Monday, October 6, 2014

follow-up on "Brother Ass"

Gustav Jaeger: Bileam und der Engel, PD-US, via Wikimedia Commons
This is a follow-up on my post "Brother Ass".

I ended up talking to my husband about that blog post - the one on bodies, emotions, and the prophet Balaam.  And in that conversation, and after reading comments on the original post, I realized that there was a little more that I needed to explain.

What I'm not saying
In that first post, I talked a bit about how our bodies and our emotions are inseparably tied together.  But here's the thing: when it comes to stress or anxiety or depression or the like, I'm not saying that it's all in your head. I'm not saying: make yourself feel better, and then you'll feel better.

I love traditional medicine.

I have traditional medicine to thank for the fact that my kids and husband are alive. My youngest two children were saved by modern medicine (monoamniotic twins) and so was my husband (melanoma).  My sight was restored by modern medicine (laser surgery!) and I've been grateful for antibiotics and vaccines time and time again.

And psychotropic drugs? They are a Godsend when you need them.

So I'm not saying: be happy and you'll be healthy. It's more complicated than that.

What I am saying
Our bodies, though, are more connected to our minds and our emotions than we'd like to believe that they are.

We want to believe that our feelings have nothing to do with our health. And that's just not true.

Of course, there are things we can't control, like genetic predispositions to depression. Or the brain development that results in autism. Or cancer striking out of the blue. Or so many, many other devastating illnesses, injuries, and conditions.

But what can't be denied is that our psychological states affect our bodily functions, and vice versa.

Stress results in cortisol spikes that lead to all manners of disease.

Or try going without sleep for a night or two in a row. You'll be as drunk as a sailor.  Or at least as same as makes no nevermind. You can mind-over-matter that.

God made us with bodies. Those bodies aren't something separate from us. They are part of us. They are not the whole of us, but they are us.

If you deny your body, you're a heretic. Having a body is part of what it means to be human. Your body is part of you. And it changes how you experience life and how you can experience life.

And sometimes, when you're particularly in denial, your body can be smarter than you are.

Your body might be what sees the danger before you can, like Balaam's ass was able to see the angel before he could.

Your body might warn you - by panic attacks, by back aches, by persistent lethargy - that you're living in a manner that is unsustainable.

St. Francis
St. Francis famously called his body "Brother Ass" - and that's where I got the title for these blog posts.

Because our bodies are like that. They are dumb animals - dumb until God grants them speech.

And then they tell us what we really need to know. They warn us about the angels in our pathway; they save us from death.

People used to call this sort of thing "nervous breakdowns". Now we might say "panic attack" or "depressive episode".

But it's the same thing: our bodies are no longer able to carry the burdens our minds and hearts force on them.

I like this about bodies: that they are honest. Like the animals that they are. They do their best, but some things are too much for them. Drink too much, eat too much, sleep too little . . . eventually your body will let you know about it.

Balaam's ass carried the prophet well, as far as she was able. But eventually, she was able to tell the prophet about a danger the prophet himself could not see.

Our bodies do the same thing.

And I am grateful for that.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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