Rector's Ramblings May 17, 2017
In the midst of this season of graduations, I had one of my own. I officially graduated from physical therapy after seven weeks of therapy for tennis elbow! There wasn’t a ceremony, nor were there any caps or tassels in sight, but I did get a t-shirt. …And the therapist called it “graduating,” so that must mean I did, right?
Actually, I’m quite pleased to have graduated and that the elbow is feeling better. I don’t play tennis, but a combination of overworking the arm muscles while paddling and a sharp crack on the elbow last year, led to a year of pain and permanent damage. If you noticed a weakening of my hand-shaking grip on Sunday mornings over the last year, that was the reason. The before and after strength tests of my grip are pretty dramatic. Shaking hands on Sundays was one of the most painful parts of the whole ordeal. I avoided using my right arm for most things, but shaking hands with the left wasn’t going to work.
I’m especially grateful that it worked because I saw a local surgeon who told me I clearly needed surgery and that to go the therapy route would be a waste of money. He suggested that neither surgery or therapy would get me back to 100%, and I’m not back there, but it is probably 90% of what it was. I wish I had been given the advice/option to get therapy when I first visited the doctor last year, but I’m not complaining. I’m pleased with the outcome. I almost said final outcome, but I will continue therapy on my own and I imagine it will slowly get better and better.
This was my first experience with physical therapy. I know that many of you have undergone some sort of therapy. I ran into at least a dozen parishioners in therapy while I was working on my elbow! What was fascinating for me was to see how a series of simple stretches and targeted exercises could bring healing. I’ve done exercise programs before, where my general fitness improves and I could do more pushups or lift heavier weights, and yet I was totally fascinated at how the elbow hurt less and less. The lessening of pain was quite noticeable and was a much different experience of long-term results.
I’ve begun to wonder if I should go back to therapy for my weak knee or my painful ankle? No doubt they can help me with their biomechanical wizardry. I have known that physical therapy could do amazing things; I’ve watched many people go through therapy after surgery and illness, but I’m even more convinced of its benefits after seeing and experiencing it firsthand.
And that’s what got me wondering about spiritual therapy. I already deal with spiritual healing on a regular basis through the healing service as well as routine and special pastoral care. I frequently talk to persons who are in need of healing because of some trauma, grief, worry, or loss. Such things are absolutely painful and represent places where healing is needed. I began to wonder what the spiritual equivalent of physical therapy might be?
I suspect that just like physical therapy, there are many ways to come at spiritual therapy, too. I was amazed at how many different things I saw people doing at the therapist’s office. Depending on the person, what was troubling them, and their ability, they did different exercises and used different equipment. The spiritual equivalent of such options is found in the plethora of spiritual practices that can help us go deeper into the relationship we have to God. They will vary in their effectiveness based on the individual, their needs, and what works for them. All of them are rooted in prayer, which is the heart of our spiritual life. We can pray in all sorts of ways and our prayers can take many different forms.
Depending on what we’re struggling with, we might choose a different sort of prayer. Our catechism reminds us that the kinds of prayer include adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition. The latter two are probably the most common – prayers that ask for things for ourselves and others, but we’ve all prayed the others, too. At least I hope we do. There is a preventative measure here, as there is with muscles.
My elbow injury was likely because I was not in good enough shape for what I tried to do. The muscles were not strong enough to handle the stress they were put under. To fix the problem and to prevent a recurrence, I have had to strengthen the muscles in question and will have to maintain them going forward. If all we ever do is pray in one way, we are missing out on another way to speak to God when we need it. If all we do is ask for things, we are probably not cultivating adoration, praise, and thanksgiving, each of which can help us recognize the role of God and God’s blessings in our lives. If we never practice asking for forgiveness, we will probably become closed off and cold, self-assured of our righteousness.
This is how spiritual pain can set in. If our spiritual life is not “in shape” and maintained, it weakens and fails us, sometimes when we need it most. And the way back is often to engage in spiritual therapy. Small, focused acts of prayer that allow us to deal with exactly what is troubling us. It’s not easy; just as much physical therapy is not easy. It takes effort, it can bring pain (the good kind); it’s often so hard it makes us sweat. It requires a commitment and focused attention to the task at hand.
Spirituality is no different. Our relationship to our creator is no different. Both require commitment and focus. The results can be amazing. Therapy can be preventative and can actually make us feel better without having a presenting problem that needs to be solved. It’s true of both the physical and spiritual arenas. We shouldn’t wait for a test of strength. We can exercise our spiritual lives now and strengthen as we go. When we do, I suspect we’ll be healthier overall. I’ll have to see if I can find a tassel for that.
All through this day, O Lord, let me touch as many lives as possible for thee; and every life I touch, do thou, by thy Holy Spirit, quicken, whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe, the letters I write, or the life I live; in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.