God often 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.
I have had a mystery pain which surfaces and recedes since November, diagnosed as sciatica (or perhaps piriformis syndrome). No longer unbearable for most of the day, but I have had to cancel a trip to see my favourite cousin over Christmas; it limits walks, can affect sleep, or how present I am to people. (If my smile goes fixed and distant when I am with you, I have gone to pain-land!)
* * *
“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,” according to Rumer Godden, a favourite writer, 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. Now, pain shouts, the body first.
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The body first? Yes, for it is the home in which mind, spirit, and heart live. And if pain grounds the body in its imperative way, or dread diseases, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, shove it underground for good, then the other dimensions of a full human being have no home to experience life in its fullness.
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 trying to find healing for the pain. 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, with the help of a health coach I’ve worked with for the last three weeks, and have shed weight each week.
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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 I’ve decided to put the body first when I am in too much pain for most forms of exercise (except lifting weights, perhaps), but it took the megaphone of pain for me to change.
Jesus talks of the steep and narrow path that leads to life. I love the Lake District which I visited earlier this month, 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.
Wish me luck, and if you are the praying sort, prayers for healing from pain, and steadfastness and perseverance on the health journey will be gratefully received.
(All photographs taken by me, on my iPhone 6S, in the Lake District, earlier this month).