Fibrous scars and reset buttons

Posted on February 24, 2011


It hurts. Every morning in the shower I stretch a muscle taut and starting at one end of it, press deeply into my skin and pull, dragging my fingertips excruciatingly slowly the length, stretching, breaking fibrous scars in the fascia and restoring circulation. It’s called myofascial release, designed to restore lymphatic circulation that’s become inhibited by the bumps and bruises of life that have tacked muscle and skin and the fascia separating them together in unhealthy ways.

The warmth of the water makes it easier as the sartorius resists the release of comfortable bands of scarring from who knows what – too much of something, too little of something else, unchecked imbalance. My fingers want to stop and let the screaming muscle rest, but I breathe deeply and tell myself how free it will be as I feel the tiny scars breaking loose under my fingertips. At the end of the muscle I stand and let the circulation and flow and it does. It does feel wonderful. Then I raise my hands and begin with the long head triceps brachii, breathing and questioning all over again.

When I stand finished, the numb spots are less numb, the aching is gone, worked muscles feel more alive. It takes years off the way I feel. I didn’t know I was getting so creaky. I didn’t know I was scarred.

Sunday I taught about miracles: a palsied man lowered through a roof, a madman freed in the wilderness, a woman whose life was changed when she reached for the hem of a passing God. They weren’t permanent guarantees of a life of ease; they were an opportunity to start over, to push the reset button. Each began anew, a second chance to live a normal life. What an amazing gift. What a kind gift.

Sometimes when I’m standing in the shower trying to keep my perspective as I breathe, I wish there were a passing hem to touch, a reset button to push, and I could skip the therapy. It’s a wry wish, because I’m fully aware that God does not hand us what we can work for and achieve; He gives instead what is out of our reach when we’ve expended all our effort and proven our intent. The gift for me was the knowledge of what to do. What I do with it is my own. Change, even miraculous change, isn’t easy. Once their lives were changed, what did beneficiaries of miracles do? They had to change everything. That, He didn’t do for them.

It’s a beautiful metaphor, as almost everything temporal seems to be. Jesus did not fix things people could fix themselves; He righted things that were completely outside their ability to right. He did not repair a woman’s life when she was thrown on the ground in front of him, but he did tell her how to do it and give her the space and time to try, with the real gift being the knowledge that her life could be repaired. The issue that alienated a woman from the vital connection of human touch, that caused a man to cut himself and scream insanities, the shaking and weak limbs that interfered with work and productive life – these Jesus healed, opening new life and new opportunities. No guarantees, just a clear path on a new road. He didn’t fix everything, just what was needed.

We get trapped in cycles from which we can’t extract ourselves, our vision and our resources seeming set, the problems that beset us the same as yesterday, due to arrive again tomorrow. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re trapped, the cycle seeming natural and appropriate, without a hint that we are actually supposed to be on another path, one completely outside our view. Our scars limit us even without our knowledge. Then someone or something reaches into our life and presents an option: you are not where you’re supposed to be, this is not your lot, or perhaps, the impossible is … yours.

The real reset, and the heart of the whole metaphor, is the chance to be changed. As weighted and repulsive (or perhaps just overused and underconsidered) as we find the words – it’s repentance and it’s forgiveness. It is the healing that is offered if we let the scars go, if we break the bruising bands that tie our thinking to itself in unhealthy ways. It’s unwinding our excuses and setting aside our crutches and embracing the opportunity to move freely and to accept all the responsibility that comes with that.

Sometimes when I stretch those scarred tissues I imagine things breaking – wrong ideas, misjudgments, little pities, big heartaches, deep fears. I imagine all the things that I’ll be able to do without them, and embrace the things I’ll have to do once I don’t have scar excuses anymore. It feels like a healing in stages, much like my evening discussions with God about the mistake-habits I’m trying to eliminate or the sucker-punches I’m trying to get over, fairly indistinguishable from one another when the focus is just … healing.

What has been most interesting about this study of Jesus’ short mortal ministry is that he healed so few people directly. He was at it all the time, but more than half of his ministry was in a few square miles around Galilee, and three years is a very short time. The plan was not to mass-produce the reset button, handing it out to as many people as possible, building the Christian “brand” and becoming an overnight sensation. The plan was to demonstrate how to change a life, intimately, one-on-one, and to train others how to do it.

Jesus was training therapists to slowly run their fingers over people’s lives, finding the fibrous scars and helping them break free, resetting a joint here and there as necessary to free motion, and showing them how to stay free of future wounds. It’s slow, invisible work, but the change is permanent. And you own it. Forever.

My sister sent me a huge copy of this print today. She knew I would get it. Perfect position. The trappings are inconsequential. Life is not a show. What’s important is what we can do, because a stage and a costume are the easy part. This dancer doesn’t need better clothes, because that’s not what makes her a dancer. What needs healed in us is usually invisible… restricting the fluidity and strength of our action. The fact that it can be healed … that’s the miracle. That’s the reset.

After healing – changed, scar-free – we dance.    Then we show someone else how.

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