not just my nerves

But what if I fail of my purpose here? It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
to dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall, and baffled, get up and begin again.

Robert Browning

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(the remains of fallen acorns / Julie Cook / 2016)

As I continue dealing with this nerve pain business from these ruptured discs of mine…
waiting for the nerve block to do something…
as they said it could be up to a week…
that being today…as I am not exactly holding my breath…
I can’t help but think about the whole business of nerves…
of which is the craziest thing…

The pain is like a searing burning rawness.
With just the slightest touch from clothes or whatever causing severe pain…
It’s as if the skin has been flayed open and something or someone is sadisticaly rubbing
or sawing into the raw vulnerable flesh.
But when I look, thinking surely the skin will be red, angry and swollen,
with signs of grave irritation…
I am met with perfectly intact and non inflamed skin.

It’s crazy that things can look so very normal yet the slightest touch of mere cloth
can send excruciating waves of irritation…

Those who have limbs amputated report that there is often lingering ghost pain associated
with the now missing limb—that the brain and the now cut off nerves still register
that the limb remains…

These bodies of ours are indeed resilient yet fragile all at the same time…

And all of this nerve business takes me back to something I read quite sometime ago
regarding the Crucifixion.
In particular the crowning of the thorns.

Paul Badde is a German journalist who wrote for the paper Der Spiegel.
I actually became acquainted with his work after reading a book he’d written,
The Face of God.
Badde is an ardent believer in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin as well as the
burial face cloth of Jesus, known as the Veil of Manoppello or the Veil of Veronica.

Now it matters not whether you agree or you don’t with the idea of these cloths being
the actual burial cloths of Jesus…
That is not the issue here at hand…
No debate as to is it or isn’t it–
although I do tend to lean toward the line of the plausible…
that is not our issue.

Nerves are the issue and it is to nerves that took my mind back to reading
Mr. Badde’s books…

Mr Badde describes in detail how the blood accumulated on the cloths and why the patterns
are as they are…
From the crown of the head all the way down to the heels of the feet.
All with a very in-depth and forensic type of explanation.
Beginning with the effects that the cap of thrones would have had on a person who was
unfortunate enough to have had such jammed upon their head.

At the time that I read Mr. Badde’s as well as other explanations for the bodily
damage administered first by flagellation, beatings, whippings, hittings, punctures, nails
and then ultimately a crucifixion…
I have had to actually stop reading, putting down the particular book or article
as the description was so graphic and stomach turning.

It’s one thing to hear that ‘Jesus was crucified,’
it’s something else entirely when you read a forensic detail of what
actually takes place in and to the body of the one being crucified.

The following is a short explanation of the crowning of thorns as offered by
Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe
Dr. Zugibe is an expert in forensic pathology and was the Chief Medical Officer of
Rockwood County, New York, from 1969 to 2003.
He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
For the past twenty years,
he has been the President of the Association of Scientists and Scholars International
for the Shroud of Turin.

“The nerve supply for pain perception to the head region is distributed by branches of two major nerves: the trigeminal nerve, which essentially supplies the front half of the head, and the greater occipital branch, which supplies the back half of the head.” 6 These two nerves enervate all areas of the head and face.
The trigeminal nerve, also known as the fifth cranial nerve, runs through the face, eyes,
nose, mouth, and jaws. Irritation of this nerve by the crown of thorns would have
caused a condition called trigeminal neuralgia or tic douloureux.
This condition causes severe facial pain that may be triggered by light touch,
swallowing, eating, talking, temperature changes, and exposure to wind.
Stabbing pain radiates around the eyes, over the forehead, the upper lip, nose,
cheek, the side of the tongue and the lower lip. Spasmodic episodes of stabbing,
lancinating, and explosive pain are often more agonizing during times of fatigue or tension.
It is said to be the worst pain that anyone can experience.

As the soldiers struck Jesus on His head with reeds,
He would have felt excruciating pains across His face and deep into His ears,
much like sensations from a hot poker or electric shock.
These pains would have been felt all the way to Calvary and while on the Cross.
As He walked and fell, as He was pushed and shoved, as He moved any part of His face,
and as the slightest breeze touched His face, new waves of intense pain would have been triggered.
The pain would have intensified His state of traumatic shock.
The thorns would have cut into the large supply of blood vessels in the head area.
Jesus would have bled profusely, contributing to increasing hypovolemic shock.
He would have been growing increasingly weak and light-headed.
As well, He would have bouts of vomiting, shortness of breath,
and unsteadiness as hypovolemic and traumatic shock intensified.

So now, through a very small window, I can slightly to begin to wrap my brain around
some semblance of understanding of that initial nerve pain Jesus endured as a cap comprised of
5cm long thorns was shoved down upon his head…
puncturing the scalp, the forehead and temple while penetrating deeply into those
precious precarious nerves…

Just as those who battle diabetic nerve pain…
or any other sort of nerve condition or trauma…can begin to grasp a portion of the magnitude
of pain…endured by one for all

Doesn’t make things any better, any more tolerable nor even comforting…
but in the slightest sense, there is a deeper knowledge when reading… Jesus suffered…

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Pantocrator

“According to greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
Plato

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I don’t know what first drew me to this particular image, or more aptly put, Icon. Oh I’ve written about Icon’s before, quite some time ago, which means I don’t want to rewrite a post (see “What is an Icon” dated 3/1/13) however there is a little background necessary in order for one to fully appreciate the image accompanying this particular post.

An Icon, which translates to “image” is just that, an image. A bit of an artistic photograph if you will. It should be noted that Icons are not considered paintings at all, but rather are referred to as written images– as in the artist is not painting but actually “writing,” what I like to describe as, a love letter.

