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Speech by Carla Rueckert

May 1993

Carla: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Good morning, everybody.

When I had the honor of being asked to offer this meditation today, I accepted first and only then had to think what I wanted to say. My first draft didn't work because I wasn't really talking from myself personally—it was more philosophical. And impersonal. But that gave me the realization that if I were going to talk to you with authority, I simply needed to share some remarkable events in my own life, to talk about the wonderful things that God has done for me. Because I am a walking testament to the power of healing in prayer.

Let me set the stage. I have been ill on account of some chronic condition since I drew my first breath. I got rheumatic fever at two years old, and the doctor told my mother then that it had affected every organ in my body. So it is not surprising that my kidneys failed when I was 13. I very nearly died—had a near death experience which left me in no doubt that there is a heaven and a God—and by the time I came out of it two weeks later, rheumatoid arthritis had set in to virtually every joint in my body. Lupus and fibromyalgia have also been diagnosed.

I was a school librarian and researcher. By 1976 I was virtually disabled, but my employer was satisfied with what little I could do. By 1978 I was ready to admit that I was handicapped.

During the course of the next 14 years I had twelve operations on wrist and knuckle joints and other hand surgery, and six on my feet. I had gradually become unable to Jazzercise, and then walking became painful and when my doctor told me that I was chronically going to be in this much distress, and here were pills for pain, well, I went home and used them carefully. Over a long period of time, those pain pills ate at my GI tract and along with the arthritis, I had 10 years of gastric distress, alleviated in that momentous hospital stay of February and March of '92. A little over a year ago Now, I have always been a very spiritually-minded little person, even as a small child. In fact, my mother had a baby book in which she dutifully recorded my first word was "light". Not mama, not papa. . . When I got sick as a teenager, I was seriously looking for a way to be of service. I did not find out what my service was to be. I simply found out, in that near-death experience, that there was service to render, if I were willing. Well, I was willing, and I have always felt that I am alive today because of that decision made while I was supposedly dead, to come and serve here.

I am a mystic, I see God in everything. I love the kitchen because I feel the life and love in the food I handle. One of the things I always hated about being unable to use my hands was that I couldn’t cook. This really helped me as a limited person, because I could see the divinity in the most familiar and humble things. If I stayed in one place a great deal; if I was wheel-chair-bound, as I was for over a year in 1991 and 2, my husband had to press the buttons down on the tape recorder so that I could communicate to students and friends, yet still I felt vital inside, and experienced a great richness of living that cannot be described. Let me just say that I understand why recluses shut themselves off from the world. There is a quality to the degree of pure contemplation achieved as a still and unmoving person which I would think almost impossible to attain while living a vertical life.

So I’m not saying that I necessarily felt in need of being rescued from this illness. Sometimes life got me down, but not particularly my limitations. But when the process of inner healing began, I was amazed. And prayer had everything to do with it.

I had seen the Lord in redemptive action many times, as head of Calvary Episcopal Church’s Intercessory Prayer Group. Cancer seems especially prone to prayer healing, or perhaps it is just that cancer is prevalent. But really all sorts of miracles, babies somehow pulled through impossible births, wonders aplenty. I was witness to being the unlikely answer to a small parish in Georgia's prayer for a choir. I was only there, near Atlanta, for 5 months. I was scheduled to sing at St. Philips’ Cathedral, which has a very fine choir on the order of Calvary's but with more funds.

But I kept being drawn to this little Church of the Holy Spirit near me at Lake Lanier, where we lived. Midweek communion found me there most weeks, and when it came time to join St. Philips, I couldn't.

There was, of course, no choir at Holy Spirit. I met one of the vestrywomen at Jazzercise my first week there, and she invited me to Holy Spirit. A mission church, the tiny building was set upon a high foothill, overlooking sweeping pastureland and eventual forested heights in the distance. My voice is pure boy soprano, so you can imagine how I sounded, but when the priest asked me to sing a little hymn verse or two to go with the Collection and to give him time to clean up after Communion, I agreed.

This congregation was without a single cradle Episcopalian, which I am one of. You can always tell us, we do odd things the parish doesn't, or vice versa as if marching to a different drummer. . . We are—our sixth-grade Sunday School teachers' who prepared us for the first communion all year. So I was reassuring to them all. They didn't know our hymns, and just hearing them was helpful. Eventually, enough people got interested to form a small choir, and the next couple of weeks saw me outta there.

And I have seen my own service flower within me, spring forth from me, without ever making any conscious effort except to hope to be able to help people. Even when I was at my most limited, I could work with my students and readers—I write books—by putting down my responses to their questions on tape letters. I write and do inspired speaking or channeling, from what I believe to be angelic sources, and offer meditations. My hope is to reach unchurched Christians, or unchurched people in general, and offer Christ-oriented teaching, but in words as free as possible from dogma.

