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Living Through Pain
Psalms and the Search for Wholeness
Pain disintegrates a person, fracturing self and relationships. In Living through Pain Kristin M. Swenson charts the multifaceted personal and social problems caused by chronic pain and surveys professional efforts to mitigate and manage it. Because the experience of pain involves all aspects of a person—body, mind, spirit, and community—Swenson consults an ancient resource for wisdom, perspective, and insight. Her close reading of selected psalms from the Hebrew Bible demonstrates that the challenge of living through pain is timeless. Swenson shows how these ancient texts offer a vocabulary and grammar for understanding and expressing the contemporary experience of pain. The psalms tell of suffering and healing. They decry pain’s propensity to fracture even as they demonstrate a person’s ability to mend. Pain is a universal experience, and this book invites readers to consider more fully what is involved in the process of healing.
1 Problems with Pain
2 The Hermeneutics of Pain
3 Pain and the Psalms, Beyond the Medicine Cabinet
4 On Whose Account, This Pain and Its Relief? (Psalm 69)
5 From Justified Pain to Self-Justification (Psalm 38)
6 Finally Darkness (Psalm 88)
7 Shared Treasure from a Lonely Journey (Psalm 22)
8 Moving Pain out of the Center (Psalm 6)
9 Meanwhile the World Goes On (Psalm 102)
Swenson shows how the psalms can help people to renew meaning in their lives, without ever imposing that meaning.
—Arthur W. Frank, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, author of The Wounded Storyteller and The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live
This is an up-to-date and multi-faceted exploration of pain as a "whole self event" demanding response—personally, contextually, medically, theologically and spiritually. Living through Pain is must reading for those who want to understand how shrieks and groans and desperate sighs both fracture and bring unexpected healing to the human spirit. This book is not for the faint-hearted or for those who seek easy answers. And that is good news!
—Joan E. Hemenway, Board-Certified Chaplain Clinical Pastoral Educator
The interface between the psalms and the reality of human suffering is a long established conversation. In this book Swenson brings new life and freshness to that interface. She does so by exacting engagement with contemporary literature on the reality of pain and medical research. The outcome is a rich dialogue whereby “pain theory” illuminates the psalms and the psalms, in turn, offer a suggestive dimension to pain theory. The book is “down and dirty” in its engagement with real life. It will be an important study for men and women of faith who live with pain and for those in the helping professions who live with the pain of others. Swenson shows how the psalms, when read and heard, are indeed instruments for the existential, concrete processing of pain in healing ways.
—Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness
Kristin M. Swenson (Ph.D. Boston University) is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University.