Faith and AIDS
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
In writing about the past in my last entry “diagnosis” I wrote a reflection on a book that I had finished reading, but if you were not looking for it specifically, you might have missed one crucial aspect of survival in my writing of that entry and including the text that I had read, that crucial missing element is God.
When you read some of the early AIDS writers there is one alarmingly missing part of the puzzle. Nobody speaks the name of God, nobody invokes the power of God, and nobody is going to church to pray. This is a specific aspect of my story that I did not forget to write about – but as I read my spiritual text “Life with God” as I lie in bed, I am remiss to let this go without addressing it here.
There is no doubt that the Christian Right has much to answer for for its treatment of the sick when it comes to people with AIDS, be they children, men or women. And there is no doubt that the “Church” with a Capitol “C” plays their own role of hatred as well. And we must also cite the evangelical preachers across the board for their fire and brimstone direct condemnation of people with AIDS as being “Punished by God, for their acts of sinful behavior.” And then there is the family unit of those who were sick who unleashed their very own brand of religious condemnation when it came to denying their own children when it came to AIDS and death. I would be remiss if I did not mention these specifically by name because you are all guilty as charged.
I never had issues with my faith when I got sick. Even when the world turned their backs on so many, when it came down to the nuts and bolts of survival, I truly believe within a shadow of a doubt that a Power Greater than myself was taking care of me. And I know that because when I got sick, I got sober at the same time, having daily contact with a power greater than myself in that precise time in my life paid out dividends. I prayed, my friends prayed, my community prayed. We all prayed.
Never once in much of Paul Monette’s writing does he mention church or prayer, although Paul and some of his contemporaries were involved with Ma Jaya in Los Angeles and in Florida. She was the leader of a community of people who did great things for people with AIDS, and she did for me as well. I would be remiss if I did not mention her here because I spent time on her ashram in Florida on several occasions after my diagnosis. She was very big on tv when on a particular late night show she would be seen speaking to a pair of parents who abandoned their son when he got sick and eventually died of AIDS and Ma was seen shaking a vial of ashes in front of them saying “how could you do that to your son?” That was what got me to seek her out and to know her because I too had been abadoned by my family.
Faith and Faith in God was a huge part of my life, my story, my recovery, and my survival. I must have done something right after all these years, to still be talking about this subject some fifteen years after the fact and I am still alive. Someone up there loves me enough to plead to God on my behalf. None of this goes unnoticed. I just thought it was important to talk about that part of my survival, because you just cannot survive on drugs alone. Because you can stuff yourself full of medication, but unless there is some conscious or unconscious action behind them, those pills are useless. If one does not put some power of grace behind the act of taking a pill, why take the pill to begin with?
There is a definite correlation between what the brain tells the body, the body eventually follows. So if you are sick and you bombard yourself with thoughts of death all the time, death is what you are going to get. And for some, death was the only conclusion to life and illness. There are just some things that happen that cannot be countered. Everyone is going to die at one time or another, and I know that God sees each and every one of us who suffers and he works to end that suffering, and sometimes, the end to suffering is death. No matter how much one prays or believes, if illness overcomes you, and for many it does, death is a foregone conclusion. But I lived…
When I moved to Miami in 1995, I returned to my roots of Holy Mother Church. I sought out the fathers of the cloth. I returned to the church of my upbringing, yes I was gay, I was sick and I was waiting to die. God had other plans for me. And I firmly believe that. I also firmly believe that Nuestra Senora Caridad del Cobre prayed for my soul, I firmly believe that Jesus walked with me, and that Mary prayed with me, and that God saw that I wanted to live because I was activly living my faith in the direst of situations. Death was imminent. I was supposed to die. At least that’s what the medical establishment told me, either they got it wrong, or God had other plans.
In moving to the Mercy Hospital Immunodeficiency clinic, that was a very Catholic institution. Because we lived in a very “Latin i.e. Cuban” religious and secular system of care. Many, if not all the women who worked in this circle were good church going, God fearing Catholic Women, who all had God’s ear. Not to mention the men and other doctors they served under they were quite the team of spiritually prepared warriors for God’s poor, downtrodden, and sick.
