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Cloud of Witnesses

by Deanna A. Thompson

 I have to admit that in life before cancer, I had a dim view of the Internet’s ability to bring people together. Living and working with others constantly connected to digital tools left me skeptical that any new relational depth was being plumbed through our wired lives.

Then I got sick. Really sick. In a matter of months, I went from being a healthy 41-year-old religion professor, wife, and mother of two to a virtual invalid with a broken back, a stage IV cancer diagnosis, and a grim prognosis for the future.

To keep family and friends updated during the early days following the diagnosis, my brother created a Caring Bridge site for me, a website dedicated to connecting people with serious illnesses with those who care about them. News of my diagnosis spread quickly; just as quickly loved ones signed up to receive my Caring Bridge postings. From my narration of what stage IV cancer had done to my body to the grief of having to resign from my very full and wonderful life, each of my posts was met with dozens of postings to the Caring Bridge site, as well as additional emails, cards, packages, visits and calls from people from all corners of my life. I started to realize that through our connectedness via Caring Bridge, I was being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses greater than any I could have imagined before.

Thus it is through this cancer journey that I’ve been awakened to a new—indeed, almost mystical—understanding of the church universal, mediated through what I’ve come to call the virtual body of Christ; that is, the body of Christ incarnated in, with, and through the power of sites like Caring Bridge. And my experiences of God’s grace mediated through a website have led me to want to tell a new story about an ancient concept: the church universal.

Deanna Thompson is professor of religion at Hamline University and member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, both in St. Paul, Minnesota. This article is adapted from her latest book, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace (Cascade Books, 2012). visit her website www.hopingformore.com (or www.facebook.com/ DeannaAThompson) to follow “Grace Blog,” Deanna’s weekly posts about cancer, faith, and grace.

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