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Embraced by God

Embraced by God: Facing Chemotherapy with Faith
by Steve Givens
New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2010
105 pages
Reviewed by Carol F. Williams

The diagnosis of a blood disease that can be controlled only by chemotherapy usually reserved for leukemia and other malignancies presents a daunting challenge to one’s faith. While the disease can often be hammered into remission, the patient is never assured that remission means cure. Thus, one lives with the constant reminder that life is contingent, that nothing is permanent, and that the next assault on one’s body may be just around the corner. How can we live with faith in a loving, nurturing, healing God when prayers for healing seem to go unheard? Through twenty-one brief essays, author Steve Givens reflects on his experience of chemotherapy—and his ensuing struggle toward joyful acceptance of life lived in the loving, mysterious embrace of the Divine.

To enter chemo-world means entering a new world. The outside world of violence, economic crises, and natural disasters can be shut out during several hours of treatment. Givens chooses to use this interval as time for solitude and quiet, for meditation, and pondering his relationship with God. A collage of insights emerges centered around the interplay of personal openness to the presence of God and an eternally immanent God who never abandons what his love has created. Each essay ends with questions that ask the reader to identify those things that interfere with the ability to hear God in one’s life, and to act in ways that more nearly conform to God’s will. One hears in each of the questions the nugget of what Givens has struggled to identify as barriers to a close relationship with Jesus.

A prayer closes each essay. Here Givens stands naked before loving Mystery: weak, seeing himself inadequate to what is being asked of him, yet pleading with this One who has always been with him as companion and guide to grant him strength and courage to continue the journey.

The text is enriched with snippets from such spiritual masters as Saint Augustine, Thomas Merton, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Saint Teresa of Avila, and lesser-known sages like Satchel Paige, Benjamin Franklin, and Kyle Matthews. A lively sense of humor weaves through Givens’s writing. While one might expect a pervasive angst in such a book, the writer conveys his own humility and honesty about the human condition in the presence of the Living God; he hears God laughing when we make plans without including God in the planning, and he speaks fondly of the healing that comes from laughter shared with friends and family.

This brief book of essays should provide calming guidance to those who face what can be devastating illness and treatment with an uncertain possibility for cure. Spiritual directors will find guidance into the journey of a soul, and they will gain insight for their spiritual directees who face life-threatening illness or are caregivers to others. Givens has chosen the occasion of his own illness to refocus his own faith and in the process, to discover the mysterious One at the core of his being, the One who brings healing in his embrace, even when cure is not possible.

Carol F. Williams, MAPS, is a retired physician who provides spiritual direction in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

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