Claire is a moral philosopher, theologian, national expert on environmental and medical ethics, and director of the Westminster Abbey Institute which works to revitalise moral and spiritual values in public life. 2 years ago she was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood, with a stark prognosis that she’ll die in about 10 years. Through the first year of brutal treatment, she wrote raw, honest letters to her siblings and a small group of friends, now published in the book ‘Miles to go before I sleep’. And, in doing so, Claire discovered that facing her own mortality was, in fact, surprisingly liberating.
The book is not for the faint-hearted (brace yourself for the absolutely unflinching section charting her Stem Cell Transplant) but it feels like a real privilege to, in a very small way, walk with her.
She talked about what it’s like to have such a shocking diagnosis – how she confronted and continues to confront it. How much the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich (the subject of Claire’s doctorate) has been a companion on the journey, her revelations on pain and suffering and where God can be found and felt in it all, seeming so often to chime with Claire’s experience.
And she’s very honest about faith not always being much of a ‘comfort’, as many would describe it in similar circumstances, but also the great strength she’s found, at the especially awful points, in being able to be seeringly honest with her closest friends, and asking them to pray for her, and the whole new plane of meaning she’s found in those liminal moments.
Do listen to Claire as she talks to me on Travellers’ Tales – you’ll meet someone determined to properly and fully live the life available to her, and you’ll experience the human spirit at its most gloriously defiant.
’Still, I will not let cancer be the cause of bitterness. I have discovered there are many miles to go before that final sleep, and the miles we walk actively create meaning — and the meaning is beautiful’
I lead the Eco Church team in our church - if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a brilliant award scheme to help Christians of all denominations to engage, in both practical and spiritual ways, in caring for God’s creation.