Stacks Image 5401
Healing the soul

Mar 1:29-39

February 8, 2015

Year B

5th Sunday of Epiphany

Much of Mark’s writing is about healing. I always feel sort of ill equipped to talk about healing. I suspect that each of you know more than I do about this particular topic. However, since I am the one that is paid to speak on Sunday morning, I’ll share with you what I have gleaned from this week’s reading and from talking with people.

In the last while we have talked about Jesus and his authority. We know that Jesus was a man with some authority. Once he was established in the community he could move ahead with his healing ministry. He had the wisdom to teach a healing theology. This morning, we are invited by this Markan text to give some serious and prayerful thought, to the ideas surrounding sickness, death and healing. We know of course that there are many kinds of brokenness and many kinds of healing.

Relationships can be broken and sometimes restored and as we well know, often they can’t be restored. Trust can sometimes be broken and built back up. Hope can be lost and then rediscovered. Often we live in a broken world and in the midst of that brokenness we are called to restore and heal. The text this morning talks about physical illness and healing and these realities are closely tied to our every day lives.

There are Christians in our own time who are much taken by the idea that people with illnesses, or afflictions can be miraculously and instantly cured. On religious broadcasting we sometimes see people who hobble up to the alter rail on their crutches and then within minutes get up and throw them away in celebration of what appears to have been an instantaneous, miraculous cure. We also know many persons for whom this does not happen.

We have some Christians on one end of the spectrum who believe with great intensity that if the right kind of prayers are prayed and the right kind of faith is employed, all sick and broken people will be made well. On the other end of the spectrum, are believers who are absolutely convinced that these people are being fooled by charlatans and it’s all hocus-pocus. They believe there is a rational, scientific explanation for any so-called miracle. Most of us, I suspect, are at neither end of this continuum. We know that miraculous healing from diseases are at the very best the rare exception and not something we can expect.

A man named
Al Staggs writes about his wife’s illness and her death. He says that just weeks prior to her dying, several friends came by to tell stories of miraculous healing. His wife, growing tired of such reports, finally says: “It hasn’t worked that way for us.” Her husband questioned the helpfulness of such healing stories. “Has any program, any miracle maker ever kept anyone alive forever?” he asks.

He writes: “Eventually we all die, including those of us who are healed of their particular disease. No one has yet managed to avoid the grim reaper. So why save our success stories for just those precious few who have been allowed a few months or a few years longer than they would otherwise have had.” He has it right. We cannot and should not expect that every aliment is subject to transformation simply because we pray in a particular way. There really is no such thing as permanent healing – we will all die at some time or another.

There are lots of miracle cures on the market and if you watch TV you will see them advertised everyday. Sometimes there are small miracles. From time to time, things do happen and it appears there is no way to explain what has taken place. Not very often to be sure, but sometimes people do get better much faster than their physicians expect and sometimes illnesses turn around for which there is no adequate explanation. There are numerous things that can happen that are not easily explained and so we continue to pray, or to mediate, or to do yoga, we continue the practice that which allows us to feel better about ourselves.

When we pray, this often springs out of our affection for those in trouble. And also, from our belief that there is some force, some energy, some spirit outside of ourselves, and so we turn to what we believe and for most of us gathered that stems from our Christian belief.

One way to deal with seemingly “unanswered” prayers is to distinguish between healing and cure. The distinction is an important one to make – both in our heads and in our hearts. For there can always be healing, but not always a cure. Healing refers to something so much greater than what we usually imagine. We have all seen cases where people are not cured, but they are healed. Sometimes they become reconciled with family members where relationships have been broken for many years. Often people are healed to the point where they have a spiritual relationship that they hadn’t known before. Healing is always a possibility.

I used this reading at a meeting I was at:
The final step in the healing process is to open our heart to the difficulties we are facing in our lives. A friend who was dying of cancer tried every possible treatment she could find. Nothing worked. Finally she realized that the real healing was not in curing the cancer but in coming to terms with it. That was actually a much greater kind of healing.
John Welwood p. 110 Healer
(John Welwood)

To bring this closer to home, is there healing that needs to happen at St. Paul’s United Church, or what is it that we need to let go of before we can move on? What healing needs to happen?

If we are going to move ahead then we have to let go of our hurts and our pain. We have to understand where we are at now. It is likely that the church can’t sustain what we have been doing for the past hundred years, so how do we let go of those pieces and move on to what is next? How do we decide what to do with our resources and you have resources. I suspect that the church won’t just be remembered for what it did inside the building, or for what happened within the structure itself. But, it will be remembered for its caring, compassion and for its outreach, for what it did outside this building.

I am always reminded of this dynamic of outreach when I recall the Roman Catholic convent that closed east of Saskatoon, they sold their property and with the money they built
Interval House, a shelter for women in Saskatoon. That is now sixty years ago. The convent continues to be remembered for its action in the world.

On Thursday I found the following:

Leonard Cohen writes a poem for the prelude to Parker Palmer’s book called,
A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World. The prelude begins with this poem,
The Blizzard of the World. The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul.
Leonard Cohen
Parker Palmer, a Quaker theologian from the United States continues the prelude to his book with the following:
There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.
Parker Palmer
Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life; clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some, are using the blizzard for cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

So it is easy to believe the poet’s claim that
“the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul,” easy to believe that the soul – that life giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness – has lost all power to guide our lives.

Parker goes on to say,
But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to gain our bearings.
Parker Palmer
This book is about tying a rope from the back door out to the barn so that we can find our way home again. When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world – in the family, in the neighbourhood, in the workplace, in the political life, and in our church. As we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

As we think about what Parker Palmer has said about weathering the storm and the metaphor of the rope that keeps us going….where are we on the rope? Have we started out, how far have we journeyed, and what is left to do? Or how do we experience the soul within that guides us through life?

As we think about this question there will need to be time for reflection and time for the little deaths to happen. As these pieces unfold people can let go of some of the dynamics that will allow new growth to take place.

The reading from Mark leaves room for the healing possibilities. Parker’s reflection ,gives us a broad perspective and a way to reflect on the healing possibilities. I invite you this week to reflect on where you are at in the blizzard and how you will find a way through and may that include the possibility of wholeness.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood