I will see them perfect—at last.