How long have I had celiac? (Or musings about the ancestral sin)

Posted: June 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

How long have I had celiac disease?

It’s an interesting question that should be relatively straightforward to answer. But it’s not actually that easy.

On one level I have had celiac for less than two months. That’s how long it’s been since I was given a firm diagnosis, I began attempting a gluten free diet, and how long I have lived with the certain knowledge that I have a specific, definable disease.

But on another level, it’s been more than three months (or a quarter of a year) since celiac was mentioned as a possible cause for my anemia, I began researching the disease, and realized that I had many other symptoms of the disease as well. This is how long celiac has been in my consciousness as something that might relate to me.

Of course, on a physical level, based on the damage to my intestinal villi, my blood auto-antibody levels, and my broad nutritional deficiencies, it’s clear that celiac has been active at least a decade, perhaps more. Since I had something like what they call “silent” celiac, we’ll never know for certain.

So perhaps the question can’t actually be answered. Perhaps it’s indeterminate.

Or maybe it’s not.

The other night I had a sudden epiphany. There is an absolute answer.

I have been a celiac for a little more than 44 years — ever since I was born.

How so? Celiac disease is an inherited, genetic autoimmune disease. You either have the genes for celiac when you are born or you never get it. They even know the genetic markers for which to test. If you have inherited the genes, the disease can be triggered and become active by any of a very wide range of triggering events.

In the case of celiac, inheriting the genes does not necessarily mean the disease will ever be triggered into an active state. It’s my understanding that perhaps as many as a third of those with the celiac genes will never manifest active celiac. However, if you don’t have the genes, you aren’t a celiac and cannot ever become one. It’s a disease with which you are born — or not.

I then considered that according to the most recent rigorous studies, from 75% to 90% of active celiacs are currently undiagnosed. The disease is quietly destroying their ability to absorb nutrition from food and perhaps causing any number of other symptoms while they continue through their lives blithely unaware of that which is at work in their body. In other words, they are like I was until a few months ago. I had some awareness that everything was less than copacetic, but had no idea why and no awareness of the seriousness of my problem.

Those who know me will probably not be surprised that I next began pondering the ancestral sin and the ways in which celiac disease acts as a metaphor for it. 😉

We are all born mortal. Unlike celiac, for which perhaps only about 1% of the population carries the genes, we are all born with the seed of death at work in our bodies and in and through the entire world around us. This is our inheritance from the ancestral sin. It’s obviously not a direct genetic transmission or limited only to human beings in its impact, but is more of a spiritual inheritance with physical effects.

As we mature in a damaged world carrying our own mortality, we inevitably fail in our trust of God in ways that are typically defined in Christian circles by the word ‘sin’. It’s a label, really, for what happens when human beings worship something or someone that is not God. In many ways, this is like what happens when the genetic disease of a celiac is activated. Of course, assuming we survive childhood and have sufficient capacity, it is inevitable that “sin” will become active in our lives. Once activated, sin begins working within us in ways that intertwine with death, which may sometimes turn quickly and painfully destructive or which may be largely silent and unnoticed for years as it wreaks its damage.While we all tend to develop some sense of the brokenness of the world we inhabit, some may live out their whole lives only growing aware of death working within them and not of sin reshaping and distorting their humanity.

With celiac, we restore ourselves to health by removing gluten from our diet. By contrast, we are healed from sin and death by consuming God. The healing and restoration of our body and spirit flows from God through Jesus, the one who joins our nature to God’s and makes it possible for us to take God into our being. As we submit our will to God’s through our believing and active allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth and learn to cease fighting God’s healing presence our ability to relate to God and to other human beings in unbroken ways is restored.

We often find metaphors for our whole life in odd places, but the parallels in this one seem striking to me — perhaps because I’m the celiac.