Gut Feelings: Chronic Illness and the Search for Healing

Gut Feelings: Chronic Illness and the Search for Healing

Gut Feelings: Chronic Illness and the Search for Healing

Gut Feelings: Chronic Illness and the Search for Healing


"What does 'healing' mean for people who have chronic illnesses without a known cure? Gut Feelings shows readers a new way to explore the problem of suffering, seeking answers in sociology, philosophy and theology. Catherine Garrett's autobiographical narrative links physical, emotional and spiritual experience with intellectual discovery. It is written for people in pain and for all who hope to alleviate suffering. As a profound meditation on life with illness, this book shows that academic and personal wisdom, offered in the form of stories, can make healing itself more widely accessible." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


In the photograph accompanying this chapter, an angel holds a man in his embrace. Where the side of the man’s buttock becomes thigh, a gash catches the light. His body slumps with exhaustion. The angel’s wild hair streams behind him as, knees bent, he seems about to push away from the ground and lift the wounded man with him. The angel’s powerful arms are binding, but they also keep the man from falling. This angel is a messenger. Paradoxically, he brings both pain and respite.

The statue condenses in alabaster the experiences and ideas my book turns into language: pain and suffering, conflict, change and resolution; bodies, emotions and creativity; the human and more than human. This sculpture is Jacob Epstein’s image of his biblical namesake wrestling, blindly at first, with God. It is only through his wound that Jacob finally recognizes the sacredness of what has happened. Epstein’s statue is a symbol of human suffering, of the effort to understand suffering, to give it meaning, and to find healing. It is a personal image the man bears the sculptor’s name - but it is linked with an ancient story we intuitively recognize because every one of us is joined, often in anguished struggle, with the power the angel represents. Even as we resist it, this force supports us, transforms us, and gives us life. The sculpture moves us because the human figure is Epstein, naked and vulnerable, and also ourselves. His solid image stands for all our named or nameless pains and all our stories.

Epstein made sculptures. I teach and write. Through these forms of art, we offer what we have learned from experience as a gift to others, in the hope that it might illuminate parallels in their own lives. My formal education has been interdisciplinary: shaped by studies in history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and literature and sharpened by debates in gender studies about how to combine the theories and methods of established disciplines to interpret personal and social experience. I work in an interdisciplinary university department - a school of applied social and human sciences - and Gut Feelings is published in a series committed to interdisciplinary forms of knowledge. This background has provided the intellectual framework of my search to understand ongoing illness and healing.

1. Chronic Illness

My own chronic illness is an unexplained digestive disorder. It has been part of my life for over forty years. Its causes and treatment are obscure, but it is not a rare or special condition. Many people have gastric or intestinal pain and malfunctioning digestion and they will want to know what has helped mine. But this book is about much more than spasms of . . .

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