Sunday, February 8, 2009

5 Epiphany


February 8, 2009

I just returned from Florida, where I had a glorious time, despite cool weather. However, on my last day, I found myself feeling a bit under the weather. On the plane back to North Dakota, I became sicker and sicker and by the time I arrived in Fargo, I was running a fever. I had the flu. These last few days were lost days for me. I languished under a fever that took hold and would not let go. Last night, finally, my fever broke and I awoke this morning feeling refreshed and renewed. I told a friend this morning that I felt as though I had been resurrected from the dead.

It just so happens that we encounter a fever in our Gospel reading for today. Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering with a severe fever—certainly a fever that caused everyone in her life to worry.

Fevers are ugly, awful things and for those of us who have suffered through fevers and illnesses, we can easily imagine what Peter’s poor mother-in-law dealt with in her illness. I can tell that, form my perspective, these past few days were miserable to say the last. But they were also foggy days for me. I just sort of shut down when dealing with the flu and found myself in a state in which I didn’t “think” anymore. I made feeble attempts at prayer during the time, but for the most part, I simply just turned everything off and tried to escape into a cocoon of nothingness.

The worse part of the fever for me was that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be well, nor could I imagine what it would feel like to ever be well again. The fever encompassed me just that fully. It took complete control of my life.

Sometimes the fevers of our lives aren’t fevers in the traditional sense. Often the fevers of our lives are things like depression. The poet Anne Sexton suffered with depression throughout most of her adult life. She eventually committed suicide. In her poems that word “fever” kept surfacing again and again. For her, her depression was very much a an all-encompassing fever from which she felt she could not escape. For anyone who has suffered with depression, one finds a certain “shutting off” as well. Often times this “shutting off” is a survival tactic—sometimes the only way one can navigate through the encroaching fogs of depression without resorting to absolute despair.

Another way we look at fever is also when we refer to passion or lust. Again, we find something that encompasses us completely. Again, we find ourselves dealing with a “shutting off” of sorts. When we become enflamed with passion or lust, we enter into that hot fog in which very few other things matter.

Fever is a terrible thing—whether it be a physical, mental or emotional fever. It shuts us down and puts us in a place that can be frightening. And when fevers lift, we find ourselves almost jubilant. We find ourselves refreshed and renewed.

There is a wonderful prayer to Christ in the Russian Orthodox Church that I love:

Thou Who by Thy touch didst heal Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with fever, do Thou now, in Thy loving-kindness, heal Thy terribly-suffering servant of her malady, quickly granting her health, we diligently pray Thee, O Fount of healing, hearken and have mercy.

That single touch from Jesus allowed that fever to lift from Peter’s mother-in-law in her agony. And when she rose up from her bed, she did the only thing she no doubt could do to show her gratitude: she served Jesus.

This morning, I was prepared not be in church. I had already asked Pastor Strobel last night if he would cover for me because I couldn’t possibly imagine that I could be here this morning. But when I did awake this morning and realized that the fever had lifted, I felt renewed. I too, like Peter’s mother-in-law, wanted to get and serve—in my case, I wanted to serve Mass.

The fevers in our lives will come upon us in many ways. They will come and they will dominate us. They will shut us off and they will make us think that nothing else exists or will ever exists except the fever.

But when we find ourselves praying to Jesus, Thou Who by Thy touch didst heal Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with fever, do Thou now, in Thy loving-kindness, heal Thy terribly-suffering servant, we find that touch does, in fact heal. That touch is able to lift the fever from us. And when it does, we find that darkness replaced with joy and gladness.

There will be fevers in various forms in our lives. However, we can never let those fevers win out. We must not let the fires of those fevers consume us and turn us to ashes. Rather, we should, when their fires rage, turn in our illness and despair to that healing hand which draws close to us in that fevered moment. That cool hand, when it touches us, drives the fires of our fevers away from us and replaces that fever with a sense of joy and renewal and life.

So, let us, with a feeling of joy and renewal, rise up from our sick beds and let us serve Christ. Let us get up and go out into the world renewed and rejuvenated so that we can proclaim the message to whomever will listen.

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