On the pilgrim way: Prayer and pain
I treasure my early morning prayer time – when I shut my study door, light a candle and just sit/kneel quietly. When I choose a holiday cottage I look for a good view so that I can get up a little early and just sit quietly, looking at the view. But my holiday in north-west Scotland has turned out quite differently. Early mornings are full of pain from a bad bout of sciatica (now in its sixth week) and I find that prayer and pain do not go together. I rather desperately do the recommended exercises and apply the ice pack, and reach frequently for my very good friend ibuprofen – but, so far, to no avail.
However, by mid-morning, when we get into our stride on a good five-mile walk up a glen or along a loch side, I become pain-free. I am set free to be overwhelmed by the beauty of this world: the towering mountains with the latest snow on top; the vast expanse of yellow gorse wafting its vanilla scent over me; the intense blue of the lochs. I find myself so thankful that my husband Kees and I can still walk all day like this. Best of all, I seem able to forget that the pain will return by evening, and that the next morning will again be hell.
Having so much pain seems to affect my perspective – it is both narrower and sharper. I cannot seem to cope with issues or concepts; my focus is limited to the present place and time. I was almost moved to tears by the kindness of the woman in the local information centre who offered me her osteopath appointment – she only comes, from Inverness, once a fortnight! I rejoice when I sleep one hour longer, or when I am able to stand up straight as I walk across a room. I am waiting for treatment under anaesthetic for a painful arthritic foot joint – but that pain now seems to have slipped below my sensation radar as the greater pain in my back fills the screen. I begin to worry how much is in my mind.
Of course, watching me suffer is hard on my nearest and dearest, but Kees has come up trumps. He is consistently sympathetic; he not only copes with being woken by my early morning cries, but even manages to go back to sleep again! He is always willing to help (for example with putting on my socks) but then he returns to his holiday reading. Soon he will be reading me something of interest from his book, or from the news. I know we are called to bear one another’s burdens, but I find it amazingly helpful that he is not trying to share my pain – that would burden me all the more.
Although I cannot pray, and feel myself to be in a very strange place, there are some (can I bear to acknowledge it?) blessings and certainly some insights I am receiving in this school of pain. But “How long, O Lord?”
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the July/August 2013 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Sheila Maxey