Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Fifth Book of Christmas: Pain, the Gift No One Wants

Twelve Books that show how Christmas changed the world.

On the fifth day of Christmas, our True Love gave the world: physical healing.

"The Gift of Pain," by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.

This books feels like several books combined, but the constituent elements are woven together into a coherent and fascinating whole. 

The book begins with a forward by C. Everett Koop, who pays Dr. Brand the extravagent compliment of saying that when Koop thinks whose life he would like to live, were he to be someone else, the first name on his list is that of Paul Brand. 

The first thread in the tapestry is Dr. Brand's autobiography.  Brand was born in the "Hills of Death" in southern India, to missionary parents.  These old-style missionaries were often headstrong, enormously courageous, and a  bit eccentric, and Paul paints a loving portrait of parents who lived life in full.  Apparently he derived his interest in Nature and Science from his father, who was always poking into ant hills and peering at plants, when he wasn't improving his corner of the world with new crops and healing sometimes hostile villagers.  But tragically, his father died while Paul was being schooled in England.  Having gotten his baptism of fire in surgery during the Blitz, Paul returned to India with his wife Margaret, an eye surgeon, where they worked for almost two decades in healing lepers and the blind of India.  Paul then headed America's only center for the study and rehabilitation of Hansen's disease in Lousianna, where he broadened his study to the effects of pain loss from diabetes, which afflicts millions of people. 

Pain then becomes a scientific adventure story.  It tells how Paul and his staff in India discovered the means by which the lepresy virus ruins bodies, starting with the extremities, and therefore began to develop a lifestyle program for preverving quality of life for those afflicted.

One can also find elements of a love story, a spiritual biography, a bit of philosophy and some thoughts about ecology, in the book. 

So why do I include it as one of the Twelve Books of Christmas?  It represents the work of men and women called to heal, as followers of Jesus.  Missionary doctors started thousands of hospitals on every inhabited continent, often reaching out to the poorest of the poor.  (Though, as Brand points out in an interview in the upcoming Faith Seeking Understanding, some of these healing centers succomb to a "missions creep" similiar to what eventually afflicted Harvard.)  Work with lepers was part of the Christian tradition already in the Middle Ages.  And even in Greco-Roman times, Stark argues, care for the sick was one reason why the Church grew, both through higher survival rates, and because kindness attracted newcomers.   

Billions of the sick have been treated, healed or had babies delivered, by those who follow in the steps of Jesus, the healer.  Dr. Brand shows the connection between model (Jesus) and those who follow him, particularly clearly, because like Jesus, he "touched the untouchable," lepers who were stigmatized in India as they were in ancient Israel.  And as with Jesus, he recognzed that human touch was important in the healing process, because we are more than our bodies: full healing is healing of the spirit.

Other good books: George MacKay, From Far Formosa, tells the "typical" story of a missionary in Taiwan, who did medicine (on thousands of patients!) in his "spare time."  Perhaps the most prominent hospital in modern Taiwan is called the MacKay Memorial Hospital, in the center of Taipei: it's a landmark everyone knows.  Many other missionaries, whether Hudson Taylor or Gladys Aylward in China, Mary Slessor in Nigeria,  or the missionaries I've met in Asia today, include healing as a part of their ministry. 

Hannam's book also shows how medical science also advanced in tandem with the healing arts. 

Day Six

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