One of the rationale's behind this season of Lent is that we remember Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke offer us blow by blow accounts of Jesus' temptations there, while the third of these so called synoptic gospels, Mark, makes much less of it saying that after his baptism:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Mark 1:12-13 (ANIV)
We tend to concentrate on the activities of Satan in this episode in Jesus' story, but in keeping with the "whatever is good... think about such things" principle that I'm trying to dwell on over Lent, I would love to know more about the attending angels...
But then again I saw them in action this morning, as I was doing my usual round of the Ulster Hospital as chaplain. Many people there, and in other health care establishments, feel like they are lost and alone in a hostile wilderness, but it is a privilege to see dedicated members of staff (and volunteers) acting as channels of God's grace to patients and their families - some do so consciously, acting out of a real sense of spiritual vocation, others less consciously, but no less effectively.
But it is also a joy to find patients ministering to staff... I like to think of myself as on the side of the angels... God's special messenger... but many times, including this morning, I have experienced a word of grace from patients that has picked me up when I was feeling low, and it is lovely to see patients, again both consciously and unconsciously, acting as attending angels, messengers of grace and peace to staff who are, at times, operating under almost intolerable pressure.
Then there are the times when you see patients looking after each other... encouraging others, comparing notes, watching out for neighbours who have few visitors, or, as happened a few weeks ago in the Sunday service in the hospital, which was on the theme of healing, when one patient spoke of her recent terminal diagnosis, and her neighbour reached out his hand and said "I've been there too, dear. 3 months ago I was given 2 weeks... and I'm still here, by God's grace... just trust in him and take each day at a time." He could minister to that woman out of his hurt and pain, in a way that I couldn't...
Which brings me round to a book that I reviewed a few weeks ago on facebook via the Goodreads app. It was for "Code Red" by Andrew Drain, a young cardio-thoracic surgeon from here in Northern Ireland. It is a slim tome of just over 100 pages, yet in that space covers 2 huge but inter-related subjects: the book of Job, a suitable book for study in Lent if ever there was one, and Andrew's experience in moving from being a high-flying surgeon, to wrestling with a terminal illness. I knew Andrew slightly from school days and he was a close friend of my nephew, so that lent this book an immediacy that might be lost on others, but if you are looking for something easy, yet worthwhile to read this Lent then you could do worse. It is appropriate for pastors, preachers, chaplains, medical practitioners and those experiencing chronic illness... indeed anyone interested in what it means to be an attending angel in the midst of a wilderness of suffering and distress.