March 2012

Self Examinations

Last week I went to see my dermatologist.  She made me do it!  Since my father died at an early age (he was 41), I am religious about getting annual checkups.  I see my internist, my dentist, my ophthalmologist, my gastroenterologist, and my dermatologist every year, some of them even more often.  I used to go to the dermatologist once a year, but now it’s at least every six months, and if she finds something, then I am back to her office quarterly, at least for a while.

            When I go to the dermatologist, she always asks me two questions.  First she asks me if I have been good about guarding against the sun.  Have I worn good cover-ups and used plenty of high SPF sunscreen.  Mostly, I say yes.  Then she asks me if I have found anything on my skin that appears to have changed.  She expects me to be vigilant with self-examinations.  It seems to be particularly important for people my age, both because we are aged and because when we were young we worshipped the sun, envied a deep tan, and never worried about dying of skin cancer.  Who knew?

            Now we know better.  Of course that doesn’t mean we necessarily do better; it does mean we have no excuse though for ignoring the dangers.  One of my dearest friends, who shared the same birthdate with me, Fred Haemmerli, died of melanoma.  He had been someone who loved the outdoors, jogged and played tennis weekly, without wearing a shirt.  His battle with cancer went on for some years.  After the initial diagnosis, he had numerous surgeries to remove “outbreaks” of it.  He described it as little “time bombs” floating around in the fluids of his body. At any time, he said, they could mass together and “blow up.”  I remember being with him on a pilgrimage to Israel.  At one point, we were in Jerusalem at the Western/Wailing Wall of the Temple.  The tradition is to write a prayer on a little slip of paper and jam it into one of the cracks between the great stones of the wall.  I wrote a prayer for Fred.

            It is not possible to live forever.  We are mortal.  Our best efforts can’t change that.  But there are things we can do that may extend our years.  Good medical care is essential, along with good diet and exercise.  Self-examinations can alert us to conditions that should be checked by a doctor.  Everyone should be doing them.

            There are of course many kinds of self-examinations.  The body is not the only part of us that warrants an exam.  Christ invites us to make spiritual self-examinations.  Any time is a good time for doing this.  In every worship service, there is a “Prayer of Confession” that provides some material, as well as some silence, for self-examination before God.  In the annual calendar of the Christian church, the season of Lent provides an extended period of six weeks for self-examination in preparation for the events of Holy Week, culminating in Easter.

            Lent has begun.  It began on February 22nd with Ash Wednesday.  Holy Week begins on April 1st with Palm Sunday.  We are smack in the middle of Lent now.  Have you chosen to use this season in some way that may help you grow as a Christian?  Are you giving something up, or taking something on, for Lent?  Are you engaged in some spiritual practice specifically for these six weeks?  Are you making time for reflection and self-examination?  Are there aspects of your life that you are seeking to amend with God’s help?  If not, why not?

            This year, as a way of supporting each other on our Lenten journeys, those who are able will be meeting in the Mendum Room (the church parlor) at 7:15pm each Wednesday, February 29 – March 28.  We will engage in some Bible study, some personal reflection and sharing of our lives, and prayer.  We will use Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew 5-7 as our template.  I hope you will give thought to joining us.  You needn’t be there every Wednesday, come when you can.  If you can’t make it to any of them, I hope you will spend some time with this text on your own.  Read, reflect, journal, and pray.  Self-examination saves lives and souls!