Years ago, I encountered a graphic crucifix in an old Mexican church. It was too kitschy to elicit holy horror; the gashes on Christ’s face and body looked more cartoonish than redemptive. I am glad I never pushed the image from my mind, though. It has become for me a sort of icon of the banality of pain—even divine pain. For all the competing theories of atonement, there is a singular fact about the crucifixion: it hurt like hell.
I was still in elementary school the first time I woke up with a stiff neck, and I have grappled with bouts of severe neck and back pain ever since. When I was 22, a chiropractor glanced at my X-ray and told me I had the spine of a middle-aged man. I’ve sprained my back by carrying an amplifier and lifting a canoe. I’ve suffered through postpartum spasms that were worse than actual childbirth. Once I ended up on bed rest for days because I sneezed wrong. I’ve seen physical therapists and pain specialists, gotten monthly massages and an inconclusive MRI. I’ve swallowed painkillers so strong I couldn’t hold them down, and I’ve fretted about whether doctors will think I’m an addict if I appear too desperate for Demerol.
... read the rest at the Christian Century online, or in the January 7th, 2015 print edition.