Disability Theology: Chronic Pain

Does disability theology have anything much to say about chronic pain?  It’s tempting to leap to the stories of the crucifixion and in some facile way claim that because Jesus was tortured we have a way of understanding pain.  I’ve had chaplains and priests inform me I should find comfort in knowing that Jesus has been there before me.   I do and I don’t.  But what do I know?
A supreme being who’s part human, dying is one thing.  Believing that the God-being has some extraordinary insight into the intricacies of the human condition is quite another matter.  He is a God-being.  I’m a human.
The crux of the matter is that in much of Christian theology, weakness and vulnerability, epitomised in the moments before death on the cross are seen as less than what a human is intended to be.  We are weak therefore we’re sinful.  We’re weak therefore we constantly fail to live up to God’s expectations of us, the expectations of others and our own hopes for our best selves.
In a radical disability theology, we have a different starting point.  Rather than seeing human beings as essentially sinful, we argue that humans are as they are intended to be.  They are originally blessed; beautifully and wonderfully made.  
Human ‘sinfulness’ is reflected in our unwillingness to engage in what makes us fully ourselves.
That takes me to chronic pain.  It’s tempting when we live with disabilities to constantly assert that our identity is in a place other than our disabilities.  Heaven help us if we ever become ‘professional patients’ or so wrapped up in the minutiae of symptoms that we lose our perspective on our actual place in the world.
Equally if we deny the part of ourselves which marks us out and separates us from non-disabled people, we are denying the rich truth of who we are, in all our fullness and diversity.
Chronic pain is one of the fastest growing presenting conditions in the NHS.  There are no easy solutions to it.  Current thinking suggests that our brains habitually telling us that we are hurting serves no helpful purpose.    It’s thought it might be a blip in evolution; a glitch where a bit of hard wiring hasn’t yet been sorted properly.  Even if that’s true, and it make sense to me, it leaves those of us who experience it in a strange place.  Our bodies are hurting us habitually.  
Theology particularly Chrisian mystic traditions can help us re-group.  Focusing on pain, understanding it, and seeing it for what it is helps us realise that we can do very little to genuinely make our condition worse even if pain levels insist on telling us otherwise.  Understanding a bigger picture; grasping a greater aspiration than simply getting through the day, is a powerful strand in Christian thought.  We can be bigger than how we feel.
We all need to find the thing that marks us out as uniquely ourselves.  It maybe that weird thing you do with your thumb.  A capacity for fast mental arithmetic and forward rolls, simultaneously naturally.  It could be that you make the best scrambled egg.
Whatever makes you, you – grab it, roll on it, bounce it, stare at it or score a goal with it.  You are wonderfully made.


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