stigmata

This past week, I underwent surgery to correct longstanding, ever-worsening GI concerns. It was a success. I look forward to a future free of the past two year’s sudden, serial, severely debilitating intestinal attacks.

When Dr. Richard Rinehardt, as fine a person and as competent a surgeon as life occasions and skill provides, explained the procedure, I knew it would leave permanent marks. The day after, I wouldn’t look, choosing to forego immediate verification that this body I have inhabited for 60+ years, this body that I have watched mature along aging’s universal arc, overnight had been altered.

(I’m not vain. Well, not Muhammad Ali-vain, who, bless his puckish wit, once said, “I’m actually a pretty man. I’m not conceited, I’m just convinced!” Still, for much of my adult years, I wrestled with my body image, yo-yoing down and mostly up the scale. Recently, by some latter day biological accident or metabolic miracle, I find myself stabilized at the weight I carried during my college days 40+ years ago. Finally, I like and can live peaceably with the way I look.)

Tentatively, I ran my hands over my belly, stopping at each new protrusion and indentation. The next morning, I roused my courage to look…

My first thought. “This puts an end to my beach going days!” Then I laughed. The last time I publicly stripped to bare waist at water’s edge (or anywhere!) was far beyond my memory’s reach.

Then I thought of two dear friends, Loretta Woodward Veney and Leslie Ferguson (Fergie) Horvath, who, long having undergone major surgeries, have spoken with passion about their senses of their altered physical realities, each with a broadly expansive self-awareness and deeply grounded self-respect.

Then I thought of an article Fergie wrote last year for our local newspaper, Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal, Scars are Outward and Visible Signs of Life Changing Events, in which she writes with poignant eloquence of significant moments involving the risk of death and the possibility of life and her consciousness of her connection with Jesus who bore the painful scars of his crucifixion and death, truly signs of his life-giving love.

Then I thought of the Apostle Paul’s stirring testimony: “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”[1] The Greek, stigmata, also translated “wounds”, referred to the brand borne by slaves signifying the ancient deity to which they belonged. Paul, through the trials of his apostleship,[2] his flesh bearing the signs of his faithful service, declares his unassailable loyalty to Jesus, his Lord.

Verna Thomas McGehee’s poem, I Carry a Cross in My Pocket, attests, in part, “When I put my hand in my pocket…The Cross is there to remind me of the price He paid for me. It reminds me too, to be thankful for my blessings day by day and to strive to serve Him better in all that I do and say.”

I have been a Christian all of my life. As I review my history, I confess countless moments when I fell far short, in Richard of Chichester’s words, of seeing Jesus more clearly, loving him more dearly, following him more nearly day by day.[3]

My surgery reminds me afresh of my mortality. In this, I reaffirm that I have more life in this world behind than in front of me. In this, I resolve that every time I see my torso or run my hands over my belly, whether in naked privacy or in public secrecy through my clothes, I will remember that I am doulos, a servant, a slave of Christ.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Galatians 6.17

[2] In another epistle, Paul enumerates his tribulations, speaking of “greater labors…imprisonments…countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received…the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. For a night and a day, I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, in danger from rivers…bandits…my own people…Gentiles…in the city… the wilderness…at sea…from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11.23-27, abridged).

[3] Richard of Chichester (1197-1253).  A fuller text of his prayer:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,

For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.

O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,

May I know Thee more clearly,

Love Thee more dearly,

Follow Thee more nearly.

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4 thoughts on “stigmata

  1. Thank you Paul for your honesty about your surgery and the resulting scar. A servant of Christ!! I believe that you were a Servant of Christ even before the scar, but maybe that just makes it official?

    I cried reading this post. Primarily because reading about your and Fergie’s scars was emotional!! For me, when my scars happened one by one, I kept wondering how many I’d have, Some of the nurses named me roadmap. I actually loved the name because I thought in the future I’d be able look at the scars that Jesus was trying to tell me which way to go.

    You’re absolutely right, you go to sleep on the operating table and you awaken changed, scarred. It’s a unique club, but I totally agree with Fergie’s assessment of surgery discussed in the article. Jesus had scars too, so there are obviously lessons we can learn from ours too.

    I agree with you that the scars will forever remind you of your mortality. For me, it does that and more. I see my scars as my second, third and fourth changes at life. I’ve had more lives than a cat, so I live my life that way. Why do 40 things a day when I can do 100?? My scars are a reminder that I need to get out there as if there’s no tomorrow, because one day, there won’t be a tomorrow for me.

    I’m thrilled and relieved that your surgery was a success. I hope the next two years will be great years for you, making up for the frequent pain you’ve been in over the last two years. Speedy healing to you my friend. I’m cheering and praying for you!

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, always (as I always say!), Loretta, for your responses to my posts. In this, I particularly cleave to your awareness that “one day, there won’t be a tomorrow for me.” Amen…

      When I was wheeled into the operating room, I recall thinking: Suppose I don’t wake up. Suppose I die on the operating table. Will I, in some cosmically conscious way, know? Or will my having no more days and nights and tomorrows and yesterdays only be known by those who survive me?

      As I did wake up, I can’t answer my questions. Still, I wonder…

      So, perhaps, as you commend, our daily sense that one day we will die is a faithful motivator for fullest, freest living today.

      Again, amen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul:

    Your message and feelings resonate with me. I remember my heart by-pass surgery 10 years ago and the life change that came with it, physically and mentally. Welcome to the “shirt wearing beach club”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, David. Even now as I deal with the pain and discomfort of healing, my mind races ahead seeking to imagine what changes in sense of self and disposition I will encounter and, perforce, need to accommodate. Life is constant in the change it brings.

      Now, I do suppose that being a new member of the “shirt wearing beach club” means that I have a greater number of sartorial choices to make!

      From Pontheolla and me, happiest Thanksgiving Day to you and Carol and your family.

      Love and peace,
      Paul

      Like

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