You Will Call, I Will Answer: An Interview with William Stuntz
Have your experiences led you to think differently about the relationship between the body and the spirit? Christians sometimes behave as though all that matters is the spiritual life. Is that too simple? What does it mean to live our faith as embodied individuals?
That's a great question, and the best way I know to answer it is this. Chronic pain and cancer both make life more concrete. In times of good health, when our bodies are doing everything we want and expect them to do, there is a tendency to think of spiritual life as something that is anything but concrete. That's not possible, I find, in my present circumstances. My medical conditions, independently and together, are inescapable. Perhaps that's the key feature. They are there all the time. There is no time when I am not aware of them. I hurt all the time. I'm exhausted all the time. There is no escaping either of those states of affairs. I simply never feel like I used to feel virtually all the time.
What I find when I think back to the way I used to feel, I see that my life then was so much less concrete. It was not that I felt physical pleasure back then -- in fact, I think I feel more physical pleasure now than I did when I was healthy. It was just that I did not feel very much of anything. My body was nothing more than a vessel carrying me around. I think that sensibility extends to other areas of life. It leads to a life that is more abstract, less personal, a life that is up in the clouds and not down where the rubber meets the road. The abstract life, I find, is impossible to live when your body is broken down.
Do you ever feel hatred toward your body?
I certainly have felt hatred toward my body. There was a time when I felt that more acutely than I do now. I cannot manage to maintain enmity between myself and my body, because my self is in part my body. How can we be enemies? We are stuck together.
These conditions, both of them, become very quickly a part of one's identity. Chronic pain and cancer are not just things that have happened to me. They are things that I am.
Part of me rebels at that. I want to be more than a cancer patient and chronic pain patient. But I cannot be less than a cancer patient and a chronic pain patient. Those are large parts of my life. They are part of who I am. Although I would love to have my pain and my cancer removed tomorrow, that would not be an easy thing. I would have to learn how to be somebody else.
If God decided simply to free me of these conditions, I wouldn't just wake up in the morning and be deliriously happy. It would be a struggle. These things have been a part of me, a part of who I am. I have learned how to live alongside them and through them. Then I would have to learn how to live without them. I wouldn't know how to do that anymore.
Many people wonder what it will be like when they learn that their death is drawing near. Is there anything that surprises you?
Yes, absolutely, but I think that this is just another one of many, many pieces of divine mercy. One thing that has certainly surprised me is just how easy it has been to absorb that message that I'm going to die soon.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.