I have found myself struggling some as I paused with the familiar images before us now, especially that of the wondrous returning of life to a child who had died and healing to a woman who had suffered long and the sound of Jesus’ voice saying, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”
I have struggled only because I have lately spent time with those who prayed for such a return of wholeness of life to a loved one, only to be gathering for her memorial service a few days later.
And haven’t we all had to work through this, this never quite understanding why it seems that some prayers are somehow answered so favorably and some are not.
Oh, one could surely be tempted to say that such as this only happened when Jesus was physically present so that one could be within reach of the ‘fringe of his cloak’ or so that Jesus might hear the plea of a desperate father and go and take a child by the hand bringing life where the mourners had already started to gather.
And yet, we know better, don’t we?
For we have also seen wondrous things, such experiences of healing, even now within our own worlds.
And as I have been a recipient of such healing of late — if not of body, then of spirit — I have found myself wondering at how it came to be.
Some of you know that this is how it has been:
I stood at the graveside of a precious friend last May and spent the next many months as the one assigned to sort through her financial affairs. I did not love the work. It was given to me not because I had any great affinity for it, but because I was trusted to do it faithfully and with great love. I hope that this was so. I also know that it kept me deep in the grieving as again and again I had to confront the reality of what and who had been lost.
Not so many months later, my aging mother who had lived with me the last eight years of her life, was diagnosed with Covid-19. The virus itself would not directly take her life, but it would weaken her to the point we could not bring her home. And so those last months were spent navigating the travails of a nursing home in 2023. We were grateful for a number of very kind caregivers. We were grateful for the good work of hospice. Even so, it is a journey I would not wish on anyone. She was 92. We were not praying for a miraculous healing. Only for a gentle leave-taking, a gentle home-going. And even that did not come easily.
Between these and the kind of deep weariness many of us experienced as we finally came out of the worst of the pandemic, I was, quite simply, brought low.
But the wonder was that in the ‘being brought low,’ I found I was differently open to receive the help of others. Family, friends, church members, church staff, community members and on and on…
- For there were those who stood or sat still with me in this time, simply making space for the struggle.
- There were those who showed up with treats and bottles of water, with casseroles and paper products, and on and on…
- There were those who spoke directly to the need for me to take time, to step back, to rest so that healing might come.
- There were those who stepped up and made decisions for the sake of the ongoing work of the congregation when I could not yet find my voice.
- And there were moments when I even found myself directly asking for help, something I am not all that accustomed to doing. For instance, when I returned from a break after my mother’s funeral, I told my staff that my thinking was still foggy and I would likely need help for a while in keeping things sorted out. Thankfully, they were glad to do just that.
It is truly only in the last few weeks that the cloud has seemed to really begin to lift, that the pieces have begun to fall back into place, that I feel more like who I was ‘before,’ though I know I never will be fully, for:
- One does not bury such dear ones, along with all that came before;
- One does not come through a worldwide pandemic, with all its losses and learnings;
- No, one does not hemorrhage for 12 years, with all the suffering that brought with it;
- Indeed, one does not lose a child and go to such great lengths to get her back again,
One cannot experience any of these (or so much more) and return to life ever the quite same again.
Even so, one can know healing.
One can experience wholeness beyond what one had been able to imagine not so long ago.
One can find oneself no longer ‘brought low,’ but still somehow ‘standing’ again.
But this is my wondering:
Would such healing — in my case in spirit more than in body — ever be mine if I first hadn’t been ‘brought low’ and needed to receive, needed to ask, needed to recognize all the ways in which we so very much need one another?
And might my healing of spirit be all the more complete only because I have been through all that life has handed me in these last years? Were there things which were broken or bruised within me which I had not had cause or courage to address before, but which were pulled out into the open because of all of this and in the being brought forward and acknowledged were somehow able to be made more whole again?
Oh, I imagine this is so.
Indeed, more than that, I am convinced that this is so.
It is all mystery, of course, and difficult to explain or comprehend.
However, there are those who have brought light to this in ways I cannot possibly as Parker Palmer does in chapter five of Let Your Life Speak when he speaks of the ‘shadows’ we all carry within us that can only be lived through or beyond once we confront them.
And as Father Richard Rohr does throughout his remarkable book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
I would commend both of these to you as ways to understand more deeply how true healing can be ours. For it does seem that only when life ‘brings us low’ that we are forced to recognize our great need, our great helplessness, indeed, our very existence as ultimately only part of a greater whole which God extends to us. Which only God can extend to us.
Like those in Matthew’s Gospel today, we have no desire to go there.
But in the following where life leads, like them, if we are so blessed our hearts are forced open to ask and to receive and to know a wholeness we could never have known otherwise.
At least I have found this to be so.
- Have you known yourself to be ‘brought low’ and then subsequently experienced such healing? How did this come to be for you?
- How do you grapple with the question of the role of ‘faith’ in all of this — especially with those whose heartfelt prayers are not answered as they had hoped?
- How will these remarkable stories of healing preach where you live and serve? With what will you be called to bring this message of wholeness home to those who are yearning to hear it?