Monday, September 16, 2019

Sleep, Pray, Heal: a review

Donna Fado Ivery, Sleep, Pray, Heal: A Path to Wholeness and Well-Being. Sacramento: Adventures in Healing, 2019.
ISBN (paper) 978-1-7336399-5-8, e-book 978-1-7336399-9-6. 18.99USD. Available from, IngramSparks, and Amazon.
(Publication date 19 September 2019.)

cover of book, an impressionistic painting of figures dancing,
Sometimes, despite what an old adage claims, you can judge a book by its cover. In the case of this book, that would be a good idea—along with reading it to learn about the cover. There’s a great body of recovery-from-illness literature out there, and this book is part of that genre. Some of this body borders on inspiration porn. In this book, there are also themes that will be familiar to anyone who has read some of these books or who has lived with a disabling condition, such as becoming overtired, having to turn down invitations, disrupted schedules, omissions from life, and finally coming out better than before.

But that’s not entirely the case here. Yes, this is a life narrative, a story of injury, recovery, disruption and improvement. But it’s also well-informed by the “cloud of witnesses” who have lived a life of faith through events that are not only narrated, but linked to often-familiar passages from the Greek and Hebrew scriptures in a way that sheds new light on them and the theological task that embraces all of us.

“Where is God in this?” This is the basic question of theology, and the one that generations of professors have impressed on all of us who engage in it. Theologians ask this question, and not how many angels can dance on the head of pin, as a daily reminder. (For the record, the question of angels dancing on the head of a pin is a later satiric inquiry directed at the foibles of medieval theology, and should not be taken seriously, as medieval thought has much to offer).

It seems to this writer that conventional disability theology often glorifies suffering to the point of denying efficacy to anyone who does not suffer from their disability. It’s a terribly awry application of karmic ideology. You’re not supposed to get better and you’re not supposed to have joy where you are. You need to be woefully incomplete. But you can be full of “special needs” so that others can supererogate themselves for helping you with those “special needs.” And most of those “special needs” consist of roadblocks that those same people have put in your path. It often seems that nowhere, as a favorite video suggests, do we hear that our needs are the same as any other person.

Oh, and while you’re on this path, be sure to respond to the question of theodicy with “it’s a great mystery” and walk away from discussing sharing with God.

And in this refusal to accept such theological nonsense, it seems to this writer that Fado Ivery strikes new ground in a Wesleyan theological understanding of disability. As part of her recovery, she relates taking up painting. The act of painting becomes using “the brushes of the Spirit” that blow into the world, and through a dialogue, lead to new expression and understanding:

Does my suffering serve to make my faith stronger?
No. This is definitely not God’s way of increasing my faith. Suffering and pain are bad. Period. (202)

Thoughts on suffering lead to the sort of remarks that disabled people, as well as those going through other forms of oppression or problematic experiences, will recognize: pain and trial will make your faith strong. She writes that “such words feel like a glib dismissal of my reality.” Then, in a fresh wind that is thoroughly in keeping with the first-century Middle Eastern milieu of Jesus, she notes that the idea that linking suffering to pain as if they were opposites leading to greater faith is the result of dualistic thinking. That sort of thought may be the prize of Western philosophy, but it is hardly the view of the ancient world, or of Jesus! No, the brushes point another way, for there are no polar opposites in God. “Spirituality does not distance me from what is real” (201) and nothing separates us from the love of God.

So what, then, is healing? Far too often, it is defined as recovery, or returning to normal. In this expanded understanding, healing is “wholeness.” One can be healed, whole, and disabled at the same time (188). The disability is part of me, and drawing on the promise of Jesus, the brushes become the promised Advocate, who teaches us to dance with pain, and teaching us, as the fulfillment of the plumb line of Amos, how to balance that dance (244).

We live in a broken world. That’s a statement often used as a way to overlook injustice, or to overlook problems. In a conclusion that looks at living the fullness of life, as she reflects on some of the (stunningly ridiculous, to this reader) arguments advanced at a lawsuit hearing, God speaks that “My love for you far exceeds any measure of fairness” (259). Here is wholeness, knowing and remembering and living that God is beyond measure.  And here is the wide circle of the dance portrayed on the cover, where no one stands alone. It is, she admits, a voice that will not be comfortable—it is not traditional, but it is biblical in the greatest sense.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance copy of the book for proofreading and an honest review.