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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bad times challenge beliefs of all faiths


By Feroza Jussawalla

On Mother's Day 2001, my son graduated from high school, my husband was offered a prestigious job in a nearby city and I felt a lump in my breast that turned out to be cancer.

It seems to be my lot in life that whenever I have to move, I am diagnosed with cancer. It must be the stress of uprooting. I find myself packing boxes with tubes hanging out of me.This has happened to me again, now, as I was just preparing to move to Ho-no-lulu for another one of my husband's job-related moves. This time, it is a continuation of the previous breast cancer, a papillary serous uterine cancer, the result, they say of having taken either Tamoxifen or Cytoxin and having worked with a stubborn doctor who repeatedly refused to perform a hysterectomy.

In 2001, I survived my cancer by praying in many different religious traditions and following many practices from the native Zoroastrian and Hindu prayers of my childhood to novenas to praying with Silent Unity and Science of Mind and even using Christian Science as best as I could together with medicine.They all gave me a lot of strength.

This spring, I was just about to embark on writing a memoir tentatively titled, "Praying in Tongues," a metaphor for all the various traditions I had used. I was raised in India among Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian friends and went to a Christian missionary school. My mother had gone to a convent school all her life. In India, no one ever objected to the use of many faiths. Jesus Christ, who overturned the money changers' tables at a young age, was our personal friend and savior just like the naughty Krishna who stole butter. They were all the same. You could pray to them interchangeably. Prime Minister Nehru taught us that Hindu and "Musallman," are bhai – bhai (Hindus and Muslims are brothers). The Shirdhi Sai Baba, who was a Muslim doctor, said, "Sab ka Malik ek" ("Everyone's God is one").

This April, just as I was about to move, I went to the doctor for a clean bill of health. When she told me that there were cancer cells and not just any but aggressive ones, in my PAP, the bottom fell out of my many faiths. My reaction was "Bad God!" as though S/He were my friendly, loyal, cocker spaniel biting me when S/He shouldn't have. S/He was supposed to be my best friend; I prayed every time I saw the many icons hung around my house or the garland of medals I wear around my neck. Well, such a best friend never would or should "bite" you! I couldn't be a Job praising God for chastening me. "How dare You?," I thought.

En route to Hawa'i, in a post-hysterectomy wheelchair at L.A. airport, I looked cursorily and curiously at a hardback parading on the new book tables. I cynically banged it shut: "I've done all of this," I thought: "Prayed without ceasing; loved God and what in the world does S/He do to me?" It was that sinking feeling again.

At that moment, what I needed was not faith so much, or the repetition of affirmations (though I'm sure they help), but the understanding that my best friend was in fact right there and not deserting me or not rewarding me because I'd missed a day of prayer. God is all there is, as all the world's religions teach us. He is ever present and in whatever form we choose. Besides S/He is omnipotent! All else is an error in thought and this perhaps, is the only way we can love God by recognizing his omnipotence and oneness, his faithfulness and loyalty.

We also need to forgive Her/Him as with others whom we forgive; S/He can do the best under the particular circumstances leaving some of it to our understanding. If I'm running 24/7 on "rescue remedy," as I was for the past few months, faith isn't going to keep me well. Just like our best friend, with sad eyes, S/He asks "WHY don't you love me? I've done the best I can 'cause I do love you?" All else has got to be an error in thought.

Maybe there is some good in the fact that the few cancer cells were caught early and treated early, even if the treatment feels like hitting an ant over the head with a 2-by-4! And maybe the fact that it was caught early warrants some love in return. My book will now be called "Bad God: Loving God for Better or for Worse, in Sickness and in Health."