What Our Bodies Can Teach Us About Christian Community
This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org and is reposted here by permission.
Early on in medical training, physicians learn to do triage. It is vital to understand which patients in a busy emergency department require immediate attention, and which ones can wait. Sometimes it is a bit of an art to separate them out. The critically urgent case is obvious. But then there are the worried well and the walking wounded. Both of these will make it through the night without assistance, though both will most likely return if not given attention.
“Walking wounded” was coined to describe soldiers able to get out of a battlefield on their own strength. Initial resources didn’t need to be directed to them. The term was later used to describe those in a mass disaster who could potentially make it a while longer before being treated. Everyone knew they were legitimately hurt—there just wasn’t an ability to tend to them yet.
We most often refer to people as walking wounded not in the context of medicine, but in psychological and social milieus. We see them coming, and instead of making a plan for when they will get help, we are more likely to shrink back. They carry around chronic pain that doesn’t seem to have a cure. Like the injured soldier who is able to stumble off the field, the walking wounded can have a sort of dazed understanding of what comes next, unsure of how their lives can be restored to ones that flourish in peace rather than war.
The walking wounded are exhausted and exhausting. It isn’t clear how many there are, but it seems that the disaster of the pandemic and the battles in both church and state have surely increased their number. Physical separation was necessary to curb infection, but elective withdrawal from those with whom we disagree was an epidemic long before a novel virus came our way. Our culture, sociologists say, is in a state of chronic outrage.
Addressing our Chronic Wounds
There isn’t a vaccine for this condition. We can’t just emerge from our isolation and hope that life will resume without any noticeable damage. If deferred from care, the walking wounded come back for aid, again and again. Eventually, patience runs out as wounds fester, become increasingly debilitating and spread to what had been healthy areas of the body. Chronic wounds must be addressed in order for the body to survive.
Fortunately, our physical body is designed to overcome most wounds. We are made, biologically, to promote healing and restoration rather than to stay in a state of woundedness. The body gives us hopeful imagery we may use to interrupt the chronic outrage that permeates our lives and to fully move toward flourishing with each other in community. How might we become like the body, oriented toward recovery?
What the Body Knows
Four stages of wound healing take place in healthy bodies. Clotting, inflammation, tissue building and scarring happen in sequence, each phase requiring more time for completion than the one before it. Clotting is urgent—the most important first step is to stop the bleeding. Inflammation starts soon after, an attempt by the body to surround harmful particles that may infect or damage the injured tissue. Tissue building is an elegant and intricate process, drawing on a diverse array of bodily members, each with a particular task. An extracellular matrix organizes and directs wound repair, with new blood vessels, muscle and nerves taking shape to restore function and form to the damaged site. It is one of the most collaborative processes that occurs in human biology, a remarkable orchestration of different cell types that interact with each other in precise ways, allowing local conditions to shape their responses so that the new growth almost seamlessly fits in with existing tissue. Scarring allows the wounded body to continue to go forward with resumption of everyday life, even if marked by a past hurt. And the church body can learn from the example of God’s amazingly designed human body.
What the Church Body Can Learn
Clotting, that first step toward recovery, asks us to gather close and stop the bleeding. What is needed to stabilize a situation that is hurting the church or community so that attempts at repair may take place? How can we be a clot, quickly assuaging a condition, not with advice or a cure, but with the pressure of kindness and attention?
Inflammation is necessary to clean up debris. So many of our chronic wounds with each other are infected with anger, gossip, factions and pride. We need to clean them up, even if it means courageous confrontation is necessary to expose the issues that threaten to prevent the possibility of healing. Inflammation is a good thing when it is controlled, used only to ready a wound for eventual closure.
Readiness for healing means there is a platform for new growth. Whatever transpires, it won’t be exactly like what came before. We can’t demand that we “go back” to a certain practice or way of being after we have experienced deep relational wounds. We must allow fresh growth, a new shape, to form us. This requires cooperation and generous collaboration. If any one voice or viewpoint is too dominant, we get lopsided growth that doesn’t actually result in closure. In fact, in biology that sort of growth has to be cut out for healing to continue. As we gather together to promote healing, we need to honor each other’s gifts, allow diversity within a call to unity, and balance our own expectations for the future with those of the others knit into our life together. In our call to neighbor love, we never extinguish our own unique identity, but we do become more known as completely ourselves as we also open our lives to those who may differ.
Scars are inevitable. But they don’t have to be disfiguring—they can show resilience and a willingness to embrace a sort of wholeness over an ongoing woundedness. As a community, we may have shared scars from these turbulent times. But scars have never been of chief importance. It is the body that is central. The body, given for me and for you.
We are called to wholeness in community. There is no true individual healing—all restoration requires connectedness. The walking wounded are not meant to be in a chronic state of inflammation and disruption. Let us image God as we image his design for our bodies—stabilizing, addressing, restoring, building, and beholding that form and function that best fits God’s purposes for us and his world.
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