More Melanoma Musings and Thoughts on Floundering Faith

Mary Swan-Bell
5 min readApr 29, 2022

I have been struggling lately with several things. Grief, cancer, chronic pain to name a few, but the one that keeps circling in my head is faith, belief in God or some higher power.

Perhaps it’s muscle memory from my Catholic childhood, but when facing hardships, my first instinct is to pray…despite the ambiguous recipient. Maybe a few years of being “on fire for the lord,” and praying with fervor embedded this instinct in my DNA. Perhaps, it’s a deep knowing in me reaching out to a deep knowing in the universe: Namasté. Maybe I’m ambitiously mimicking my friends’ faith, hopeful that mine might return.

Although I’ve been agnostic/atheist/not-religious-but-spiritual for a good part of my life, at times I’ve envied people of faith. Mostly when I wanted to believe some greater power was orchestrating the events of my life. Other times I’ve scoffed at faith when people treated God like Santa Claus. Or worse, when they painted him as a judgmental “father” who ironically hates all the same people they do. My friends do not care about my faith. They pray over and for me. They intercede and “stand in the gap.” They ask, knowing my agostic/athe-ism, “Can I pray for you?” Always yes. Pray, anoint, lay your hands and throw the holiest water on me. I will take it all.

Maybe my impetus to pray is a combination of those things. Except, my prayers do not sound like official Catholic creeds I was taught as a child. No Hail this or I believe in that. They also don’t sound like the Christianese I aspired to fluency in for a few years or my lovely friends’ beautiful prayers. I am skeptical of God’s plan or timing or goodness or call on my life. I blasphemously question if his plan is better because, tbh, I had a pretty good plan and a pretty good life before it was derailed again by this stupid cancer, which rendered me helpless and dependent on my husband. Thank God (and he gets credit again) that I chose well in the life partner department.

My prayers sound more like Anne Lamott’s: Help, Thanks, Wow, and my own: Please. Please is probably my favorite. I’m a stickler for good manners; my children would confirm. They nearly always say, “Yes, please” and “No, thank you” even now that they are nearly grown. I drilled it into them for years: Good manners was the hill I chose…

Mary Swan-Bell

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