April 2021: Editorial

It has been almost six months since a friend of mine, Tom, had what should have been a fairly routine – though serious operation. At first, everything seemed to have gone well. But a few days later, things began to go downhill. Tom’s heart function fell to 10% and his kidneys started to fail. Tom had a cardiac arrest. The surgeons opened his chest to look for the cause and problem, but then could not close it again without sending his already weakened heart into arrhythmia.
So began a journey into a desert – wilderness of the unknown in which Tom lay in hospital, totally sedated and ventilated with his open chest swathed with gauze.

It is amazing how quickly hopes evolve into something manageable as horizons narrow. Tom initially had been expected home after a few days, but suddenly it was about ‘if’ rather than ‘when.’

A family group WhatsApp was joined by a wide circle of friends and a network of many other contacts to pray for Tom. People who were not remotely religious or spiritual joined in this prayer. The consultant warned grimly that if Tom made it through this stage, his ability to function normally may be permanently impaired. ‘We’ll take that’, said Sue, Tom’s wife. After three attempts, the surgeons managed to close Tom’s chest. Gradually, signs of improvement began to show. Tom’s heart function increased. He was given a temporary tracheostomy to help him breathe. His heavy sedation was reduced. Hope was on the horizon. Sue texted two messages, which I will never delete from my phone: ‘Tom wiggled his toes’ and later ‘Tom smiled.’

Tom was in his own Upper Room of the ICU, which by coincidence was called Emmaus. He was behind locked doors. He was isolated – yet not alone. His fears slowly changed as courage shone a light through his personal darkness and his anxieties changed into moments of trust. Tom told me that he felt like a monk while he was in intensive care! His voice was silent for three months! He said silence was a gift in disguise. He sees silence as a time for personal communion with David, his new-born son, with Sue, his wife and with all the people he took for granted.

Tom now speaks of the dedicated heroism of frontline workers. His life was in their hands. He has an insight of wonder into the creative ways that people from all faiths and none held him in compassion and prayed for him – especially – people who did not know him. Tom’s story reminds us that just because we are confined, does not mean that the Risen Lord cannot join us. Lockdown has taught people the truth of the Lord’s presence in their Gethsemane-Calvary situations of their lives. The Easter story tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

The Gospel-Easter message of peace is a gift to us. It is not a free pass from anxiety, but a freedom to live amid anxious times in faith, hope and love. We need this more than ever in uncertain times of worry as we journey through the pandemic as well as our own personal desert-wilderness.

Jesus says: Do not be afraid. Peace with you.


John Cullen