Reclaiming a Ministry of Healing
Isaiah 43: 1-3
Used to be that preachers were kind of embarrassed by those odd healing stories of Jesus and felt we had to explain them away as unscientific superstitions. We grew up, all of us, with a world view rooted in Newtonian science and knew that there was no connection between the spiritual and physical, the mind and body, or emotion and rational thinking.
And then there were those fundamentalist kooks out there who wanted you to touch the TV set and be healed…and of course to send LOTS OF MONEY, to support this work. We were embarrassed to be in the same religious tent. Still amâ€¦.For a few hundred years, the church has been somewhat skeptical about healing.
Yet for the early church, healing was very much part of the ministry to which they felt called by Christ. Healing of bodies, healing of minds, healing of relationships, healing of community. Scriptures speak of all of these aspects of healing. We may not take them literally, we do need to take them seriously.
And then, as the circle turns, we encounter radically new scientific thinking at the end of the 20th C. Quantum physics whose proponents sound almost like the mystics of the ages. Everything is connected and relational and transformational.The way we think is changing/ changing radically.
I grew up with the image of a God out there; up there; in a 3 tier universe; kind of like an external clockmaker, outside of creation, who intervened to tinker with creation; at whim it seemed. To talk of God healing you in this paradigm, would be to talk about an external miracle. Maybe you could be healed if you could pray loudly and well enough to get Godâ€™s attention! But it was pretty arbitrary.
But this understanding of God has undergone radical change for many of us. We speak more about the immanent God, the One in whom we live and move and have our being. We speak of God as Spirit flowing through all that is; Spirit that we encounter in our own depths as well is in the depth of all life around us. We experience God as near as the breath we breathe. In this new paradigm, healing, is opening oneself to this sacred presence….creating the space to attune oneself to this Source of life; allowing oneself to rest in this Spirit of creating, healing love. How you understand healing depends very much on how you understand God and how God connects with creation, and with us.
In Hebrew the word nephesh was used for body/spirit. There was no separation. Body and Spirit were intertwined. Jesus did not see God as someone far away, out there, inaccessible. Jesus saw God everywhere in seeds, in water, in children, in lepers, in a man sitting at the healing pool of Bethesda, who had been sick for thirty-eight long disappointing years. Like the other lame and sick and blind, the man sat waiting, waiting for the waters to move, waiting to be plunged into the pool. He felt his healing depended on someone outside himself. By the time Jesus met him, he was pretty convinced he would never make it in, blaming others. â€œOthers get in firstâ€ he said, â€œthereâ€™s no room for meâ€. No one pays attention. What is it about this man that Jesus notices? Jesus sees beyond the sick helpless, hopeless man â€¦. to the one who could stand and be healed. â€œStand up, take up mat and walk!â€ Jesus saysâ€¦ And he does!!! What changed?
Did Jesus unleash a miracle healing power and zapped him? Did the man suddenly realize that he could begin to see himself as other than sick and helpless, precisely because he had experienced been seen whole by Jesus? Could he believe in himself, because Jesus had believed in him? However it happened, healing occurred. Life was transformed! I wonder what his next day was like, and how he began to rebuild his life. For someone who has defined themselves by their illness for 38 years, healing can be as threatening as it is desired. We can be sitting at the pool, looking as if we want healing, sometimes for a lot of years, but are heavily invested unconsciously in keeping things exactly as they are.
One of the first experiences of healing I ever had, was before I was ordained. Iâ€™ve shared this life-changing story before. A friend had a baby born with Hylie membrane disease, a coating of the lungs that, at that time at least, almost always meant death within days. I went into deep prayer for this child, quite unconscious of what I was doing. I woke in the night holding the image of this newborn babe in Godâ€™s presence. Once in the night I woke to a sense of a bright light connecting with the child and an inner knowing that it would be all right. I did not know what all right meant-perhaps the child had died in peace.
The next morning the mother called; the baby had taken an unexpected turn in the night. There was no sign of the disease. At precisely the time the light had wakened me. I filed it away, unable to make any sense of it.
Early in my ministry, I visited a man with complications following surgery. Doctors had said that nothing more could be done. Even though this man was also a minister I felt insecure offering him healing meditation and laying on of hands. Would he think I was a fundie kook? Would he dismiss me? We silence a lot of spiritual gifts this way; particularly gifts of healing, with this fear of what people will think of us.
To my surprise, both he, and his wife, welcomed the experience. It was as if we had broken the silence, got to the heart of the need and were talking about what really mattered. I led them in the Healing Light meditation that is in my book and laid on hands in prayer. We also asked everyone we thought would be open to this kind of healing, to pray for Jim, imagining him surrounded by the healing light of Christ, imagining his body systems being restored, made whole. I didnâ€™t expect much, but in 1 1/2 days his body simply started to function again in the way it was meant to. His doctors were shocked. He lives out in BC now. Though I did not know it at the time, there was a lot of research into exactly what I was doing showing it worked.
