An email, a prayer, a lighted candle

So, I’ve been doing a lot of running lately while I wait for an increased medication dose to kick in to tackle the seizures I seem to have every time I get on my bike.

On Saturday, I did manage to get in the saddle for a slow paced 30 miles, taking it extra easy. And I didn’t have a seizure. Then yesterday I went for a decent paced run and had a seizure 25 minutes in.

This is what is impolitely known as a kick in the balls.

Maybe God was punishing me.

At exactly the time the seizure kicked in I was thinking – and not in a good way – about those people who emailed following my diagnosis to say something along the lines of: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to pray for you”.

Because guess what, I do mind. I mind because, to me, your God isn’t worth a pimple on my arse.

If God did exist, I’d be immensely angry with him right now. Not a Job-like stoical ‘whatever your will, thy kingdom come’ type anger, but more like a ‘if you ever come near me I’m going to smash your face in’ type anger.

In the absence of the existence of God, those who promise to pray for me will have to – I hope you don’t mind – take a share of the rage I would otherwise have reserved for Him.

While you’re on your knees praying, please consider this.

You wouldn’t have to pray for me, would you, if your God hadn’t buggered it all up in the first place? If you believe in prayer, in the ability to petition and change outcomes by asking God for favours, you have to believe that God exists and has the power to intervene.

And if God has the power to intervene, what the Hell is He thinking allowing my brain tumour in the first place? What’s the deal with the loss of a father by two faultless children, the loss of a best friend, husband and partner to a wife with whom I have built my life?

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.

It’s funny that the majority of those who so readily tell those of us afflicted by tragedy that God works in mysterious ways display exactly none of that wonder, mystery or opaqueness about the will of God when it comes to how much he hates gays, or stem cell research, or abortion, or women ministers.

Suddenly, there’s no mystery at all. Suddenly it’s a whole lot clearer.

Do you really think a reassuring and moving response to my condition is to tell me – if I don’t mind – that you’re about to go and suck up a bit more to the very God who you believe is allowing this to happen in the first place?

And that’s just my brain tumour. Don’t get me started on the hurricanes, the poverty, the malaria, the child soldiers, the Saturday evening television schedule.

The truth is, I think your prayers are a waste of time. Not because God doesn’t exist and I don’t believe prayer works (or even know what prayer working means).

But because it literally is a waste of time: minutes and hours that you could be spending, since you’re so keen to do something, raising money for brain tumour research, or being with your family, making peace with those you have fallen out with, or helping someone who really needs real practical help from a real, physical person.

The truth is you want to pray for me because it makes you feel better. It can’t be because you think it’ll cure my brain tumour (it’s already very clear that’s not going to happen). You want to do something because you feel as helpless as the rest of us, and your prayer and a ‘whatever your will’ to God will make that feeling go away.

An email, a prayer, maybe even a lighted candle. Job done. (Yes, that is supposed to be a pun).

Prayer implies you’re better than me. That you know something that I don’t. That you have the light and enlightenment and certainty. That I’d be as good as you if only I let God into my life and joined you on my knees too. You’ll pray for me because I won’t pray for myself.

Well, if that’s the way you feel about me, you can keep your prayers. I mind.

But all that is to even engage with the idea of God and prayer; to give these ideas the credit of existence and worth. Thanks to Darwin and Dawkins and Hawkins, my own Holy Trinity if you will, we don’t have to worry about that silly nonsense anymore.

Or as Michael Chabon more succinctly put it: if God is so great, how come we sometimes experience the excruciating pain of biting our cheek when we eat?

By the way, in case you’re wondering with what knowledge and authority I write these heretical things, it may surprise you to know I have a degree in theology. If anything is going to make you lose any faith you did have, it’s spending three years of your life subjecting the bible, religion and belief to critical study and exegesis.

See, I even know what the word exegesis means.


I see my neurologist tomorrow for an update on my drugs and general wellbeing. Should be pretty routine, but it’s an opportunity to regale him with tales of my seizures, my stomach ulcer and my emerging hypochondria.

That’s if I get there without being struck down by lighting, of course.


  1. 28 February1967. My Absolute, exact feelings. Why a non drinking, hardworking father and husband who’s greatest crimes were working too hard to support his family, and maybe pushing his kids a little too hard to over achieve. Why not the evil ones, the lazy, the ones who neglected their kids? I would not enter a church, and a couple of years later refused point blank to enter any on a trip to the French/Belgian trenches. A million or more white headstones, many without name stood in my support, as we all remained stoically outside, welded together in our loss and anger.Time has given me the opportunity to forgive, and I now have faith though don’t press it on others. 2001-2012, I am rewarded with cancer in two of my three children, one who’s recovery would be better than a miracle and he doesn’t believe in those. Luck, fairness, life, faith. Which if any play a part? Is there a great lottery machine and when your ball bounces, your choices are over? I think we can only make the most of what we have, and should all live as if today is the last. My motto, Today is the first day of the rest of your life–however long or little that may be.

  2. Hi Gideon, I m a friend of your wife’s, and 3 years ago I had cancer too. I just wanted to say how much your blog today has made me smile. Spot on. Keep writing, it’s immensely helpful to me and therefore I suspect many others of us who have been affected by this crappy disease. Susan

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