Two days ago, I received word that my professor and friend Robert Webber finally succumbed to his long battle with pancreatic cancer late in the evening on April 27. I mourn his death. When I was a young Christian, his classes at Wheaton College taught me to think deeply about issues of faith. As the years passed, his teaching caused me to think deeply about the expression of faith. His studies on worship have served as a rich encouragement that there remains something profound to be discovered in the deep symbols and ancient voices that have been dismissed from our services. His insight, his passion and the warmth of his friendship linger in my heart.Now his death has added to the lessons I carry. In December, I knew that he was suffering tremendously. On December 9th he was told that he had only days, maybe a few weeks to live. As he wrote in an email, he was an invalid, sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day, unable to bathe, dress, or eat without aid.
"It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives…" Then, remarkably, he experienced improvement. By February, he was living what he called “a practically normal life.” He attributed the improvement to answered prayer, and yet was humble enough to realize that the improvement was for “however long it lasts.” In the last note I received from him, he left a remarkable jewel of insight. Listen to his words:
So, in light of my improvement, how do you pray? I want to ask God to heal me but what if he already has. But, I’m also reluctant to be presumptuous and tell everyone I’ve been healed given the statistical downside of pancreatic cancer and the fact that we are foregoing any definite tests for now, like a MRI, CT scan or PET scan. So, here is how Joanne and I solved our dilemma. We live and pray one day at a time. We pray each day and say, “Thank you God for the healing you gave me today. Please heal me tomorrow.” It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives but it took the threat of imminent death to bring us to this point.
“Thank you God for the healing you gave me today … please heal me tomorrow…” A hush came over my soul the first time I read that. Ever since, that simple phrase has become an echo in my nightly prayer, and, I suppose, a spiritual discipline that has unfolded a closer discovery of God’s gentle grace. What a wonderful treasure, this final gift from a caring friend. As I mourn his passing, I am learning to pray his prayer … with an added word of thanks to God for resurrection that has brought eternal healing to such a dear man.