Days of Grace
Days of Grace: Meditation and Practices for Living With Illness
by Mary C. Earle
New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2009
Reviewed by Pegge Bernecker
Author Mary C. Earle greets her readers with a lovely intention: “My hope is that these meditations will offer you, the reader, companionship along the journey of living with illness. You won’t find answers here. Perhaps you will find that you are not walking the way of illness alone” (x).
A spiritual director and Episcopal priest, Earle understands illness from the inside out. In the introduction she writes about living with illness: “We are many. Our lives are shaped by a variety of recurrent, chronic, progressive, or terminal illnesses. We know more about anatomy and blood chemistry than we want to.… We know what it is like to live within the parameters of our illness” (1–2). From this perspective Earle writes thirty brief, meaningful meditations designed to help the reader enter into deeper understanding, compassion, acceptance, and love of God and self. Each meditation includes a reflection from her life experience, a psalm, short prayer, and a spiritual practice.
Days of Grace: Meditations and Practices for Living with Illness is a valuable resource for everyone who lives with illness and for the caregivers and people who offer companionship through friendship, health care, or spiritual direction. Throughout the meditations, Earle offers honesty: “Living with illness sometimes offers us silence. We may become homebound when formerly we went to a workplace” (41); “In a strange way, living with illness often unmasks our latent images of God” (44); “Sometimes living with illness embitters us. Sometimes we fall prey to resentment” (63); “Living with illness takes us into places and situations that can be harrowing” (97). Earle never leaves the reader to feel loneliness or despair. A good spiritual guide, she names truthful reality page after page while gently inviting the reader to notice where love, compassion, and grace can dwell within the experience of chronic or terminal illness.
The introduction is compelling and life-giving. Many people who offer words of “support” with good intentions would be well served to comprehend Earle’s insights. Spiritual directees may suffer deep interior pain and conflict while attempting to reconcile these mistaken beliefs. Earle writes, “Our collective experience is leading many of us to question the predictable ways of responding to illness. I, for one, will be grateful if I never again hear someone suggest that an illness has been directly caused by not thinking correctly, not meditating enough, not eating whatever special diet is being touted.… I also will be relieved when the Christian community renounces the tendency to assume that not getting well means that you are not living in a state of grace” (3). She goes on, “Such responses also call into question our latent images of God. The last thing those of us who live with illness need is one more punitive image of God. And yet often that is what is served up: ‘God is testing you through this illness.’ ‘God must want you to love him more, so he gave your son this cancer.’ ‘God needs another angel, so you will be helping him when you die.’ Oh please” (4).
Days of Grace: Meditations and Practices for Living with Illness is a gift, offering gentle and compelling guidance for spiritual directors, chaplains, compassionate caregivers, and everyone who lives with illness.
Pegge Bernecker is a spiritual director, author, and editor for Spiritual Directors International. Her most recent book is Your Spiritual Garden: Tending to the Presence of God. She lives in Kasilof, Alaska, USA.