My priest, Father Ben Sanders, calls this the gift of discerning spirits, and as my spiritual counselor, keeps an eye on me! For which I am profoundly grateful. I do not take the gift lightly.

At any rate, what I'm saying is that even at the depths of my unwellness, at Christmas of '91, when Dana was on her first enquiring trip here—stand up, Dana, this is my friend, Dana Barker Biviano, from New Jersey, my grandmother's hometown, Plainfield.

When I was so ill, I could not feel the upper part of my back and hands, and could not move them, when I did not know if I would be able to keep on breathing, I found myself praying one thing, over and over.

It goes, roughly, "For if we live, we live in Christ, and if we die, we die in Christ, so whether we live or whether we die, we are in Christ and Christ is in us." At least once a minute, I was praying that prayer.

Again, I am not saying that I was not experiencing much health at this point. My consciousness of the wonderful joy of life had been fed all along by my going to church, taking part in the functions, even when they were not giving me anything I could feel consciously. I had been fortunate enough to be at our diocese’s youth camp in 1956 when Bishop Marmion was, I won't say 'active', because he never missed a day when he quote retired, end quote, but perhaps in office would be better. I had just discovered—yes, I was 13, this was just before the kidney failure—that I really couldn't buy the virgin birth—health and biology classes at school tore that theory right up, I thought. So I talked to him about it when I was the only camper that showed up at his evening teaching session. I told him I was afraid I was going to have to leave the church because I couldn't say the creed.

He said, "I have trouble with that one myself."

I stared at him just agape. "Well, how do you say the creed," I asked.

"In hope," he said back, and as quick as that, I saw the beauty of faith. Then he wagged his big, hairy warning finger at me. "Don't you dare ever leave the church," he said. "You'll never find people to talk to about Christ unless you are inside the church."

I never forgot that, and it has certainly stood me in good stead ever since. I think that so very much of a life lived in faith revolves around the simple decision to stay in the church, or in the life you have in general, in a larger sense, pretty much no matter what, and assume—dare to assume—that this is what is meant to be. This that I am experiencing now, even if I am suffering—and from all I can tell, especially when we're suffering, is OK, is going to turn out all right.

Through the years, I gradually could do less and less for the church, but I kept on going, sang in the choir, and the disciplines of the church year kept me on an internal gyro that was not at the mercy of men but of God. I know that the regular worship as part of Calvary's community of faithful people was greatly responsible for my balance, such as it was, throughout my long period of great limitation, just as it is for me now that I am trying to learn a whole new way of life.

And after Cursillo, in 1983 I was inspired to set up the Intercessory Prayer Group, now in its tenth year, so you can see how long I have been interested in furthering the whole concept of our getting more Christ into our lives, spending time with that one relationship, and the companion relationships to the Holy Spirit and to the Father. And further back than that, I began holding meditations in 1974, and wanted to be a nun when I was 12, so you see, this piety streak goes way back. I prayed my way through my trials, and never felt anything from God had been withheld.

But at a point, when I had been lying motionless in bed trying to breathe and praying every minute, literally, for some time, a peace came abruptly and completely over me. It did not interrupt the pain, but at that moment, I knew that something had changed.

Something had really changed.

There were no results immediately. I had an emergency trip to the hospital to make sure that I was not headed for permanent paralysis—I found out that although both nerve roots from between the first and second vertebrae were inflamed and swollen, badly injured, the spinal cord was undamaged. So I was allowed to get up and move around, to try to walk. The last instructions from my doctor had been, "Rest until it gets better," and it had never gotten better, so I under-exercised myself to the point of almost becoming unable to move! I was profoundly grateful to have something to fight for, some hope to keep.

So I didn't even go home after the colon surgery. I went straight to Frazier Rehab—an ambulance to get you across the street, can you imagine it?—and started in on my trial by fire.

When I was admitted, I could not bear the pain of raising my hand above my shoulder, of doing anything harder than using a fork with my fingers. I never lifted anything. My husband dressed me and washed my hair when he washed his. I felt like a Barbie doll. In nine days, and eight sleepless nights, they had me challenging every one of those limitations. On the last day, my husband came and spent the day with me, going through each one of my exercises, learning how to help me try to get vertical.

When I would go to bed at night, I could not sleep, ever. I think the most sleep I ever got in a row during that stay at Frazier was one and a half hours. The pain of getting frozen joints moving again was indescribable. And the repeated evaluations all involved range of motion tests, which were likewise close to unbearable.

