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Carl S. Dudley

Carl Dudley, faculty emeritus, has been successfully dealing with congestive heart failure for a year until a very rare form of heart-related cancer sent him to a specialist in Boston.  He is on a chemotherapy regime back at home in Hartford, but shared this scriptural study from his hospital experience. 

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How to fight back

By The Rev. Dr. Carl S. Dudley

My reason for coming to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in December is that Hartford Hospital sees only about one patient like me every year or two, while I have moved to a world center for my illness, Amyloidosis, that sees about 200 patients a year, with Dr Rodney Falk as director. That just makes this biblical study even more amazing. Here’s how it unfolded.

As I moved into my hospital setting, Rebecca, our ordained student-activist daughter, was with us from Belfast, and she with our son Nate from Brooklyn urged me to re-study Psalm 139:
"O Lord thou searched me and know me
Thou know when I sit down and when I rise up... "etc

That is, they said, sit down more often and rise up accompanied by the Lord. Good words. Somewhere in this conversation the world famous Dr Falk walked in and we heard his less than promising medical news. In that context the kids told him of their biblical-medical prescription for their Dad. He said he had a dentist friend with Psalm support so he was glad to have a text of his own.

The conversation continued the next day when Dr Falk initiated the discussion to say that Becky had a poor or weak translation (RSV). He said that it was too much like modern Hebrew, when those words in the 1st century would be (he quoted the Hebrew text and two Biblical scholars):
WHEN I SIT DOWN (ישב yashab) = when I withdraw into my safe shelter (home)
WHEN I RISE UP (קום qum) = when I prepare for battle with my enemy

Dr. Falk liked his translation better since a safe shelter with family support is more than just resting, and it is better to be fighting this disease rather than just standing up to accept your fate. We had a very personal and highly energized conversation.

I took it another step when talking with my former colleague, Old Testament scholar and life-long friend, Ted Campbell (Edward F. Campbell). Ted enjoyed the idea of this biblical discussion in such an elite medical setting.

In Ted’s view Dr. Falk was on target with an excellent translation (he added the Hebrew words above and below), plus he said:

a) The word for KNOWING (ידע yada`) in the first line is derived from the word for “covenant” implying a long-term, intimate relationship of mutual commitment rather than technical or informational knowledge.
b) The word for ENEMIES (איבים oyebim) later in the text is not just the warriors of another nation, but anything that disturbs the peace or wholeness of community or individual life – like an illness!

In our next conversation Dr. Falk agreed with Ted's comments, which he felt were parallel to his understanding of the Deuteronomic prayers in his Hebrew temple liturgy. That was the first mention of his religious affiliation – he is an Orthodox Jew and Hebrew is his hobby. He has many resource books randomly stacked in his study at home (much to his wife’s dismay, he noted).

Later the same day, when I received a note of prayerful support from my old friend, Jack Wertheimer, a Jewish scholar and former provost of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, I told Jack the story. He loved it like I did. But then I had to warn Dr. Falk that we might have scrambled his reputation in the Orthodox community.

Our brief hospital study of Psalm 139 now yields three new layers of meaning:
o Nathan and Rebecca’s medical prescription for resting and then rising in the Lord.
o Dr. Falk’s enrichment of retreating in the sheltering love of family and then putting on the medical armor to fight this disease, with his help.
o And Ted’s interpretation of knowing as a communal commitment, and together to fight for a common cause -- rather like a “Barack Obama strategy” since he sees problems (like illness), not personal enemies, and tries to create communities to fight them.

Yes, Amyloidosis is an ugly "enemy" but I certainly have the best care of body and soul, and I love seeing all my family— like the 139th Psalm: this is my safe space, and together we fight the first round offense.

As chemotherapy begins, we are supported with the calls, visits, and prayers across the country and beyond, enriched by the depth and pastoral care of an amazing scholar-pioneer physician, Dr Rodney Falk.




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