28 June 2010

July 5 WEEK: Setting the Stage

July 5: Overview

When it first occurred to me to write about chronic pain and the spiritual life, it was several years ago and well into my now almost six year struggle with near constant and often debilitating pain. "Who wants to hear about my misery?" I thought, and let it go. But a few considerations have led me to re-evaluate the idea:

1. The subject of the relation of my spiritual life with the chronic pain of the migraines presents a good alternative to writing about the misery of the pain;
2. Writing is therapeutic for me; and
3. I would like to start a conversation.

It's somewhat intimidating how many blogs there are, and I do not want to simply become part of the noise. It helps my resolution that I have chosen a subject that seems not to have been overdone: as I searched the web, I found blogs on spirituality and blogs on pain but none that combine the two. There are some articles on pain and spirituality, to which I will be referring in my posts, I am sure.

The fact is that chronic pain has changed my life dramatically. Due to these chronic, intractable migraines, I have left the job that I loved at Miriam's House and experienced a diminished quality of life that has had profound effects:

* I'm unemployed and unemployable as long as the migraines remain at all close to this level of frequency and intensity
* I spend hours every week in dark rooms, prone and with a blindfold over my eyes
* I'll not even try to name all the medications, supplements and alternative therapies I have tried - suffice it to say it's a long list
* Both the migraines and the medication I take for them cause fatigue and depression
* Any plans I make are subject to cancellation: all too often I must call friends or family with regrets, even though I tend to avoid making plans very far ahead
* A life-long avid reader, I can no longer read books (although books on CD have helped this)
* Emotional costs include mild (thank God) depression and the grief associated with major life changes.

OK, this begins to describe my misery too much, so I will stop and assume that the above list sets the stage.

Since I moved to Washington, DC in 1990 and began worshiping at various faith communities of The Church of the Saviour, the spiritual life has become increasingly important to me and an increasingly essential element of my being. In the mid-'90s, I began to seek time apart for prayer in silence and solitude. Weekend silent retreats led to self-designed, solitary retreats of four or five days, then culminated in a defining experience: in July 2001, I made a 30-day silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Wernersville, PA.

No, I am not Catholic. But the movement of my spiritual journey (I was raised Presbyterian, The Church of the Saviour is ecumenical, the Wernersville retreat Center is Catholic, I have explored Buddhist spirituality, and now attend a Mennonite house church) has made me relatively indifferent to theological and "religious" beliefs, much less arguments. This blog will not enter into such discussions and debates. It will explore, reflect on and welcome challenging discussion about the effect chronic pain has on the spiritual life, and vice-verse.

Next Post (July 5 WEEK: Setting the Stage) - My Own Spiritual Journey

Painful Poetry
Original If Awkward Attempts At Finding Humor in Pain

There was a young woman whose head felt
as though it'd been struck by a lead belt.
"The pain," she would cry,
"Just over my eye!
Ah, woe, such a fate I have been dealt."

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