My headache begins with a dull tension at the back of my skull.
Here it comes, I think.
It’s not enough to warrant ibuprofen yet, but enough to signal to me that something’s up. I push the tension aside and focus on other tasks of the day. Soon the dull tension rises to a throb behind my left eye (always the left!), and I reach for the pill bottle. Down the hatch goes the capsule and I wait the obligatory twenty to forty minutes, and begin to sense the pain ease up.
I wasn’t raised in a world to understand that curing is a process of preserving food. It makes a static state. It is helpful! Curing ensures that meat is smoked, fruits and vegetables are dried, and that necessary nutrients I need to ingest as part of my survival last throughout slim seasons. Cures are an integral part of my life.
Only…I am wholly reliant on cures as a person. Rarely do I look towards healing. For me, the two are interchangeable. They are one and the same. The little turquoise blue I swallow makes the head pain go away. I’m able to function and to carry on. Everybody wins.
Why, then, does it take so long for me to ask myself: When was the last time I had a full glass of water? How long have I been out in the sun? How much sleep did I get last night? How much stress am I under? What kinds of food have I been eating?
Perhaps if I’d remembered to hydrate myself first before jumping to a pill, I would have discovered that there was no need for a cure. My body was pleading “More water!” And while the pill managed the pain, water would have also managed the pain was well as nourished cells, aided digestion, emotional stability, breathing, and so many other systems in my body.
A cure preserves a desired state. Healing calls me into transformation.
There’s a story about Jesus healing a lame man who lived by a mystical pool. This man had been lying by the pool for thirty-eight years. According to legend, an angel stirred the waters each day and the first person who made it into the pool afterwards would be healed. Being unable to move very fast, the man remained lame and beside the pool, failing each day to enter the waters.
I was always taught that the man was feeling sorry for himself. Unless he wanted to be well, he would never be well. Unless he chose to put his mind to it, he would always be the cause for his own suffering.
It took a long time for me to unravel the truth from the not-so-true in that story.
The context from which this story was retold to me always placed the blame on the person for not being faithful enough, desiring enough, believing enough. It saw healing as a means to a cure. If the man would just “—” (try harder, move faster, believe more, etc), he would be well!
…being relieved of lameness would not have meant healing.
Who was going to mentor this man into a trade? Who was going to welcome this man into their homes? Who was going to embrace this man into family? Who was going to learn from this man? See him as an equal?
I often like to place personal responsibility on the parts of the broken in Jesus’ stories. I need to find a cause, a reason to legitimise blame, a source of angst that would treat healing as a magic bullet. One touch from Jesus and not only is the ailment gone, but the entire world is magically perfect! I return to a state of (my definition of) normalcy and all is right with the world.
If the man takes responsibility for his own healing.
How could I forget that this man had been trying to be well for thirty-eight years?
How could I forget that, of all people, this man knew best his marginalisation, his rejection, his failures, and his own faith?
How could I forget that facing the fear of trying to integrate back into society would have been as terrorising as facing more days alone by a pool?
How did I miss all of that so completely?
Healing is slow spirituality. It does not make God into a magician or a puppeteer, as Joan Chittister writes. Too often we see God as divinely acting in the world without our choice and we suck it back or die (magic); or we see ourselves as marionettes being pulled about on strings, limited in action but living in the illusion of control (puppetry). In all of it, society teaches me that if I don’t take personal responsibility for every single step, even the steps cosmically out of my control, then I really don’t want to be healed.
Oh the freedom of discovering the complexity of healing.
Instead of zapping my one area of pain with divine electricity and preserving an idealised state, healing beckons me to choose the more fearful path: the chance that my localised ailment may not be made well in the way I would have chosen it to be, but the whole of who I am can be transformed and nurtured and grown. Community is opened up, my interior world is opened up, God is opened up and slow shifts in perception begin to grow from the roots.
I’m not saying to anyone “Stop reaching for the pill bottle!” That would be foolhardy. Cure have their place.
But in a world that uses a process to dry meat as a way to make ourselves feel better, the call to healing is radical. It means choosing healing each day when I can’t face the world, and each night when I’m confronted with broken dreams and battered hope.
Joan Chittister writes, “To live bent on conversion is to live welcoming of the tomorrow that is already in embryo, rather than to attempt to cement today into eternity. Conversion does not expect to settle down, it expect only to become new over and over again.” (Scarred by Struggled, Transformed by Hope, p.25).
For me, to live bent on healing means to widen my gaze beyond what might only stop pain. It means to relieve myself of the responsibility to blame what I perceive are the causes of my — and the world’s — angst. It means believing that is more being called into existence than my own cause and effect perception.
It means choosing the fearful unknown, getting up, and walking.
It means living slowly.
It means acknowledging pain in the fully light of day and choosing growth and transformation, however incremental, and living into that light.
Slow, slow spirituality.