Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
This past week I happened across a short article on the problem of pain and opioid addiction tucked in section D3 of The New York Times. It was placed at the bottom of the page under a fairly substantial feature on diminishing snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas and corresponding drought in California. That these two were placed on the same page is a testament, in my mind, of the crisis we face as a nation of all things natural: the environment and our bodies are in pain.
The article entitled “The Pain Puzzle,” written by Abigail Zuger M.D., related how her own experience with chronic pain in the form of tennis elbow is shaping her understanding of how living with pain is the new normal. Gone are the days, says Zuger, when we can expect to be pain free. As someone who experienced three years of chronic lower back pain I found her article disheartening. Apparently one’s choice is either to turn to anti-inflammatories, opioids, or in her case, a large glass of wine for pain relief because “exercise, stretching, and being mindful” simply don’t cut it. It’s a bleak picture, one in which we are destined to live out the remainder of our days oppressed by “the tyrant” of pain. I wish the conversation were broader and more holistic, as in treating the “whole” person.
The Scripture reading of Tabitha’s miraculous resurrection by Peter is perhaps the other extreme. Either we consume drugs or we turn to the “opiate of the people,” to quote Karl Marx on religion. One has us relying exclusively on drugs and the other on supernatural forces most of us consider beyond our control. We beg a doctor for a prescription or we beg God for a miracle; both make victims of us. There must be another way.
Friday morning I attended the free yoga class at my public library. The instructor, Kim, is a student of architecture at the University of Wyoming. Originally from Malaysia, she is a stout, robust woman who also happens to be the most flexible human being I’ve ever known. The class, mostly made up of well-aged women, watches as she contorts her massive calves and thighs into shockingly tight pretzels. During this particular class Kim walked around the room, placing her hand on our backs and pulling our outstretched arms further from our bodies, in an effort to help us stretch more deeply into Child’s Pose.
After the class she walked over to me and asked, “Are you having pain here?” touching my upper right back behind my shoulder.
“Yes!” I said, amazed.
“Maybe it from computer?” she asked in her broken English.
“Exactly!” How could she know I developed a pain in that exact spot after ten weeks in near perpetual computer use during my writing class?
“I feel it,” she said. “You feel weaker there.”
She then showed me a stretch saying that if I did it everyday for a week the pain would go away.
In my mind Kim is a healer. Not in the sense that she’s set apart as the Apostle Peter was or in the way an M.D. is in today’s world of healing, but because she pays attention to her body and other people’s bodies. It’s an ability, I believe, we all possess. I wonder what would happen if we all paid closer attention to our bodies rather than numbing ourselves with drugs or alcohol or fervent prayers or a whole host of other things (such as food and caffeine and TV)? This is not to say medications and prayers do not also play a role in our healing, but that they are meant to accompany our own awareness of what pains us (which in my experience is not only physical in nature, but often accompanied by other deeper emotions and beliefs).
Sometimes pain offers an invitation to make a change in our lives. The doctor who wrote the article on pain surmised her tennis elbow came as a result of the repetetive stress of painting two dozen book shelves on her own. Maybe it was an invitation to stop doing everything on her own? The answer lies in our ability to see or hear the message in our pain.
How do you tend to physical pain?
What message might your body be sending you through physical pain?