This weekend marks the annual Greek Festival in our neighborhood. Allen and I walked to the festivities in the perfect afternoon as the sugar maple trees started donning their brilliant autumn splendor. With the smell of Greek food cooking at demonstrations and the sound of Greek dancing music playing to our ears we headed into the recently built Greek Orthodox Church. The frescos are not yet adorning the walls, but the stained glass windows were shimmering in the sun’s glow.
A convert to Greek Orthodoxy gave us a tour. The priest invited us to walk toward the room in which the Eucharistic preparations are made, but requested that we not go through it. “That is the door to Heaven, and only the ordained can enter”.
I resonate with the particular preciousness denoted by the careful articulation of each element and practice as explained to us. Here are some examples of what we heard:
The narthex symbolizes the world, the sacred part of the chancel through the Heavenly gate is heaven, and the nave is the place between the two where communion is served and the Word is proclaimed and the liturgy received and given.
The Bible is covered in decorated metal covers instead of leather because the Word of God is living and they don’t wish to cover it with dead animal skins.
There is a red cloth lying over the Gospel represents a burial shroud, so each time it is read, the shroud is removed and the reading itself reminds us of the resurrection.
The preciousness of each item, the narrative associated with it, the way in which each action told the story in some specific way reminded me of my sensibilities toward Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.
There is a ritual to acupuncture also. It calls me to reverence. As I looked at the crimson and gold ‘burial shroud’ I started hearing Scripture texts bubbling up inside me. Two in particular: Psalm 139: You knit me in my mother’s womb….
I Cor. 7 “Your body is a temple…”
In acupuncture, our bodies are like a temple of what is holy and what is mundane. Chinese medicine does not distinguish between mundane and holy or between sacred and profane or between spirit and body. It is all the same.
Every one of the 365 points we learn tell a story, they hold a particular function. Some of them get tight and ornery and begin to serve as a burial shroud, covering up something pushing forward to move again, to come alive again. When a needle heads to that point, it can invite the rivers to push the stones away and flow freely.
Some points assist in letting go, others support and invite growth. Some call to the Heavens and enrich spirit, others calm and settle distraction. Some help tears flow, others release anger.
There is a ritual to acupuncture also. Points are touched in a particular order based upon the story of the treatment. It is not unlike the ritual of worship in which the greeting comes before the praise and the confession before the assurance.
In reformed theology, tension exists between immanence and transcendence. In Chinese medicine from a Daoist perspective, at least to the limits of my early understanding, it is all immanence. What is holy and peaceable and true is here, incarnate in every temple that breathes and lives.
This is why I am so awed by the reverence called forth from me in this medicine. I have only held needles and used them one day. My partner was a classmate I respect and like very much. She happens to be pregnant and far enough along I can sometimes see the baby kick and roll when I sit beside her in class. I had not thought much about the first day I would needle. I forgot to wear closed toed shoes and remember grabbing my kit and running for class. I set up my area and studied the points I would practice on her. Then I had the needle in my hand, press the skin or stretch the skin taut. Look beneath the skin to the point you are going to meet. Press the needle in.
The needle found its way through her skin as my fingers pressed it inward. My generous partner did not flinch or complain. I felt the sliver of the needle catch her energy, her force, her spirit. Then I felt such reverence unexpectedly.
I often felt humbled in massage therapy by the offering of one’s body to my hands and I recognized the honor it was to touch each person, to feel where tensions and pain and holdings were kept as if treasures locked in a storehouse. This was similar and it was different. This was not touching the fabric knitted together in the womb and by the challenges and hardships of life through the skin, the original cloth we wrap our selves and our stories in.
This is reaching through that web. It is, perhaps, entering the Gate of Heaven, not of a transcendent God far away and practiced through traditions of thousands of years, but rather of spirit here, in that moment, on that table, under my fingers and hands. That point had never been touched in that way, with that touch, in that breath. Every moment is sacred.
I fear it is too possible that eventually needles are needles and points are points and I will be able to ‘do that in my sleep’. I will cultivate the practice of doing it while awake, for it is a practice that awakens me to reverence and reminds me of the power of rituals.
The sacred is around us every moment. In the mountains where we live, the trees are teasing us of autumn. In some Chinese medicine, this is the season of metal, a season of letting go and choosing with care what to hold onto. It is a season in life of aging, of letting go, of grieving.
This happens to be my favorite season, watching the mountains dress up in dazzling splendor before letting go, watching each moment the scene change as a leaf falls and the trees prepare for wintering.
The squirrels in our backyard are building storehouses to the chagrin of our dogs that would give much to be free to chase them down and plunder their nests of acorns.
This season, as I consider the sacred space I’m creating for a treatment room and a corner in which to learn this medicine, I am richly aware that there is sacred space I carry with me every moment in the form of my body which contains all there is to chinese medicine in its shallows and in its deep, in my lineage and in my unique path of living and it changes with every breath. As does yours.