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In sickness give us healing

08 May 2015

Jennie Hogan reads of wisdom acquired


The Reluctant Patient:  A journey of trust
Ian G. Wallis
Circle Books £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

THE patience of hospital chaplains must never be underestimated. Sitting by convalescents' bedsides requires genuine compassion but serious concentration also. Listening attentively to narratives of the saved can be at once wearisome and joyful. What may be fascinating details of medical intervention for one can be minutiae ad nauseam for another.

Ian Wallis, a clergyman, tells his own story of recovery. A heart problem was discovered that brought him very close to death. In 12 short chapters, he invites his readers to watch beside him as his breath falters in front of the television; to travel to the operation theatre; and to rest at the sick bed back home a year later. It is written soon after - in parts, during - the drama. The reader becomes the listener, and the narrative a confession; and the book's structure gives shape to the chaos that sudden ill-health creates.

Despite the petty detail, a charming sense of wonder and humility pervades this account. The priest, once stubbornly inconvenienced by sickness, is now vulnerable, weak, and undeniably terrified. Wallis describes, however, the way a "fuller sense of personhood" arose through being a patient - that is to say, a person who suffers and has something done to him. Gradually he, God, and, indeed, his world are transfigured. For instance, he describes with glee "the butteriness of friendship and the zesty freshness of recovery".

It is within the closing chapters, once the dust has settled and the shock has receded, that Wallis offers deeper and more original reflection. As his vision of God enlarges, his sense of vocation is clarified. The new life that is offered is embraced as a new covenant. Moreover, the reality of death redefines the nature of trust and brings him back to God. While not quite Julian of Norwich, Wallis's reflections on the gift of faith and the gift of life may well refresh others on their own long road to recovery.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain to Goodenough College and Associate Priest at St Giles's, Cripplegate, in London.

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