The Spirituality of Sickness

Mark J. Janssen
3 min readMay 25, 2023

The phrase “the spirituality of sickness” does not sound right. Not in our day and age and society. Even after the dreaded Covid years, everything is about being vigorous and healthy and constantly on the move. Marketing programs over the last one hundred years have been built around the idea that we’re supposed to be strong and physically vigorous. Whatever is being marketed, it’s to make us stronger and better. If you have your PF Keds tennis shoes, there’s a newer, bigger, better, more expensive brand of shoes out to make you run faster and jump higher.

Except that’s not the way it works for some of us.

I have spent much of my life in a sickbed. For example, the past week. This is so normal to me that I quit considering it big deal long ago. It’s hard for me to get excited about a sick person when I’m the sickie. I’ve had times when I’ve been stuck in sickbeds for two or three weeks at a time. Barely able to move. Unable to concentrate on what I was attempting to read or the music I was supposedly listening to.

Frankly, I didn’t care.

The theory is that people who are often ill are saintly. Seriously? Are you kidding me? Do you know how much energy it would burn up for me to pretend to feel saintly? No thanks.

Maybe that’s true for people who can think holy thoughts when they are ill. My brain is a sieve when I’m ill. Always has been.

I have enough trouble reading the Sunday New York Times on a good day. This week I ripped through all of my favorite sections. The Times proved, yet again, that the quality of it’s writing has progressively declined over the last three decades. What happened to the solid reporting of the 1970’s and 1980’s when I didn’t fall asleep reading an article? Even when I wasn’t ill? (Are you reading this, Maureen Dowd? A.G. Sulzberger?)

Let’s not confuse either illness or spirituality with an inability to make intelligent decisions.

We must have been told too many fanciful stories of St. Therese of Lisieux — and not enough true stories of Padre Pio — as children to recognize that you don’t have to be famous or a saint to handle ordinary situations well.

The next door neighbor with polio who had almost drowned in a bathtub as a girl and the farmer who lost a limb in a farm accident were the ones whose spirituality helped them carry on. Whatever it was. However they managed. They were ordinary people going on with their lives under extraordinary circumstances.

When I am ill I lose my desire to do anything. I have no desire to get outside and walk. I could live on cheerios or corn flakes and it would be the same as if I were fed lobster or filet mignon. None have any flavor, so why bother?

Television, newspapers and books fail to hold my attention. Not because it’s the same old story once again, which it is all too often. I simply feel like I’ve read it all and seen it all before.

What brings me peace is what has always brought me peace.

Leave me alone. Let me rest and relax with my angels. Let them talk to me. Make me laugh. Keep me company. Help me to sleep.

It has long been my belief that if when you are well you can hear the voices you can hear the voices who speak to you while you are ill — that is, the voices of your angels — you have gone beyond the confines of this life.

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Mark J. Janssen

Mark Janssen is a Catholic Druid, mystic visionary and author who writes a weekly blog. His memoir “Reach for the Stars” is available online.