While I was in trouble with my feet and very weak, some of the brethren came to see me and ask me to tell them something about the cause of my sickness. I think they had a double purpose, first to comfort me by distracting me from my pain and second to set me off talking about something profitable.
—Dorotheos of Gaza
I truly believe the monk’s assertion of the two fold purpose of any visit to those that are in need is very valid and weighty. When we comfort someone that is hurting, we have a tendency to turn them away from their pain, but more significantly we make them feel a sense of value. The monk was sitting in his cell probably thinking of nothing but the gout that caused him so much pain, but his day was interrupted with a joyful distraction. This interruption lifted him away from the routine of the day and gave him value to the brethren even in the midst of his pain.
Dorotheos gives us a very valuable lesson in his words. This lesson reframes the purpose of visiting the sick and lonely. When we comfort someone in need, we not only minister to them, but give them an opportunity to minister to us. The brothers visited the monk in his time of suffering, and they gave him the chance to feel whole again. Dorotheos teaches us that we should never stop sharing and never stop serving. In this serving and sharing, God allows us to be disciples no matter what our condition may be.
I know that I am not ready for what lies ahead.
I have heard what you have asked
and understand what this means.
I realize where this journey will end and
I must be prepared for my own culpability.
Now, as I walk through these days,
I know the excitement I feel will fade to fear.
The fear will become doubt.
May the fears of tonight be vanquished at dawn.
May the doubts of today be the answered questions of tomorrow.
And may my own deeds be forgiven by a mercy
I will never understand.
- Celtic blessings (tru3j0y.wordpress.com)
C. S. Lewis
In The Problem of Pain, published in 1940, Lewis offered the reader this overly humble confession: “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess for I will tell you; I am a great coward.” In a letter to his brother Warnie, written while working on the book, he claimed: “If you are writing a book about pain and then you get some actual pain […] it does not either, as the cynic would expect, blow the doctrine to bits, nor, as a Christian would hope, turn into practice, but remains quite unconnected and irrelevant, just as any other bit of actual life does when you are reading or writing.” Neither the confession nor the claim stood the test of time. In 1961, Lewis wrote about pain again, this time about his own. In A Grief Observed he inadvertently satisfied the alleged curiosity of his readers. But he did not come across as a coward; nor did his firm grasp of “a theory of suffering” prove altogether irrelevant. True, his faith in God was challenged; he uttered blasphemies; he doubted God’s existence; worst of all, he went through the very objections to God’s goodness which he had refuted in The Problem of Pain: they all seemed valid to a disabled mind, under the sway of unbearable pain. But then, reason returned: “Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?”
When feeling disguises itself as thought, all nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a preamble to the Mystery of the Cross. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a dive into the Mystery.
Laughter is the best medicine. I know you have heard that statement before. There is a true story to back this up.
Laughter’s healing benefits have become synonymous with Norman Cousins, the man who laughed himself to wellness. Norman Cousins was the editor of Saturday Review for over 30 years and was the author of a number of books including Anatomy of an Illness.
In 1964, he returned home from a meeting in Moscow, Russia, experiencing severe joint pain and fever. He was diagnosed with Anklyosing Spondylitis, a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. He was told that most likely the cause was from his exposure to heavy metal poisoning. He questioned this diagnosis, because his wife had accompanied him on this trip and never experienced symptoms. While hospitalized, he began to research the effects of stress on the body and found that it could be detrimental to the immune system.
Cousins read about the theory that negative emotions are harmful to the body, so he concluded that if negative emotions were detrimental to health, then positive emotions should improve health.
He checked himself out of the hospital and into a Manhattan hotel suite. He hired a nurse who read humorous stories and played Marx Brothers movies for him. Although his physician did not endorse this, he took massive doses of vitamin C. The only reason the physician went along with this, was that Cousins so strongly believed in the vitamin C supplement. The treatment proved to be so effective that in very little time Cousins was off all painkillers and sleeping pills. He found that the laughter relieved the pain and would help him sleep. He once said, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
He returned to work and wrote about his experimental treatment in his book, Anatomy of an Illness. In 1989, it was finally acknowledged in the Journal of the American Medical Association that laughter therapy could help improve the quality of life for patients with chronic illness, and that laughter has an immediate symptom relieving quality.
We may not all rise to the effectiveness of Norman Cousins, but I am sure that we can make a difference. Jesus called us to be the salt and light of the world, and think what a miracle worker you could be if you made it your mission to laughter to the community.