Broken Body, Healing Spirit
Lectio Divina and Living with Illness
Reading a Chronic Ailment
If you live with a chronic illness like diabetes or lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome, how do you begin to read its text? One way to begin is to start with a presenting physical challenge. If you are regularly administering shots of insulin, that may be the place to begin reading. If you have the troublesome symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, start with one symptom. Let yourself focus on this symptom, not to examine but simply to listen.
1. Following the basic pattern of getting in a comfortable physical position, breathing gently and steadily, notice your feelings toward the detail that is your beginning text. For example, how does the flesh respond to the entry of the diabetic syringe? Have you done this so long that there is a kind of familiarity or is it new enough to cause distress? Place your fingers gently on the place where you are presently administering the injections and continue to breathe gently as you pray, "My body shall rest in hope." Listen for the associations and emotions that come to you while reflecting on the dispersal of the insulin through the tiny viaducts of your body, on the minute channels that connect all of the tissues and allow the insulin to circulate. Give thanks for those systems that allow you to live with you ailment. Bless the skin through which the needle enters, using a simple prayer of your own devising.
2. In your journal, write about the prayer and the experience of noticing your body's effective dispersal of the insulin. Remember that your body has been knit together by God. Notice whatever resistances or confusions may arise. Be honest in your responses and in your prayer. If the prayer becomes "I hate this business of injecting myself with insulin," begin there. Tell yourself and God the truth.
On the other hand, if you begin to realize that much about your flesh is marvelous, even though you live with illness, let that be the prayer. "I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful and I know it well" (Ps 139:14).
Your body may suggest how to being the reading of its text. Though you may think this statement is ridiculous, sometimes the presentation of an ache or a twinge or a soreness will provide a place to begin. The important thing is to begin, and to do so without presupposing the outcome. Lectio with a body that suffers from illness is the beginning of an extended conversation, a befriending of your flesh that has been bruised and incised. Reading your text begins with your specific illness, with your intuition and experience indicating where to start, how to pray, what ritual to employ. Above all, allow yourself to become kindly aware of your body, not only of what has been hurt but also of what is mending, healing, and working. Notice what is also present, both sickness and health. Read the full text, not the cheap summary. Read with slow and merciful care, mindful of the divine compassion that holds you in life.
Excerpts from Broken Body, Healing Spirit ©2003 by Mary C. Earle are used with permission from Morehouse Publishing. Mary Earle's Web site.
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