So I'm lying face down on the massage table...
Let me back up.
As all three or four Constant Readers know, I recently enjoyed an hour-long Swedish massage during my Florida vacation. This was not only muchly relaxing, but it relieved the tension-induced pain that I almost always have in my upper back and shoulders. My masseuse, marveling at my stress-hardened muscles, had remarked, "You really need more massages!" And afterward I thought, "You know -- she's right."
So I promised myself that I'd treat myself to a massage once a month, even if it meant pinching pennies elsewhere in the household budget. And today I came through for myself, down at the local physical therapy clinic, which offers massage appointments once a week.
So I'm lying face down on the massage table, air redolent of herbal elixirs and soft Latin jazz as my masseuse digs into my shoulder blades and elbows my dowager's hump, pondering the seeming irony of enjoying a massage during Lent. I think of the over-the-top physical mortifications of the saints of yore -- things that would probably get them a 48-hour psych admission nowadays, and with good reason -- as well as the much more moderate forms of self-denial that many Christians take upon themselves as a discipline this time of year. As my pastor likes to say, "Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?"
I concluded that it's a good thing. Which may be an entirely self-serving, self-justifying sentiment. But let me tell you why.
Suffering tends not to bring out the best in me. Unlike people who report finding God's special presence and empathy with others in the midst of their own physical and emotional hurts, I tend to become self-pitying, self-absorbed, crabby, blaming, mentally "fuzzy" and a whole lot of other ugly, dysfunctional things.
When I feel that I've "got game" spiritually, it's usually when I'm feeling physically and emotionally well; when I'm not distracted by my own physical or emotional aches and pains; when I can get out of my own way.
Moreover -- we Christians (and, sadly, especially women) still labor under the burden of an otherworldly body-hatred that I believe is the basis for the physical self-mortification that used to be, and I guess still is in some circles, considered to be exemplary. This isn't the life-affirming, l'chaim! message of the Bible.
There's a difference between positive, healthy discipline and dysfunctional self-denial. If we embrace Paul's metaphor of the Christian life as a race to be run, we aren't very effective athletes if we ignore the health of our enfleshed selves or, worse yet, intentionally beat ourselves up in service to some distorted notion of asceticism.
I feel much better, thank you. And after being sick and out of sorts for the better part of a week, I'm feeling more empowered and mentally grounded and ready to just get on with it, soli Deo gloria.