Then it happened to me. My system paralyzed after surgery. Despite everything the medical profession could do, nothing was working. All they could recommend was more surgery with no guarantee of success. I called an elder from my congregation, who was a Reiki master. By opening the energy field, his work awakened my physical body which doctors had tried in vain for 16 days to restore. I believe Dan saved my life.
We are coming to know there is a profound connection between the mind and body; and that spiritual and emotional illness can manifest in physical illness. Our unconscious minds can both create and heal. Each of us knows we have places in our body where we store tension and stress, where we lock up anger, fear, or pain. It can be healing to listen for the wisdom of the body through metaphor e.g. What is giving you a pain in the neck? What is tying your guts in knots? What is hard to swallow, making your throat tense? What canâ€™t you stomach? What are you gritting your teeth and locking your jaw to keep from letting out?
We ignore our bodies when they are not in pain. We dislike them for not fitting the image created for them. When we become ill or tired, we treat our bodies as if they are letting us down, rather than having compassion for them. We dislike them for the natural processes of ageing. We punish them for the messages of pain that would invite our attentiveness, or for the messages of fatigue that would slow our driven path. As we age, we are brainwashed into seeing the changes in our body as a scandal, an enemy that must be contended with, controlled, fought against.
These images and messages planted in our unconscious mind deeply affect our physical systems. Whether we realize it or not, these messages permeate every cell of our body, as well as our emotional, and spiritual life. Low self-esteem, de-energizing depression and even physical illness can result.
Our bodies are like photographic films on which are imprinted the memories of unhealed hurts of our bodily and emotional experience. We are not disembodied minds or spirits. Our bodies ARE ourselves. They are a source of wisdom and knowing. They offer truth that we can not know in other ways.
Our bodies respond physically to images and to intention. This is why have been so drawn to the use of imagery meditation for healing. Meditation, including my own books are now used in a number of hospitals, particularly in the areas of cancer and AIDS treatment for pain control, and in some psychiatric treatment. Healing meditation and healing touch are powerful tools to promote healing and to help the whole person work with the Source of healing through the body and soul’s own healing processes.
Healing is not a magic act. While some may find it more easy to be attuned to healing energy, I believe that, in each of us there is an inner healer that can be accessed through prayer, meditation, and practising the Presence of God. Healing is one of the fundamental patterns God breathed into creation. We can enable it, open to it, channel it, but no individual creates it. It is Godâ€™s power not our own.
Healing happens on many levels in this congregation. It happens when we listen one another into beingâ€¦when we help one another speak from the heart, and tell the deep stories that heal. We do this as individual caring people, but our Pastoral Care team have taken special training for this ministry of listening. Healing happens also when we include those who feel marginalized; when we allow space for all ages and abilities. Healing happens when we work for justice and right relationships. Healing happens in our groups as we learn and share and build community.
Healing also happens through our healing Pathways ministry, which is a ministry of this congregation reporting to the board through the Pastoral Care Team. Over 400 treatments have been given in the past year, which have resulted in much healing and wholeness, both for those receiving and those offering. Healing Pathways is a United Church healing and wholeness ministry housed at Naramata BC. It has been hugely well received here in Montreal. More than 150 people have taken training and we have practices in 4 congregations, including this one. Healing stories abound, some dramatic, some more simple. Many of you have your own stories to tell as a result of experiencing this ministry.
During one of the trainings Howard had fallen while moving furniture at Summerlea. He arrived at the training barely able to stand or to walk. He could not go up or down stairs and was in agonizing pain. Luckily the trainers were staying at our house, so we worked on him that night. When he walked in standing straight, moving freely the next day, the group could not believe their eyes anymore than he could.
One elderly woman hobbled here in a walker. After a few treatments she moved to a cane, then to walk on her own and finally was able to come for treatments downstairs. Her face lit up as she told others of what had happened for her over these weeks. Healing is often a process, not a one-shot effort. Others have spoken about pain decreasing or of a sense of balance and inner peace and well-being.
There are many ways in which healing may take place. Healing and curing are not the same thing. One person may be healed of her fear of death so that she can die with grace and dignity and in peace when it is her time. Another person may experience healing of life-style. Another may be able to let go of the control certain memories have had on their lives. For another self-acceptance may be the healing. For another, healing may be allowing themselves to experience being known by name by God, knowing they belong to God intimately and eternally even when they pass through deep waters and fiery tests. For some, as lives come more into balance, physical healing occurs. We offer pathway treatments without expectation of outcome. It is up to God and the person what happens with it.
But I think all of us who practice would agree that. reconnecting with Sacred Source is in and of itself of infinite worth. By practising the presence of God in meditation or other healing practises we ground ourselves in Godâ€™s grace, we come home to the self, home in an abundant, grace-filled universe where we know that we are called by name and known by God whether we are in deep water, or fiery testing times.