On being ill

(With apologies to Virginia Woolf)

OK, looks like my first post has to be about why there never was a first post. I’ve just spent three days in bed with flu, and another half-day on the sofa with flu, and now I’ve brought the flu back to bed where it seemed happier to be, though really I’d prefer it not to be anywhere and especially not anywhere near my head, joints, throat, sinuses and wisdom tooth (yes I know that’s not a known symptom; it’s my own special variation on a theme). Very little work done, very little childcare done, very little thinking done, irritatingly little sleeping done, a lot of allowing time to pass.

I know I should embrace it as an opportunity to become familiar with my body’s vulnerability, with the spiritual value of patience, and so on. Actually I’d just like it to stop.

I have worked out a few things, though.

– I say this quite often to students, but I do need to remember to keep saying it. It’s all very well to criticise premodern or early modern or even nineteenth-century Christian theology, especially women’s theology, for being negative about embodiment. If you’re ill – or if you’re constantly hungry, suffering unexplained aches and pains, pregnant (and unfortunate enough not to “bloom”), physically exhausted a lot of the time (as eg if you’re anaemic) – heck, if you’re being bitten by biting insects – you do not feel particularly positive about your embodiment. And for most women (or in most of these cases most human beings) in most of the world at most times, these experiences are really rather common, to the point in many cases of dominating life. So here’s the thing – all these theological writings in which the body is a prison, or a despised “beast of burden”, or an encumbrance – they are also written from experience. In the grand sweep of world history I, and other healthy women with consistent access to adequate nutrition, sanitation, health care and birth control, am the weird exception to the norm. So you’d expect me to be more enthusiastic about embodiment, really.

Now, none of that is a reason to think the anti-body, anti-sexuality, anti-sensuality, (and then especially when it’s also) misogynistic strand of Christian thought is anything other than a Big Mistake. Rather the reverse. But I find it helpful to recognise where (some of) it’s coming from.

– One more small point for future reflection: I have discovered quite by accident that, while I can get very stressed about work obligations I fail to meet, I have an altogether more deep-seated, irrational and powerful fear of being unable to look after my children.

OK. Too much already. Time for a break. Did I mention that I don’t like being ill?


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