Trigger warning: Discussion around healing, being hurt, and other beliefs that have been used to wound people who are already wounded.
Meeting for Worship for Healing
In preparation for our “Meeting for Worship for Healing” I spoke to a couple of ministers who I like to learn from, I did my own thinking and writing on the subject, and continued to explore ideas that I have been drawing on as of late. One of my first steps is always to begin to sort out what experiences I have found helpful or hurtful (or if I haven’t had a first hand experience, consider the stories of others). When it comes to healing, I have participated in two types of healing services in my past: the “faith healing” kind in which people are expected to be “cured” (and there’s something wrong with you when you aren’t) and the second was something closer to what we did today in which people are invited to come forward for prayer and anointing of oil with the expectation that this is one point along the journey towards wholeness.
Given the size of today’s gathering — much smaller than normal — I think the suggestion that we were doing a healing service may have scared people off making them think that we’d be doing something like the Bora Bora Bora episode of “Orange is the New Black” where the character Pennsatuckey tries to do faith healings in the jail, and one inmate pretends to be healed.
My friend Shelly Fayette, quoted above, suggested to me that to alleviate some fear and misunderstanding I could explain the difference between healing and being cured. So I took her advice and tried to help create a space where those who were there this morning were able to relax into a healing space without feeling like there was going to be a need for theatrics.
Healing and Suffering
Jesuit Antony De Mello says:
“When the neurotic comes for help, he rarely wants to be healed, for healing is a painful thing. What he really wants is to be made comfortable in his neurosis. Often he is looking for a miracle—a painless cure.”
So often we don’t really want healed, because we’d prefer a “painless cure.” A cure for me is like a bright flash of light that happens instantaneously and removes all the pain and suffering that we’re experiencing. It is the momentary fix where everything bad disappears. One problem with this is that it assumes that God is nowhere to be found in our darkness, our sufferings, our longings, our doubts, and the evidence suggests otherwise. And in my experience as both a pastor and a person of faith this just doesn’t happen, and I’m not really sure it ever happens. Even in instances where someone experiences a magical and instantaneous “cure” – not that I’ve ever experienced this – I assume that were many other factors that played into their past in working towards this moment.
But just because there aren’t miracle cures doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bring about healing in our lives and it doesn’t mean that you or I lack the right kind of faith to make it happen. Given, this then Jesus telling the man sitting beside the pool to get up and take his mat is not about his faith but about his coming to the end of his defenses and waking up to a new possibility.
The night the alcoholic realizes he must give up drinking forever is not the first time he has wrestled with the source of his demon, nor is it the first time that he has tried to stop. This night is only different in that he is finally ready to wake-up to the fact alcohol, or whatever the ailment or would is, does not have to have power over him. Healing is available for us if we want it. God is always trying to work with us to move us towards greater wholeness. I put it this way because I don’t think God does anything to us against our will – I don’ think God forces healing on us any more than God forces us down any particular path, or forces bad things on us so we’ll shape up. All of these beliefs are harmful and have been used to wound the wounded.
But we don’t need a lot of faith or understanding of how the whole process works either. I think God takes any crack or crevice we make available to fill with divine love and mercy.
Healing is the act of recognizing that suffering is part and parcel of the healing process. I do not think there is any way out of this. Healing is often done in the presence of a lot of pain and suffering, emotional or otherwise. Healing is often the acceptance of the reality of the pain. So often we try and pretend we don’t have the wounds, or we lash out in anger because on them, but acceptance is always a challenging first step. Acceptance means we come to see that we cannot change others or outside circumstances is just the reality of the situation. The only change that we can render is upon ourselves and allowing God to being a work in us.
To be cured is to want to experience God as a divine genie. It is to experience a wound or injury in isolation from community, from story, and from all the ways in which God has already been involved in our lives through the suffering up to the moment of realized-freedom.
To pray for a miracle, rather than how I might wake up to my wounds and move towards wholeness in Christ, is to abdicate responsibility to God. It is to assume that God is the one who is ultimately responsible for my personal well-being. But this view turns us into puppets, mindless puppets who are helpless. It reminds me of the picture of a mother bird who comes back to the nest to find her fledglings tweeting in the nest with their mouths hanging open, waiting for momma to drop food in their mouths. If this is how we think of God working in our lives then we are mistaken. God is waiting for us to participate in the work that has begun in us and in the world.
Praying for a miracle or a “cure” in which the memories of our bodies is somehow erased — “I no longer show any signs of this or that…” or “I no longer ever think about this or that; These memories no longer come to me at all; It’s like nothing ever happened; I no longer desire such and such…” is not only not going to happen, but it sets us up for failure. What happens when we do begin to mourn again for the one we lost? Or when we do desire that thing or person who has brought us so many wounds? I think it is also harmful to ask God to give us these things because when we don’t get our miracle we victimize those who prayed for this, “You didn’t have enough faith.” Or We victimize God, “Ha! Finally, we have proof that God doesn’t love me” or “God is unhappy with me again.” Or even, “I wasn’t cured because God doesn’t really exist.”
If all of this is true then our prayers should about support, being upheld by God’s grace, Jesus surrounding us with love, prayers that help us to recognize that God is already with us, prayers that help center us, and prayers that are aimed at helping us move through our pain and towards healing.
When we are finally able to come to a place where are defenses are laid low, and our willingness to welcome the Good Shepherd peaks, then we are able to begin the process of healing, and waking up.
Here are some queries for consideration.
If this is the path towards healing and wholeness then we can ask:
- How has God already been at work in my life trying to bring about healing?
- How can God be found in the suffering and pain that I have experienced?
- What does it look like for me to give up my defenses and give Jesus permission to tend to my broken body or heart?
- What is the path of acceptance both of what has happened, as well as my responsibility in my being healed?