From time to time I suffer with back pain, a combination of wear and tear on the spine; very bad posture, and a fall that I had some years ago. At the time, I was advised by our nurse in Mount Argus in Dublin to go and get some physiotherapy, something I had never before experienced. It was while I was rector of Mount Argus and I had gotten to know Elaine, a physio who had set up locally, and who had been coming into the monastery to treat various elderly members of the Passionist community to great effect. I made an appointment to go to her surgery where, on the appointed day, she greeted me warmly and engaged in some chit chat about her family in Cork, her time in Australia where she had done her training in a particular form of physiotherapy, and her new house in the parish which her mum had travelled up from Cork the week before to give the seal of approval to, and from which they had attended the Family Mass in the church.
During all this chit chat I had been getting myself ready and laying down on the physio table thinking what a nice, friendly person she was when, all of a sudden, and without any warning, she dug her elbow into my spine and then into the muscles on my back and my neck, and proceeded to put me through the most awful and excruciating of agonies, such as I had never endured before in my life. Elaine kept chatting away as if we were out for a Sunday stroll, while at the same time inflicting more and more agony, and it was only when she touched the sorest point of all, and my piercing cry rang out throughout the surgery, scaring a waiting room client half to death, that she turned to me and said, “You know what I call this?” “No”, says I, through gritted teeth.
“Positive pain”, says she. And I thought to myself, she’s some kind of mad woman, she’s trying to kill me, a thought which was immediately given credence as her elbow dug into me yet again. But then, when all was over, and I realised what great relief she’d brought me, I couldn’t thank her enough, and I also couldn’t wait to get back the following week for another session and even more positive pain.
Perhaps “positive pain” is an appropriate term to use in relation the Passion of Jesus, without which there could have been no Resurrection from the Dead and no Redemption – no glory without the cross. The disciples too had their positive pain, enduring the heartache of Jesus’ death and the feeling that all that they had hoped and believed in had died with Him. But now in these Easter days we feel their joy as the Risen Christ makes himself known to them and prepares them to continue the work that He has begun, and to take His name and His Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Here is the wonderful Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Pain from The Prophet
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician, and drink his remedy
in silence and tranquillity: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen, And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.