Sharp-edged pangs. Dull sore bones. Daily chronic pain: impelling reality of physical and emotional dimensions, diluting attentiveness, diminishing joy and daring the sufferer to chose survival. Pain of any sort drags attentiveness from the world to the self, demands a response, hopes for a relief. And yet it is deeply personal, highly individualized, hard to imagine until it is your own.
Somehow, that makes the current opioid crisis understandable. It explains what science has demonstrated: addiction has a root in the brain, in the processing of life experience. Short term pain enables us to discover strength within; chronic pain instead asks for courage and coping. There are so many ways to cope, but so few to fully articulate the pain itself, and even fewer ways to listen, to hear and be helpful. But in the bright end of the Easter season there is the celebration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost.
Pentecost brings the gifts of the Spirit. And the gifts offer the possibility of reconciling the pain and rigors of living. Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry, describes the gifts:
“Wisdom helps us recognize the importance of others and the importance of keeping God central in our lives.
Understanding is the ability to comprehend the meaning of God’s message.
Knowledge is the ability to think about and explore God’s revelation, and also to recognize there are mysteries of faith beyond us.
Counsel is the ability to see the best way to follow God’s plan when we have choices that relate to him.
Fortitude is the courage to do what one knows is right.
Piety helps us pray to God in true devotion.
Fear of the Lord is the feeling of amazement before God, who is all-present, and whose friendship we do not want to lose.”
The gifts intimate that there is more going on in daily human experience than we realize, that there are moments of deep need that might not even be recognized as that. In the midst of the suffering of life, there is that measure of the breath of the Spirit, that moment of divine spark, that grappling with something so powerful from the depth of weakness. And more importantly, the gifts impart what is healing and provide tools for navigating the mysteries of life and suffering. The breath of the Spirit makes that possible. It invites belief in what is intangible, begs for the leap that sight may not hold all the answers.
Impossible pain, physical and emotional, are part of life’s ebb and flow. Some are momentary, fleeting. Others are relentless and searing. But always, there are the gifts of the Spirit, waiting to be called on for the ride, like tools for the journey. There is always the breath of the Spirit when breathing itself seems a burden. In so many ways, Penetecost is the answer to the pain of being human.