Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chronic Illness + The Sermon I Needed

Richard Rohr talks often about something he calls “shadowboxing” which is the internal battles of self (the petty, ego-filled, narcissistic, and falliable self) versus divine (goodness, kindness, patience, willingness and humility) we struggle through and necessity of battling our “self”-ishness to become better conduits to something more divine.

I have been battling hard lately–not just the shadows of my own invention but those that seemed physiologically preordained by a mixture of weakened immunity and impoverished DNA.

I am a person not just chronically human but also chronically pained. I have found there is nothing so fully human than pain. And nothing so great a challenge to humility and divinity but the task to deal with daily reverberating crescendos of pain.

Friday night was burned by a physical low point, as the crescendo had reached it’s highest octave and then just stayed there–like a tireless opera singer with lungs for days. With that physical aria came a well of deep self-pity and venom. I decided, rather than expose anyone else to the vitriol of my humanness exposed I would get a lot of sleep, something I had needed a great deal of and had made the mistake of not prioritizing the week prior.

I crashed for over ten hours and woke on Saturday morning to the buzz of my emails piling from the night before. Throughout Lent I have made a habit of reading my beloved Father Rohr’s “Daily Meditation” first thing, before turning anything else on in my house, my brain, or my soul.

I yawned into the day with this bit of wisdom (excerpted from his meditation):

“Without a mythological context, sacred text, or some symbolic universe to reveal the greater meaning and significance of our life, we can become trapped in our own very small story. And in that limited story, without any larger perspective, our wounds can make us into embittered victims. We just keep repeating the story line to ourselves over and over, and soon it suffocates us like a python.
The Jesus way is to embrace our wounds and accept them as the price of the journey. We can choose to carry our wounds with dignity unitl the time comes when we forget why they were so important or debilitating to begin with…I think we carry our wounds until the end; they do not fully go away but keep us humble, patient, and more open to trust and intimacy. The healing lies in the fact that those same wounds no longer defeat us or cause us to harm ourselves or others. My favorite mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, puts it this way, “our wounds become our honors.”

It was the sermon I needed. Even if it wasn’t the sermon I wanted. Carrying our wounds–physical, psychological, and spiritual–with grace, humility, and patience can often be unbearable. When your wounds are literally screeching through the night, excruciating, but also maddening as nails on a chalkboard that never stop their high-pitched howl, it can be hard to remember things like patience, humility, and honorability.

That said, my recent increase in painfulness at a physical level has reinstate a new resolve in delving into my own soul. Maybe pain as a conduit to a deeper level of faith is the honor we can obtain while carrying our wounds, in whatever form they come. I have experienced psychic pain, which took time to repair. The physical pain I struggle with now does not seem to have any upcoming expiration date and so I am trying to sit with “what is” and let the pain draw me more to find God at my side–to imbue my life with a strength not just to weather my own pain but to create more for him of the life, energy ,and mobility I do have.

I know some days will feel like Friday, and I will battle with the shadows of my own making–pity, doubt, anger. I also know that I can wake, rested, to the light of the words God sets before me in this living breathing world.

And I can read a meditation, see something beautiful, feel something heartful and be awakened to the sermon that I need alive in the world around me, even if it is not always the sermon I want.


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