Healing Through Questioning

Listening to the podcast of American Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith the other day, I was introduced to Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor who has pioneered the “integrative medicine” movement that pulls the modern medical establishment’s attention to the mind/body connection. I was reminded yet again that holistic healthcare is actually considered quite radical in most circles and that many well meaning doctors have been (and continue to be) surprised by the fact that a person’s experience of her illness is as important as the clinical symptoms she may demonstrate.

The airing of this radio show is yet another instance in which the Universe seems to be conspiring to make me think about wellness and infirmity, and the place of health and illness in my own life and the lives of those I touch every day. When I was trapped on the couch with another sprained ankle last week, I plunged into a bout of self pity while speaking to a friend, listing all of the ways that my body has betrayed me over the last handful of years, including six months when I was reduced to debilitating exhaustion most of the time due to a nexus of calamities. She suggested that I might be taking good enough care of myself that none of these health issues became insurmountable, long-term issues. That is a nice thought, but I really think that I am being taught what it is to be temporarily unable to meet the days’ challenges so that I can allow that knowledge to become empathy that will eventually be transformed into the power to help others heal. These days, I am working on developing my sense of perspective on the moments when my body does not perform exactly as expected, hoping to realize that I should just be overcome with gratitude for all that she accomplishes each day.

All of this is merely meant to be an introduction (that I will surely explore later) to a passage included on the program from Remen’s book’s Kitchen Table Wisdom:

The most important questions don’t seem to have ready answers. But the questions themselves have a healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.

At this moment, this quotation gives some shape to my thoughts about what I talked about yesterday, my struggles with conforming to the fullness of any particular church. I think one of the elements of the Catholic Church that I grew up with that leaves me so conflicted is that claim to the Truth with an absolutely knowable capital “T.” I am still in a place of delicious, torrential questions. Perhaps the reason we have religion in its modern sense is to find solace in a monolithic entity that seeks to comfort its flock with creeds and commandments and promises of the ultimate wisdom. The only answer I have received to all of my questions so far is that this is not my path.

From my reading of the Christian mystics I know that the tradition that has its most obvious manifestation in the one-way communication of Sunday mass (all priestly answers, it seems), also has guided centuries of questing souls who have interrogated issues more deeply than I can possibly imagine. I am just left to wonder how to reconcile these two expressions of communion with the divine.

Reconciling, ever reconciling…

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4 thoughts on “Healing Through Questioning

  1. Mish January 15, 2008 / 10:51 am

    Adding Remen’s quote to my collection. Thanks.

    I just found this one by Mercedes Lackey and this post came to mind- usually it’s vice versa:

    “There’s no such thing as `one, true way’; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good — they’re the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren’t willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race.”

  2. gartenfische January 15, 2008 / 1:55 pm

    I love Remen. I have two of her books (Kitchen Table Wisdom and the one she wrote after that, can’t think of the name).

    You’ll find your way. It has really helped me to focus on letting go, not pushing, trusting God. I have found the most helpful prayer/intention to be “Your will, not mine,” because if I can’t completely trust God, then what is the point of any of this? I spent too many years digging little wells here and there and not getting deep—for me, Christianity is the path. (Christ is my path, anyway—I often have disagreements with Christianity.) But I finally felt, very strongly, that I had come home and it was (and is) a wonderful feeling. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle! Especially when I stop letting go and trusting.

    God will lead you to your path.

    I love your last paragraph, it reflects the whole conflict for many of us. I have written several posts about my struggles with church. I finally decided it doesn’t have to be perfect for me to be a part of it. It’s a human construct, after all, but there is community there and it’s wonderful to worship God in this way. I decided not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Thinking again about your previous post:

    I’m a member of the Episcopal church, which is really very open and not forceful about rules and dogma. That’s what I have found, but it does depend a lot on the parish, mine is very liberal (I think gays make up more than half our membership). Maybe you could go meet with a priest at the church and talk about the issues. If your friends chose you to be the godparents, then that is what should be most important.

  3. Ruaidhri January 15, 2008 / 4:43 pm

    This is probably as much a reply to the previous blog post as it it is to this post so here goes…and while I know there’s a bit of god and jebus-loving going on here, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give you a piece of my mind…

    Reconcile?Why would you reconcile?Remember the oppression of women, suppression of independent thought and freedoms, and of course how could you forget the crusades/inquisitions. Remember this is the organisation which invented antisemitism and created the first jewish ghettos. Why would you want to reconcile with a monster?I’d say even tolerating the churches(they’re all the same really when you get down to it) is condoning the above. While it may have guided countless souls, mostly it was guiding them to obey the priests and bishops into handing over money. Or young unmarried woman into enforced servitude and imprisonment because they had the gall to be pregnant(and this in living memory.)

    Why reconcile with that?I know you’re probably not that reconcily but I have to say something in case you’re going soft on the Church.

    As for the godparenting-I suppose it’s up to you. Personally I’d be encouraging said friends to tell the priest to ram the contract where the sun doesn’t shine and then arrange their own baptismal/baby celebration but that’s just me. 🙂

    Or you could just lie. It would only be a lie to a non-existent being and to someone who says or pretends they serve said same non-existent being, so it could be argued that it’s not really a lie.

    The questioning aspect is interesting. It reminds me of the Fisher King story. It is only when Perceval(or is it Galahad-I get the grail questing young knights confused sometimes)asks the fisher king ‘what ails thee?’ that the fisher king is healed and land renewed. The article I read was examining it from a depth psychology perspective and was looking at the question in terms of the psychotherapeutic and empathy creating aspects which resulted in healing and wholeness.

    OK packages will be forwarded to you as soon as I get myself organised enough to send stuff off. Will take 2 or 3 weeks prob as I’m all over the place these days!

  4. painterofblue January 18, 2008 / 1:56 pm

    The comments you receive are nearly as interesting as your posts! The quality of your writing is attracting interesting readers…

    I hope your ankle is mending well. Illness is definitely a great teacher! The value of empathy can not be overstated. But your friend has wisdom to, if it is in your power to care for yourself better, carpe diem. The Divine has many ways to instruct us. The more we listen, the softer and gentler the message.

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