But ever since that moment, praying the Christ prayer, utterly marinated in Christ, my world full to bursting of Christ and joy, love and light, I had felt a new and unutterable peace. I was willing to try anything. I could never find the first doubt. So while it was a time of suffering difficult to remember or describe, it was also a season in the heaven within that is one's own by the grace of the Holy Spirit, of Christ within and Christ beside. I remember saying to my room—mate, a truculent hip surgery patient who taught me by example exactly why it is not a good idea to ignore the advice of doctors that give you painful news of must-do exercises for recovery—saying to her, "Beanie, if we make it through this, we can testify to the Lord’s power. We can say, 'Look what Christ has done for me! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, and it will be glorious!'" Well, Beanie never did quite catch fire with that idea, but I did. I was suffering with agony as bright as a fire, awakening nerves, greeting disused muscles, and at the same time was almost in an ecstasy. I remember one night talking for hours, sharing God-talk and Jesus-talk with a night nurse. We had a joyful time sharing our faith, and I remember thinking, "The Bishop was right . . .” What I learned was that I had been doing everything wrong, and not doing anything I should do. Sins of omission and commission. My Jazzercise appealed to the dancer in me, but not to my joints—over the years, continued hopping around had driven all the synovial tissue from my joints and they were all dry, bone on bone. And I had not kept upright and vertical as much as humanly possible. It hurt so much, and the doctor had said, "If it hurts too much, then you must rest." Over the years, everything had come to hurt too much. Now a group of doctors whose work I had known for years from praying for people at our church and so really respected, told me to get up and give it a try anyway.

In my state of consciousness, which was very blessed, it seemed entirely proper and even excellent and cheerful, that I be going through this. I felt like I was dying, and then I would think, "No, you are being reborn." How I prayed! Not just thanksgiving, or just intercession, or praise, but anger, hurt, humiliation, all the negative parts of living through an experience of this nature. How I raged at God. This isn't fair!" I would rail at Him. And just as roundly bless His holy Name a few moments later. It was a tumultuous time.

Gradually, day by day, I began one year ago to carve out for myself a vertical life. When I was healthy, 22 years ago, healthy enough to work, anyway, it had been a whole different world. I did not drive for all of my active life, and only learned to drive after I was somewhat handicapped. Ladies, let me tell you it is a whole other world for a woman who has a car to drive and is active.

In June I went back to Frazier for a three week course in pain management. During these three weeks I was taught about everything from how best to schedule my day to how to sit for the least strain on your back to how to diet according to my needs. Dozens of topics were covered. I had been a student of medication for most of my life, but this was re-stressed by the Frazier group as a key to recovery, along with relaxation, visualization and other stress-relieving practices which take the place of pain medication. The theory of pain management is that in cases of patients with longstanding chronic pain, the symptom of pain is not informative. Therefore it should be to a great degree ignored, though dealt with and accommodated as much as possible.

Again, my husband and best friend, Jim McCarty, came down for the last full day, and tried to learn as much as possible about how to help me. When I went home from this trip, the recovery really blossomed. I had gotten some sleep—not a lot, but maybe half of each night, this time; I had driven several places by myself in the process of taking the Saturday off from the hospital to go home and practice my new techniques, and was feeling more confident than at the beginning, when I had been stunned and almost disbelieving that any of this was possible, even, I'd thought for so long—and my body insisted—so differently!

The kitchen, my love of cooking, was what really served me in my recovery. When I still could not bear to stand long enough to take communion and was receiving it from my wheelchair, I was able to hold on to the counter and the stool and the stove and cook. By the way, I've gained several sizes in clothing this year, eating my own cooking and loving being healthy enough to gain weight!

. . .The vertical time there resulted in not only food for the mouth but food for the muscles, simple exertion. Luckily, my husband was glad enough of being relieved of the cooking chores that he allows me to cook lots of something and eat on it for days, so I can keep up with the cooking. I don't have to cook a whole meal each night.

He is great to make that adjustment for me. But one thing I want to point out today is that the woman's movement is a generation old now, and men are a lot further along than we often give them credit. My husband did—and still does- the great bulk of housekeeping, because I simply get just so far with things. He used to do it all. Now, he got aggravated with it, as who wouldn't, but he never made me feel that he thought it was women's work. Never. I don't think we as church women can say, any more that we do it all, that men don't take part in the support of the more domestic concerns of the church. We have men on the altar guild now! As well as women in the clergy, the vestry, the committees. I think we are more truly equal now than we ever thought to experience, and I think our sons and daughters face a growing new social equality, as the conquering of the earth's strength comes to an end and the nurturing of her maturity and the illnesses we have inflicted upon earth grow to maturity. Men as well as women are now sensitive in great and growing numbers to the plight of our planet and its peoples, and this will make such a change that within a century, I cannot imagine how things will be. The computer, too, equalizes men and women, because it utilizes the power of intelligence rather than merely the power of physical strength. And the powerful consciousness of young women today, who grew up asking guys out on dates and not being afraid to sound smart, is as able to fulfill ambition and go after things as any aggressive male. So sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't be encouraging men to form groups such as this—church men united. Groups that gather together across all boundary lines that you can name except sex, to worship in brotherhood. I think some do exist, but you don't hear of them, at least I haven't heard lately about any active ones locally.

