Saturday, October 5, 2013

From Death to Life

The Physiology and Spirituality of a Zombie

Decaying, putrefied flesh, dead necrotic tissue, dangling gangrene infested limbs.... glassy, foggy lifeless orbits, devoid of life- a cold, pungent corpse is apparently is re-animated by an unknown force or biological drive.......

The undead, otherwise known as zombies, are everywhere in popular culture: books, television, and movies.  But, you need not go to the theater to see the living dead- they are closer than you realize...... 

The introduction of tainted biological fluid must contaminate the host victim.  Most commonly the initial contamination is introduced by means of a flesh wound such as that which may come from a bite or scratch from a infected individual.  Contamination  rarely occurs in the healthcare setting, but when it does it is usually  inadvertently through a needle stick or contact with bodily fluids during lab testing.  As with any virus or contagious illness, there is a period of incubation in which the victim appears asymptomatic.  Nevertheless, while the person may feel physically healthy on the outside, the contagion works behind the scenes at the cellular level creating havoc in the body's systems.

The very first initial symptom appears to be an elevated temperature as the body attempts to fight off infection. This is reflected in a fever- mild at first. The fever does not respond to medication.  Lymph glands may be swollen and  tender to the touch.  Ironically, though the body gives the appearance of  having a cold or flu, instead of the usual fatigue and lethargy that accompanies the flu, the individual may experience an increase in energy.  The metabolism is elevated as the thyroid works harder to fight the illness. Blood pressure increases as well as the heart rate.  Respiration becomes more rapid. The body's  attempt to thwart the contagion is unsuccessful.   This may give the affected individual an initial burst of energy, deceptively it may appear as if the patient is on the recovery as the metabolism, thyroid and immune system  work in overdrive.  Not long after the early stages of infection, the victim will exhibit symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism.  This will include increased appetite, anxiety, mild aggression, sleeplessness and intolerance to heat.  The mixed set of symptoms that follow the initial fever may mask the extent of internal damage caused by the contagion and often lead to a false diagnosis.

As the contagion   circulates within the bloodstream, all body organs and tissues are eventually affected, from the cellular level to the organ systems.  As the infection spreads, the effect on rapidly dividing cells is the first obvious sign.  Similar to the effects of radiation sickness or chemotherapy  in with the invading contaminant indiscriminately attacks the rapidly regenerating cells: healthy and non healthy alike, the same is true of the contagion. The rapidly dividing cells  of the scalp, mucus membranes and nerves, are the first to succumb to the infection as it begins its indiscriminately attack all cells in a similar way.  Hair will become brittle, thin, dull and some loss of hair will occur. Skin cells will become dry, raw and irritated.  Skin will become irritated, cracked and dry.   Mucus membranes lining the mouth, esophagus and stomach will become irritated, raw and slough off- causing irritation and tenderness  at first, and thereafter extreme gastrointestinal discomfort and bleeding.  As the body systems are affected and subsequently destroyed, pain and fatigue will set in.  Nerves will be affected in a similar fashion as ALS.  As the nerves progressively become damaged and die, loss of function is experienced.  This is first observed as a heightened sensitivity in the form of pain, tingling, involuntary twitches and numbness.  As nerves completely die, there is a loss of feeling altogether.  Yet, as opposed to ALS or traditional paralysis from CNS injury, the dying cells and cell tissue actually physically die- they experience cell death and become necrotic- resulting in furthering the infections.  As the body organs and fluids becomes septic, and the toxicity spreads throughout the body,  the body tissues decay giving the characteristic of the typical sterotypical zombie appearance: mottled necrotic skin that is easily bruised, injured and infected.  Internally, the organs cease to function as the cells become necrotic and  die.  Internal bleeding occurs throughout the body and the old, putrefied, congealed, thick, sludge-like black blood and dead cells is eliminated by the body from every orifice imaginable as wastes.  The slick, putrefied mix of wastes gives the zombie its characteristic decayed odor and disheveled, unclean appearance.