Now back to this particular image.
No doubt you have seen it at some time or other as it is quite notable as far as Icons are concerned. It is an image of the Christ, or Pantocrator as He is known in Greek/ Παντοκράτωρ—–meaning Divine (translated from the Hebrew El Shaddai). This particular image dates to the 6th century–let’s say 500 years or so after the death of Christ. It is considered to be the oldest known image of Christ or as He is known to many, as the Chirstos.

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

Knowing all of the geographical information of Jesus, I’ve never gravitated to the images depicted in much of our Western Culture’s art and literature regarding Jesus, as I just didn’t think it a true likeness. I knew he didn’t look like me– as he grew up in an entirely different area of the planet that does not have many light haired, blue eyed folks running about. I wanted to see Jesus for who is was, not some stylized image.

And so it was when I first saw this image—I was truly taken by this image. The question of whether or not I was glancing at the closest image of the man who has had the greatest impact on humankind–let alone my life, resonated in my head.

This particular image is considered to be the benchmark for all other artistic images of Jesus—that is until the expansion of the Christian Church in the West, meaning Europe and eventually the new continent of the Americas.

This Icon is located in St Catherine’s Monastery in the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. St Catherine’s is located at the foot of the mountain, Mt Horeb, in which it is believed that God spoke to Moses in the form of the burning bush. It is also within these mountains that Moses later received the Ten Commandments. St. Catherine’s has been in existence as a practicing Monastery since the year 564—making St Catherine’s Monastery one of the oldest practicing monasteries known in all of Christendom.

It is troubling, given the current political crisis in Egypt, that St Catherine’s has had to shut its doors to pilgrims most recently as the safety of Christians, particularly in Egypt, is a perilous situation. I’m attaching a short nice informative link to a Youtube clip concerning a brief overview of St. Catherine’s as narrated by the monks:

There is also a most fascinating book based on the travels of two of the first Western woman, sisters from Scotland, who journeyed to St Catherine’s in the mid 1800’s. The Sisters of the Sinai by Jancie Soskice– Theirs was a journey of the discovery of ancient manuscripts. A most interesting true tale.

To the casual observer the life and worship at this most ancient of monasteries is something of another world and time—And so it is—yet it must be understood that the monks at St Catherine’s have been practicing these rituals since the year 500 with little to no change. . . so if anything, it is our worship today that is otherworldly and foreign. It is on my bucket list to one day travel to St. Catherine’s. The original burning bush is purported to be within the walls of the monastery as the bush in question actually does date to the time of Moses. The library is full of ancient texts as well as the largest collection of original ancient Icons all of which are housed within St. Catherine’s fortified walls. It is said that the aired conditions have helped to preserve these ancient and holy relics with many dating to the birth of the Christian faith.

The story goes that a cloth was found just at the inception of the monastery, buried within its walls, which was purported to have been part of the burial cloth of Jesus—not the Shroud but rather the face cloth that was customary of the time to be placed over the face of the deceased before being wrapped in the burial shroud. This cloth, or what the Eastern Church refers to as a napkin, Holy Napkin, is said to have, just as the shroud, held the image of a man—-of what the faithful claim to be that of Jesus. It was shortly after the discovery of this cloth that this particular image of Jesus, the Pantocrator of Sinai was created—making it the first known artistic image in existence based from something that is said to be the original image of Jesus—making this image to be the closest thing Christian followers would have to an exact image of Christ. Some stories even attribute the Icon’s creation to St Luke as he was considered an artist as well as a medical doctor.

But it is the facial features of this particular image that draws me from mere observer to that of one of awe and worshiper. The duality of God rests in this image–the Deity as well as the Human–two separate entities, yet united in one face. If an image of the face from the Shroud of Turin is laid over this image, the two faces are proportionate, lining up equally. If you split in half the face of this Icon’s image you will note that both halves of the face are vastly different, making this image asymmetrical rather than symmetrical– as we consider the human face to be–more equal than different.

One side of the face is that of a tender and loving man–that of pure-hearted love, that of Savior. The other side is a man harsh and stern–that of Judge of Mankind. I am reminded of the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples that at the time of Judgement He will separate the sheep form the goats. The sheep on the right having done the acts of kindness during their lives of clothing the naked, feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned will all see Glory. On the other hand are the goats, those to His left, who did not do the act of kindness to the strangers throughout their lives—they will be cast away to eternal damnation –the Savior vs Judge–the two compelling actions all within one individual.

I first saw this image, oddly enough, in a store specializing in Icons on a street corner in Rome. In the shadow of the great Latin Roman branch of Christianity, that of St Peter’s, exists an Eastern Orthodox store of Iconography. The irony was not lost on this little pilgrim. The store clerks spoke only Greek and no doubt Italian. There were reproductions of many Icons, but it was the Pantocrator of Sinai which truly spoke to me. It is said that one does not choose an Icon, but that the Icon chooses you. I brought home a copy that I eventually framed–later purchasing a mounted image from St Isaac’s Skete–a wonderful small orthodox Skete located in rural Wisconsin which offers a beautiful selection of mounted Icons as well as commissioned Icons by the trained monks. (http://www.skete.com )

And so it is, as I stand in my kitchen, just on the counter above the sink, sits a small collection of Icons. As I spend countless hours in the kitchen, I am afforded time to ponder these images—pondering the significance they play and have played in my life as well as the cascading significance they have played throughout the existence of humankind. I marvel and stand in awe of the duality of God. I am drawn to the face of both Grace and Judgement. At times I am compelled to look away, as I feel so unworthy, so less than, so dirty by the weight of my sins—and just when I feel defeated and worthless, less than— the face of Love draws me back–

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

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