When I was ill, years ago now, and wondered if the illness that had come upon me was going to take my life, it seemed all clocks clicked into half time. Even my brain moved in slow motion. When all those vials of blood had been drawn, and those electrical currents pressed through my arms and down my legs; when the scans had been passed over my head and torso, and fluid tapped from my spine like a maple tree in spring; when they finally determined I had Guillain Barre Syndrome, then I lay still in my bed to allow the good Lord’s miraculous creation to heal itself. Long, long hours spent there in my bed, shivering with heat, burning and freezing at once, my flesh crawling with what felt like little electric worms. There was no release from the electricity gone wild under my skin, caused by nerve endings stripped of their myelin sheath coatings, like clusters of electrical wire that had had wire strippers drawn down the length of them. Those electrical wires, known as nerves, fired against each other, over and over.
I feel blessed…and I am not kidding about this…I feel blessed to have experienced that. And equally blessed that only the nerve endings in my feet remain exposed. The other insulating sheaths have grown back now. But in the middle of the whole experience there was a milky murky place where my brain tried to process what was going on. I remember lying in bed, quaking, my feet feeling like electric ice. I remember my family bought me a CD player with headphones and some dear friends had brought me a recording of Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Consider the Lilies. I played it over and over, feeling the peace of the Lord through that lovely music. Hearing it now makes me weep because it takes me back to that emotional place.
One afternoon, early on, my mother came over. She was still walking then, but not all too well, and she made her way to my house and back to our bedroom where I lay paralyzed. She sat on the edge of my bed, without a word, and gently lifted my frozen feet into her hands. Quietly she sat there, just holding my feet, wrapping them in the warmth of her hands until I fell off to sleep, willing what little energy she had to push its way into my weary body. She didn’t rub them, didn’t have to keep pounding-in her devotion. She simply held them in her warmth, ministering with her presence. No electric heating pad could do what her hands did.
Today was Maundy Thursday; a sacred day of remembrance: The day we remember the breaking of bread and blessing of wine; the day when the Master washed the servants’ feet; when betrayal was prophesied, when there was no more concealing identities. After the sun set, and the table was cleared from supper, the Savior and a few servants went to the garden to pray. With what little detail we have, I 've pictures conjured in my brain, drawn there from a lifetime of stories. I see Him a stone’s throw from his friends, bent over a rock, under the low lying branches of cypress or olive trees. I see his unpierced fists clenched, his fingers interwoven, his arms drawn up to his chest, his lips whispering. Someone must have heard those words, else how would we know them: “Father, remove this cup from me… nevertheless….” So much pain on one set of shoulders, so perfectly unfamiliar with sin.
My friend Jay Hess helped me understand a little better the process of enduring pain; at least a little of what that kind of pain might be like.
Jay was a prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned for over 5 years, Stripped and tortured and starved. Demeaned and abused. This went on and on for Jay. He is an amazing man, Jay Hess. Jay told once about one of the tortures he chose to endure. I say he chose to endure it because he could have given up secure information and been treated with less hostility. Instead he took the pain. His oppressors tied his elbows behind his back with rope, then as they interrogated him they wove a stick in the rope and began to twist it, tightening the rope, until his shoulders popped out of their sockets. He fainted, and was revived, repeatedly. Jay says they left him there, with his dislocated shoulders strung back behind his neck. Forced to stand, his head flopped down onto his chest. He recalls becoming conscious of his circumstance and noticing the pores on his chest had opened in wide wells, and that a clear liquid, faintly tinted pink, oozed from the wells. That’s what his body did in response to his agony.
When I think of Jesus Christ bleeding from every pore, I picture Jay Hess.
It tears at my heart, truly, to think of it.
Pain is a lonely place. Solitary and sapping.
Way back in the starting place, before the earth was formed, I imagine the spirits Jehovah and Michael laughing in their heaven place; building young spirit boy forts and playing war, like little boys will. I realize I am thinking as a human here, and I just speculate (lest you think I know these kind of things for real). I imagine the brotherhood, and the friendship, because I am blessed to know that kind of relationship with my siblings. I imagine the toil and creative task that was undertaken when they created this beautiful place we call earth. And I imagine Jehovah watching with great hope as Michael received his body there in the Garden of Eden, taking the new name of Adam upon himself: Adam, the keeper of the Garden. I imagine the discussions that likely continued in that Garden, and outside of the Garden. I imagine the shared sorrow, and the express joy. I imagine the sweet reunion when old Father Adam finally ascended to his heaven place once again.
And, I can see Michael there on the brink of heaven, his toes curled over the edge as Jehovah took his own little body of flesh on that sacred night in Bethlehem.
They were companions and friends, beloved and devoted.
So on that dark night in the season of Passover, when the sun had descended and the chain of events were set in motion, I am comforted in my imaginings by the appearance of an angel there in the Garden, that place of crushing. I imagine there was little he could, or would, do to take away the pain, because the pain had to be born in a solitary way. What I see is a pair of able hands, warm and comforting, touching and blessing and praying, like my mother’s hands there on the side of my bed. Ministering with his presence.
Michael; familiar with Gardens.
On this Maundy Thursday I offer my thanks for those who are willing to suffer. And thanks, too, for those whose presence, while it cannot take away the pain, can surely embolden the heart.