Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017.01.29 Doucement Chérie

Doucement chérie is French for Slow down or Take it easy —more literally, Go sweetly. In Arabic, it has a lullaby lilt—phonetically, Shwaye, shwaye. In Spanish, cuidate or, tellingly, vaya con Dios. In English we might today say, Breathe!  None of this suggests falling asleep.  How can we remain alert and awake and still go doucement?

I have no friggin’ idea.

Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon and quite intense himself, wrote recently in the New Yorker (Jan 23, 2017) about the nature of heroic intervention in medicine: “Tell Me Where It Hurts?” Heroics is the paradigm for surgeons. They set people free and send them home happy, glowing with health and new life—sometimes but not always.

Gawande became fascinated with the work of primary care medicine. How did it work—this unglamorous, long, hard, slow, attentive work of caring over time? Such physicians, it should be noted, are underpaid and overworked.

Interventionist miracle-medicine is excitingly dramatic, but Gawande discovered that the long slow steadiness of incremental treatment over time had better, if less immediate, results: greater longevity, faster healing, more willingness to trust doctors and seek treatment early, just plain happier. Why? Well, duh (an adverb meaning obviously:)!  It’s the relationship that warms and continues to fuel the well being of both physician and patient. They connect. They talk. They communicate. They are not afraid of each other. They get to know each other. Topics other than medicine are not taboo. Really?? Yes, really!!  This is relational medicine. 

There is theological resonance in Gawande’s wisdom. Theology is my own favorite discipline of thought and soul. I mean really who gets orgasmic over theology? I do! How God is and what God cares about matters to me. It’s my spiritual juice.

I remember a New Testament professor in seminary who once practically screamed at us students, “You want to know God’s agenda?”  (I held my pen poised and ready. Now at last I’d know God’s will.)  "It’s Micah 6:8.”  What? Not even Jesus? Not even New Testament?

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Slam bang, that’s it, O mortal. How does one do this and also maintain some kind of slow steady  doucement spirit to the process?  How do you do this and, at the same time, allow for incremental theology, aka primary care spirituality? Hint: you have to be a good juggler.

Here’s some wisdom I keep on my home altar from French Jesuit scientist/theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Please note the three factors that come into play over time— evenly and equally— while we try to live according to Micah 6:8: divine grace, your own good will, and circumstances. No single factor of influence is consistently dominant.

Patient Trust in Ourselves and The Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
     We are quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
    without delay.
     We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being
on the way to something unknown,
     something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
And that it may take a Very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually—
      let them grow
let them shape themselves,
  without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.