Needless to say, the brain does not escape damage from infection.  Apparently the higher functions of the brain are the first to experience the effects of impairment.  Initially the mental impairment is subtle.  Complete memory loss and purposeful  thought is eventually lost as the brain tissue becomes necrotic and shrinks.  Eventually all intentional and purposeful activity and thought is gone, leaving only a fragment of the functioning hind brain.  Mentally the person's capacity is  analogous to a persistent vegetative state, yet the body is inexplicably  animated and continues to physically function by minimum instinct and nerve impulses similar to that exhibited by lower life forms.  As a result, the individual is automated only by a basic instinct and basic physical sparks of electrical impulses.  Clinically and biologically, the person may be defined as alive simply because the brain is functioning at the most basic level.  Nevertheless, it might be argued that such an individual is legally dead in that  brain death has occurred in that there is no possibility of recovery and there is no purposeful brain activity.  An EKG most likely would reveal a flat line. Obviously putrefaction and contamination of the body's organs renders them useless for the purpose of donation.  The senseless aggression and bestial behavior makes the infected a danger to society, and therefore require containment.  The time line of the progression of the illness varies. 

Spirituality of the Living Dead:

A necrotic, shrunken brain- filled with useless, putrefied nonfunctioning brain matter. A stinking mush of dead cells and puss- incapable of thought whatsoever.  Nerve synapses are dead and destroyed.  The head is simply a shell that houses a walnut sized brain stem- functioning with minimal  activity.  Movement is the product of purposeless reflexes, and synaptic pulses guided by basic instinct.  As far as a mind- anything that resembled a personality is long gone.  Just as the body eventually deteriorates, the mind also disintegrates.  As far as the spirit?  The soul?  That no longer exists either.

An argument can be made that the concept of the living dead is nothing new. In fact there are a number of references to the living dead in the bible. A passage from Ephesians, a new testament book written by Paul, the apostle, states  "As for you, don't you remember how you used to exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world.  You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air- oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.  I'm not talking about outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying  impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers.  As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of human kind."  Ephesians 2: 1-3 (the Voice NT).

 Zombies- the living dead:  A body, reanimated, disgusting, grotesque and barbaric- alive yet devoid of the essential part that makes it human.  I don't know who hasn't heard of zombies- they are the subject of many horror movies. But to see one of these creatures, there was a time that all I needed to do was look in the mirror. Ironically I was no different from the grotesque manifestations that I would watch in my television screen- I too was among the undead- physically alive, walking, breathing, yet dead in spirit.

ONE FINAL WORD (about Zombies) 

in·ac·ces·si·ble  defined as not accessible, unable to be reached or understood.

An image from my past flashes  across my  mind as I am transported back in time- almost thirty years earlier. I remember tiptoeing and pulling down from the top shelf- a larger sized, dusty, forbidden, neglected volume,  the bible.  Curious, I opened the book and read.

Contrary to the commonly held stereotypes that the bible is too difficult to read and  irrelevant in modern society - the words were clear, easy to grasp and eye opening.  I wondered to myself as to why this book was apparently hidden in the bookshelf, squeezed between other books and out of my reach. I wondered why no one told me about this book, or its message.  It is incredible how many households have a copy of this life changing book, yet it simply collects dust on a book shelf unread.  Countless people, simply dismiss this life changing book with hardened  hearts are hardened, just like the listeners in Jesus’ day whose closed ears and closed hearts could not understand the parables that Jesus shared.  On that day, looking back, I compare myself to the parable of the seed that fell upon the footpath and quickly snatched away by the birds or chocked by thorns and weeds in Matthew 13:4.  The message was lost to me.

That day, I was not saved. That day,  I did not receive the Good News.  I did not learn about eternal life or God's love and grace.   The seeds were quickly snatched away, like the seeds on the hard, barren footpath.   I slowly closed the bible in despair- placing it carefully back on the shelf, feeling dejected.... dismissing it as yet another book filled with fables and fairy tales, returning to my life as usual saying to myself, thinking that if it were true, then certainly someone would have told me about it. 

