God speaks to us, guides us, and shows us his will through the circumstances of our lives.
And sometimes, through our bodies.
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to a deaf world,” as C. S. Lewis put it.
And for me, the pain that shrieks most loudly, insistently, in a voice which cannot be ignored is physical pain.
For almost a year, I had a mystery pain, which was first diagnosed as sciatica, and then as moderate-to-severe arthritis, and spondylolisthesis. It made walking unbearable, and led to a series of expensive visits to physiotherapists, osteopaths and masseurs, first NHS and then private. (Interestingly, it lifted, unbelievably, and miraculously, after a spine surgeon, and Oxford Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery… get this… PRAYED for me in church, and prayed for me with absolute faith!!)
But for a year it dominated my life… ruling out running, and affecting my long walks, my sleep, my travel, my exercise, my happiness, and my usually sunny temperament!
* * *
“Everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person,” wrote Rumer Godden, (a favourite writer of mine, when I was a teenager).
For most of my life, until my early thirties, the intellectual room predominated… I ignored the physical. Then through my thirties and forties, I probably spent the most time and energy, thought and passion in the spiritual room. But last year, pain shouted, the body first.
* * *
The body first? Yes, for it is the home in which mind, spirit, and heart live. And if pain or dread diseases grounds the body in their imperative way, then the other dimensions of a full human, the spiritual, the intellectual and the spiritual are usually similarly crippled.
So for the first time in my life… I am prioritising health, learning about the best nutrition for my body (food as medicine!!). I am doing my sciatica exercises… and yoga. I am doing some meditation too, which as Jon Kabat-Zinn has shown mysteriously reduces physical pain, perhaps by reducing the flight-or-fight response, perhaps by promoting relaxation.
I am paying more rigorous attention to what I eat, and have shed a total of 46 pounds.
* * *
The impressive mega-church founder, Rick Warren, whose success in ministry and evangelism and writing is matched by his legendary generosity, writes
“If you want to change Your life, start with your body.
For change to happen in any area of your life, whether it’s financial, vocational, educational, mental, or relational, you have to begin with the physical.
Why? Because your body affects your behaviour. Your muscles affect your moods and your motivation. Your physiology can actually affect your psychology.”
It’s ironic that it took the megaphone of pain, and an inability to exercise without pain, to decide to put the body first!
Jesus talks of the steep and narrow path that leads to life. I love the Lake District which I visited last year, the Himalayas, and especially the Alps. The gasping, sometimes tedious effort on the steep and narrow paths lead to fabulous wild views we could not have seen any other way. The trick is to enjoy each step, each view on the journey. “Trust what is difficult,” the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote; trust the process, trust that the steep and narrow path will lead to joy.
And so I will continue prioritising changing my body… as a prelude to positively changing all the things that my body affects… my often tired mind, my sometimes cantankerous, and sometimes soaring spirit, and my sometimes cranky and sometimes sanguine emotions!
Wish me luck!
(All photographs taken by me, on my iPhone 6S, in the Lake District, earlier this month).
Some (affiliate) links which helped me, and might help you.