Tuesday, August 25, 2009
PAIN'S LOW TOLERANCE FOR THEORY
I've been thinking about my back pain lately. Which poses a bit of a problem. The thinking part, I mean. Because I've discovered that pain demands to be experienced and perhaps wrestled with more than just theorized about or reduced to some theological formulas (no matter how true and theologically sound).
Some years ago I wrote what I thought was this really impressive talk entitled "Suffering the Rule of Benedict" which I presented as part of a lecture series on the Holy Rule. So the other day I dug it out of my Word file and re-read it, hoping I could publish it here. I found that it was quite accurate and thorough, offering a wide, panoramic view of Benedict's world and of his perspective on suffering in that world. Alas, I was completely turned off by it. It seemed like a lot of theory, generalizations and abstractions. Granted, they were meant to offer a perspective on pain and suffering, but as I read it the other day I experienced a gaping chasm between all that theory and the sharp pain in my back. The talk no longer worked for me.
Maybe someday I'll pass beyond my anti-intellectual stage and become patient once more with the abstractions, but right now, no. If you see the talk posted on my blog at some future date then you'll know that I found a way to bridge the gap.
But right now I'm trying to get in the mood to go to the pain center tomorrow afternoon and have the doctor stick me in the spine (for the first time) with some nasty needle full of steroids or something. Nothing abstract about that! Not much theoretical distancing from pain in that experience. Maybe when I'm lying there on my stomach I'll start to think about the ultimate redemptive value of my suffering in union with the suffering Christ. Or maybe I'll reflect on the perspective on pain offered by Isaiah 53, in the image of the Suffering Servant of the Lord. I'll give it a try.
More likely, though it'll be a lot of short fervent, slightly panicky prayers: "Jesus, stay with me!" "Please don't let it hurt too much!" So much for theological perspective!
"Saint Luke, patron of physicians, pray for us!"