Thursday, February 03, 2011


My husband and I were watching a fascinating broadcast of NOVA on PBS last night about how the brain works. Part of the show featured the findings from a study on pain management using a sort of “magnetic wand,” which, when applied to the cerebral cortex of patients after surgery, showed a significant reduction in the use of pain medications.

As serendipity would have it, I had read that morning a passage from Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go that assured the reader that God gives us, “…no more pain than what is necessary for usefulness, healing and cleansing."

Surely we are one of the most pain-adverse societies! The tiniest cramp sends us scouring our cupboards for acetaminophen and ibuprofen. We use topical analgesics like biofreeze when our muscles ache and suck on ricolas at the earliest indication of a scratchy throat. The universe screams, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” but we refuse to be taught.

We pray to God to release us from difficult situations; to lessen our suffering; to perform a miracle on our behalf; to sprinkle his magic fairy dust over our lives, lest we be forced to experience periods of discomfort or, heaven forbid, seasons of pain. We can’t imagine that God would allow any difficulty to come our way. No, surely this is the working of the enemy, bound and determined to defeat us and oppress us at every turn. Yet Beattie gently asserts … no more pain than what is necessary for usefulness, healing and cleansing.

Here is pain-relief that is a bit more soul-satisfying. I have been enjoying a daily dose of Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying, a Christmas gift from my husband. The book is a rewriting or paraphrasing of the psalms, with all references to war and violence removed. Now before you purists get all worked up, listen to this excerpt from Psalm 112:

“Praise be to You, O Gracious One! Blessed are those who reverence the Holy One, who delight in Love Consciousness! For they dwell with the Beloved, and their children will learn of peace and justice. Abundance and wholeness will be their heritage, and truth will be their banner. Light penetrates the darkness for those who face their fears; Love stands by them with mercy and forgiveness.” (Bold facing added by me.)

Ah, so facing our fears head-on, taking them to the great Love of the world is more beneficial than crying for instant pain relief, frantically pressing the button of our spiritual morphine drip? You mean holding the difficulties of life in our hands, not grasping or attempting to squeeze the life out of them, but holding them gently for as long as we possibly can – is this what it means to trust in the power of Love Consciousness? Is this what is means to believe that the dry seasons will not last forever? Is this what it means to experience profound hope through the gentle act of acceptance?

Why yes, I think it is.

Christian artist Natalie Grant sings:

“Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? We’re asking why this happened to us who have died to live, it’s unfair. This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.”

Likewise, the artists of Superchick, lamenting for most of a song about how profound their experience of pain has been, still insist:

“After all this has passed, I still will remain. After I’ve cried my last, they’ll be beauty from pain. Though it won’t be today, someday I’ll hope again. And they’ll be beauty from pain. You will bring beauty from my pain.”

I applaud the efforts of the neuroscientists featured in last night’s NOVA episode, especially for their passions to reduce pain and suffering in this world. But maybe we should all go easier on the medicine cabinet and the magnetic wands. Maybe we should invest a bit more time and energy into the life-changing concept of acceptance, trusting God to be with us in every nanosecond of what we are experiencing and knowing that He is in charge, that He is love and that pain really can be understood in the context of a usefulness, healing and cleansing that goes beyond the simplistic, pain-adverse moanings of this world.

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