That was not my day of salvation.  It was not to come for a number of years.  Needless to say, I admit I ended up swiping that bible, and taking it for my own use years later.  And I still have it to this day. 
Yes, it is true, I used to be among the living dead, until the day I was saved


Saved from death
Fast forward a few years to the day when I made an important decision that changed my life. That day started like any other day. It is no understatement to say I had some difficult and awkward years when I was young. .During my teenaged years, my physical and social deficits became more pronounced at a most inopportune time of life when appearance and social skills are paramount for normal positive social interaction. As I matured, my physical appearance embarrassed me to such an extent that I lived in a constant state of abject discomfort and anxiety that someone would tease me. Graceless, indelicate and overgrown, I was isolated and frequently tormented by my peers. I was made fun of, humiliated and embarrassed. While these problems may pale in comparison to the world’s social injustices and inequities, this was my life and my world! It was all that mattered to me at the time in my own selfish, self- centered world.

Outside I was quiet, yet within I was sad, angry, bitter and jealous. Every night I would cry myself to sleep. I could pass half the night awake in bed feeling sorry for myself. In my dreams I lived out detailed fantasies of revenge. I doubted that even God existed because if He really did, I was sure that I had been abandoned by God.

The irony is that despite the anger and jealous feelings I harbored within, I deluded myself into thinking I was morally superior. In fact I believed everyone else had wronged me in my own mind. I was so puffed up with pride about my own goodness when I compared myself with all those other “degenerates” in school that dated, went to dances, listened to music or dressed in the latest trends.  One day my misery came to an end. I vaguely recall a girl who crossed my path and befriended me. We talked, or rather she talked, and I “listened” during lunch hour in the cafeteria. I was actually more engrossed in inhaling my fries and finishing off my burger, than listening to her. She could not have missed my apathy. She dutifully and in a perfunctory manner went over, laboriously page by page, a small booklet of which I barely glanced indifferently. But one statement of all the others stood out: she called me a sinner- as she explained how everyone was a sinner and that no one was righteous in God’s eyes. I immediately took offense. How dare she insinuate that I was a sinner! She did not know who she was speaking to, obviously. Nor could she know about my sufferings and misery. As far as I was concerned I never sinned!
Looking back I remember the parable told by Jesus about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  A more formidable obstacle comes to mind- pride and self righteousness! How much easier it is for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a self righteous, stubborn, self pitying young girl  to humble herself spiritually and enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, it did indeed happen and I was saved!

I tried to put the entire conversation out of my mind. It was no use.  The statement echoed in my soul, “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory if God”. (Romans 3:23) I pondered in my mind the implications of that statement. What if it was true? What if I was actually separated from God? I lost all track of time. For days and maybe even weeks, I thought feverishly about that message.  Oh how I wished that my comfortable vague ideas about God and heaven had not been challenged. I had grown accustomed to living comfortably within my own world with my self righteous attitude and self pity. I had to humble myself spiritually and admit that I was a sinner.  Despite the hardships of my life, I still was guilty of sin in my actions and most of all my thoughts. My feelings of revenge and anger and envy were sinful! My fictitious fantasies were impure and sinful in God’s eyes. I had to make a choice and I had to make a change. It was a real decision. I decided to accept God’s friendship and gift of grace, admitting that I was guilty of sin. In that moment I had made the decision. There was no turning back. The message of the gospel and of salvation was truly good news. “God demonstrated his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 For the first time in my life I felt truly happy and hopeful, as if an enormous burden had been cast off. The evil feelings I harbored within were a burden all my life, and it was liberating to release those negative feelings and to have God as my friend.

I still remember how I used to exist, as a corpse, dead in life, buried by my transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world.  I was the offspring of the prince of the power of the air- oh, how he owned me,  living in disobedience, guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; having had my fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying  impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, parts of the character of Beth are autobiographical, except of course the talking lemon.   Ephesians 2: 1-3 (the Voice NT).  I once was dead, but now I am alive, born again- saved. Because I have heard the word of truth- and received  the good news of salvation- and because I have believed in the One who is truth, marked with the Holy Spirit, who is promised as the guarentee, who frees and rescues all who belong to Him.

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