Illness, Consciousness, and Father Damien

by Sky St. John on August 25, 2009

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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Eberhrt August 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

It’s a “we” program! I find I learn most Not from being talked AT, but from being talked WITH.

Thank You for your insight into disease. Some ‘diseases’ can help us learn, (patience, forgiveness, humility) and some can help us Help. Some ‘diseases’ force us to practice our spirituality like our
life depends on it – because it Does. The whole Recovery program is based on ‘a daily reprieve based
on maintenance of a spiritual connection’. In that case, what a gift!

aloha, Barbara

ps. this blog thing is fun!

Sally A. Lesher August 28, 2009 at 9:50 am

On a recent vacation from my beautiful island (Camano Island, WA) to yours I knew that the one thing I wanted to do was to attend service in your church. I had visited there 20 years ago and the memory of that peaceful, blessed and God-filled place stayed with me all those years. The service my sister and I attended on August 9th was everything I knew it would be. As the congregation presented us with our kikui nut leis and then raised their hands in a prayer of blessing my heart swelled with love for each of them and for the gift of being in that holy place once again. The memory will stay with me always. When I think of God’s love I think of Unity. As a member of the Unity Church of Seattle for many years I came to truly understand God and to be able to simply love – without any borders, guidelines, rules or regulations. How free I feel in my belief. How open I am to recognize and truly see God all around me – in every person and every thing. This was the gift Unity gave me all those years ago and it is as fresh and alive today as it was on that first day I attended the church in Seattle. A young boy wearing an aqua running suit had arrived late and sat by me . When we sang “Let There Be Love” and joined hands he gave my hand that extra squeeze of love, of recogition that we are one, and I knew that I had found my spiritual “home,” a place where people can attend in an aqua jogging suit and be accepted and loved. Aloha to each of you in the church. You are blessed to have Sky and that beautiful chapel. How could one NOT know God in such a place.
I converted to Islam three years ago and as a Muslim I still felt at home in Unity. Thank you for giving me a memory for life and for being the highlight of my trip to Honolulu.
Sally Lesher

Phyllis O'Shields-Jones November 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

Beautiful insight, thank you for sharing. Enjoying your tweets and your blog. Lived in Kialua for a few years and love Hawaii, hope to return as a home some day… Mahalo Phyllis O’Shields-Jones

Doc Moore November 16, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Thank you for the follow on twitter. I am a cancer survivor of 4 years. I would love to share my story of how I was saved and healed by the Lord. My husband is a Pastor. I would love to get up and out and share. I am a living testimony. I am an author and a motivational speaker.

Thank you for sharing the blog with me.

Cheri Moore

Wes Hopper December 11, 2009 at 11:17 am

What a great reminder of how easy it is to judge without realizing it. I forget that “it’s all good” so easily in spite of all the experiences that have shown me otherwise. Thanks for sharing a very powerful example.

Sandra Hopper December 12, 2009 at 4:38 am

Wonderful message, Sky, and one for me to remember. Release judgment and be love. Thanks.

Winslow January 15, 2010 at 5:17 pm

When I lived in beautiful Hawaii (all too briefly) Makia Malo came to tell stories at the school where I worked and I learned so much about Hansen’s disease and storytelling, about Hawai’i, about illness, about perfection. My ailment so far is inward, and it is invisible yet it is as maligned as physical ones used to be. But I read your dear post and realized, even with depression, I am perfect. Through it, I have learned not just compassion – but empathy. If I see this with your insight, I realize it is a tremendous gift. Thank you.

Angela Olsen January 19, 2010 at 11:42 am

Thank you for this wonderful story with its insight into the meaning of disease in our corporeal bodies. I am traveling a spiritual path and have been wondering what I have been doing wrong, just what I have not figured out that keeps me locked in a body that has so many physical ailments. Although I am able to understand the Oneness of all our being and the idea that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, I have only been able to progress far enough to understand that my ailments have been given to me as a gift that has allowed me to become the compassionate, giving person that I am today. I truly do understand now that the purpose of my life is service to mankind, and I try to find every way that I can to do that. Yet, I still have had that nagging sense that there was something that I have been missing that keeps me in this physically ill state. Shouldn’t I be able to be healed if I have addressed all my issues, I thought? Your article has released me from this burden of self-judgment. I will continue on my journey, but I won’t allow myself to judge myself so harshly any more! Thank you for this release. Namaste’

Ash April 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

Wow.. what wonderful magic this is… Catherine Ponder talks about putting love into all situations, and like what you say Sky. See them as whole and complete as the Father would see us.

So powerful. Thank you.

theresa lott May 11, 2011 at 6:56 pm

a loha rev. sky, yep it is me. i am trying to learn how to use the computer, so bare with me. i hope you receive this note. i have missed you and the congregation so much!!!!!!!!! i attend unity here in las vegas rev. guy. he is great but he is not you and isnt suppose to be but i get so jazzed when i hear you speak. i will try to get connected with your service on sunday(at least one of them). i hope you are in good health and spirits. if you see the lady(mari) i use to sit with please give her a hug from me. well it is getting late here so i will wrap up my note. please reply so i will know that you received this…..

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