When I first got vertical, I really wondered whether the active life was as good as the contemplative, reclining life I had led for so long. It is amazingly hard to remember that Jesus said, "My peace I give to you," when you are in Kroger's and someone cuts you off as you are getting into line to check out. I missed the opportunity to spend long hours working on one tape letter to one student, getting everything I could out of myself as a teacher, and really cherishing my students. I missed those long and cozy reads I would have, days when I was allowing myself the luxury of watching old, romantic movies on the cable.

But gradually, I became a bit more used to the appallingly fast rate of speed everyone keeps going these days. Ladies, do you realize how fast we eat up the days? It seems that the clock keeps going faster and faster and faster, until days, weeks, even months just melt. What happened to them, we wonder. How could they have flown away so fast? I took my car, Topsy, out on the expressway a few times and got over my deep fear of speed. Now I'm just nervous, really nervous.

I got back into my church work more and more. I picked up the prayer group again, which I had had to let lapse since the previous November. I rejoined the choir, rejoined the Bach Society—I'd been singing in church choirs since I was four years old, and in Calvary's choir and the Bach Society since I was 24 or 25. I intended not to join the Episcopal Church Women's chapter at Calvary for a year at least, but then got tapped for Secretary in the '93 election. It was at one of their meetings that Alice Lucille Martin spoke, and asked me to talk to you.

So I am getting a chance to witness to you of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am thrilled to be here, and to be speaking these true words to you: the Lord is mighty and He has created a miracle in me of new life.

Praise the Lord!

We, along with the more and more feminized males of the new generation, are at the heart of Christ's body on earth. Our hands do all the things God cannot do. Our healing touch soothes child and lover, failing parent and life-mate. Our ministries of parenting and the nurturing of our organizations, in church and in [the] world, make the difference for Christ in this world. Christ has never needed us more. We can do whatever we find ourselves inspired to do, to be one of those who is trying to help. But in addition to the activity of trying to help in church work, in celebrations together such as this one and in all we do, we can help in what I am convinced is the most profound and meaningful way a Christian can, by living the prayer without ceasing, as much as possible in our own lives.

The power of prayer is invisible, yet somehow it is the strongest help, the most effective resource we can have, especially when things get tough. I believe that when we pray for help, we do receive it, just as much of it as we are given the destiny and the grace to experience. I do not believe we can deserve this grace, but I believe it is given to us anyway, and that miracles such as happened to me will happen, to anyone, any time. I believe that with God, anything is possible.

And I believe that when we are aware of the power of prayer in our own lives, and avail ourselves of it regularly, we become more and more aware of the web of love that surrounds each one of us, not just from angels and ministers, but from the many, many people that pray for us when we are in need of prayer help. I'd like to leave you with a poem I wrote about this web of loving prayer that I wrote during a marvelous vision I had in the wee small hours of

I was sleepless on my pillow, praying, and I became aware that I was sort of seeing something. I looked within, wondering, and gradually I saw two bright, tiny lights flickering, like warning lights seen through a fog at sea. Somehow, I knew they were my uncle and aunt, Christian Scientists who often prayed their way through their own wide-awake night hours. Once I saw them, I was able to see an increasing number of these tiny lights, more and more of them, thicker and thicker, until I knew I was looking at millions of lights, against the inside of my closed eyelids.

The next time you feel helpless to help: pray. The next time someone slights you, pray for that person. The person lashing out is in pain. You can help. The next time you are destructive to yourself, pray. Turn to the freedom of prayer, to the joy of expressing your feelings to the one most important 'person'—or entity in your life. The life that you experience from this standpoint is so full of peace and honesty, and life springs with so much more lightness and joy—sufferings are easier to bear, and burdens so much easier to carry. Prayer heals the healer first, and we all are healers who need that healing before we can be our most effective at reaching out with our healing touch to others.

May each of you turn within and feel that healing touch of Christ within, that pressure of communication, of the still small voice that speaks in silence and mystery, and gives us strength to do all things in His blessed Name. Amen.

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