When I was a child, I had a Band-Aid phobia. According to my mom, this fear reached its pinnacle when I stubbornly refused to keep the Band-Aid on that she’d applied to the oozing blisters on my feet, caused by those infernal plastic jelly shoes from the 1980s. She didn’t understand why I would rather keep the shoes on and let my blisters continue to break open and pus, rather than wear a Band-Aid.
I’m not actually sure I was afraid of them as much as disgusted by smell of the fleshy PVC, even fresh from the paper packaging. Still, this distaste for Band-Aids followed me all my life so that even my husband and children enjoy the look it elicits when they flap unpackaged Band-Aids in my face.
Am I that weird that I find Band-Aids disgusting? Isn’t everyone at least disgusted by the used Band-Aids they find mashed into the dirt of the playground, the ones that flapped off of a small ankle during play? What about when you spot a soiled bandage in the dusty corners of the public restroom? Just the thought makes me gag.
Band-Aids remind us of our wounds. And wounds can be shocking to see and smell, visceral reminders that all those bloody, sinewy, bony parts peeking out underneath the skin are indeed mortal.
Recently, I met a couple who runs an urban ministry in which they serve and even live with people who have addictions. Sometimes these addicts are so deep in their addictions that no one else will take them in. I asked the woman what her day-to-day life looked like. After running through a list of mundane things like laundry and cooking, she said, “a large part of what I do is wound care.”
I had a striking mental image of what wound care might look like for an addict who has ceased taking care of her body: cuts, gashes, and infections that would make my jelly shoe blisters look like paper cuts.
What makes someone care for the wounds of others?
St. Francis of Assisi famously made peace with the wounds of others. Growing up in a wealthy family, he was revolted (as many people were) by the lepers who were forced to remain on the edges of society. But eventually, the leprosy that had formerly disgusted him became the evidence of his growing transformation.
One spring afternoon, he slid down off of his horse, reached out to a leper on the road, and kissed him. Only months later, he heard the voice of Jesus in the church at San Damiano and he moved toward a life of poverty, giving away all of his possessions and living with lepers.
Another saint and mystic, Catherine of Siena, was said to have taken the wound thing even farther: she had a vision of Jesus in which she kissed and licked his wounds. This graphic image takes us from our tendency to simply spiritualize the passage in 1 Peter that says of Jesus, “by his wounds you have been healed.” Catherine seemed, like many mystics, to believe not only in the spiritual but physical power of Christ’s wounds.
And as grotesque as that image might seem to us—of Catherine of Siena with her mouth to a wound—maybe she was onto something. The physical wounds of Jesus and others are important.
Though I’m still disgusted by the forgotten and discarded bandages you see in playgrounds or floors, there is one exception. Band-Aids don’t bother me when they have been on the cuts or wounds of my children.
I have tended to more of my children’s wounds, hurts, and bodily fluids than I can count. I have cleaned up their vomit and feces, held bloody cuts closed with my hands, even kissed injuries with my mouth. And while their wounds might concern me if they were terrible, I can’t imagine being disgusted by them.
It’s completely normal to be disgusted by wounds and germs, but what helps us overcome that disgust? Of course, it is love. Because I desperately love my children, even the unlovely parts of them are dear to me.
But what about people who aren’t our children, the lepers or the addicts who might be harder to embrace? St. Francis had to come to terms with his own wounds before he could love the wounds of others. He mourned his own darkness and his love for others became so deep that he literally took on their wounds. Some say that the stigmata on his hands, feet, and side that oozed and never fully healed were actually leprous.
Along with these mystics, my friend who works with addicts show us with their lives that the power of Jesus’ wounds can be more than just a theological theory. And that’s because love is caring for the wounds of another, not just spiritually, but even sometimes physically.
In Fredrick Buechner’s novel Godric, the title character—after recalling the loss of most of his friends in his old age—prays, “Gentle Jesu, Mary’s son, be thine the wounds that heal our wounding. Press thy bloody scars to ours that thy dear blood may flow in us and cleanse our sin.”
To Godric and the mystics, there is power in the physical touch of Jesus’ wounds to our own. Godric’s prayer to Jesus mentions Mary, not as a throwaway line, but because love came to us through wounds and suffering and the love of a mother. It’s that kind of revelation that can lead to love, a kind of love that might just extract our childish revulsions and replace them with adoration.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Christiana Peterson
Christiana N. Peterson is the author of Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints. Her writing has also appeared in Christianity Today, Art House America, Christian Century, and Bearings Online. She lives in Ohio with her husband and four kids.