There was a faith component to our care. There was no denying it, there was no avoiding it, there was no disrespect, there was no question. Even the sick went to church, and when the sick could not get to church, they were visited by the Church. Now you couple sobriety and a power greater then myself, which I choose to call God, to this day, with prayer and sacramental living, you have one powerful energy machine for healthy living. And I know on those days when I found it difficult to speak, others were praying for me day and night.
Hell hath no fury like a group of faithful Cuban prayer people. We recited the rosary daily in any language you chose. We went to mass daily, and we received the sacraments. We were visited by holy men and women, we were even treated to spiritual retreats by holy men and women on the grounds of the Church of Our Lady of Charity, Caridad del Cobre. God saw us come, he heard us pray. And for many, they lived.
The one important thing I have to say for myself is that I lived.
I remember when I went to my church of my upbringing and I told the priests that I was sick and that they doctors has said that i was going to die, I remember holy men weeping, and telling me confidently that ONE, you will come to church, TWO, you will pray, THREE, you will see the face of God. They believed for me when I could not believe for myself.
I often tell the story of Father Jeff, a priest I met one Sunday who had MS, and he walked with crutches in and around and out of the church. He had no use of his legs, but he did have the use of his faith. And that day i watched him say mass that one Sunday, i knew I would never complain about being sick ever again. I would never become as jaded and cold to faith as many did before me. Many of my friends went to their graves cursing God because of what they had witnessed themselves in human beings who became animals, they, those cursed Christians who had not one word to offer the sick, but their vitriol of condemnation.
Still to this day, on this very blog, I get the odd Cursed Christian who thinks that I listen to their hatred and self righteousness. That I would even consider sharing their cursed comments with this readership. how wrong is that!!!
For many years, on Sunday nights, I would rush home to watch Touched By an Angel, and I have to say that I believe to this day that there are angels that walk the earth and that I am not alone, and neither are you. It would come to pass that this little show that could could be attributed to my good health. Because I believed and I prayed and I listened to a few angels who said, God loves you.
I guess that the spark of God never left me, even as a child, when my grandmother Memere presented me to God, that day in that church when I was just a boy, had a lasting affect on my life, even to this very day. Now, you want to talk about blind faith, mention to God the names Camille and Sister Georgette. They are both long since dead, Sisiter Georgette died two years ago August here in Montreal, Memere died a few years after I was diagnosed. They are two women I know have God’s ear.
I wanted to share this bit of text with you from “Life with God” pg 134, Foster writes:
“Life with God is an ongoing, ever changing, relational adventure. It is not a matter of being driven through life, stopping every now and then to get out of the car and see the surroundings. God invites us to climb into the landscape of our journey, to breathe deeply with full lungs, to feel blood pulsing through muscles doing what they were made to do, to experience the wonder of having a body with which to see and hear and smell and taste and touch of this astonishing world.”
We have the opportunity to incorporate the Streams of Living Water into our daily lives when we stop to ponder these sic paths together:
- The Contemplative tradition, or “The Prayer filled life”
- The Holiness tradition, or “The Virtuous life”
- The Charismatic tradition, or “The Spirit-empowered life”
- The Social Justice tradition, or “The Compassionate life”
- The Evangelical tradition, or “The Word-Centered life,” and
- The Incarnational tradition, or “The Sacramental Life”
I have discussed these six traditions with you last term when I studied Christian Spirituality, each of these traditions have their own entries on this blog, if you are so adventurous to go seek them out. Suffice to say that there is no life, without faith. And there is no faith without life. There are no words to speak to God in gratitude for all that He has given us, fortunate are we to share some time together here, in order that I might share my faith journey with you.
One of the things that mystifies my doctors today is my reliance on faith, when doctors who run by the book and by the numbers who are faced with patients that believe in God and have stock in faith, that seems to throw my doctor off the deep end. You can’t convince a scientist or doctor that faith plays a big role in the longevity of the sick. They say, what ever works, and for me what ever works.
May God bless you,
may his light shine upon you
and may the Spirit of God rest upon your heads and hearts.