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Finding Healing in a Broken World

Story for children of all ages

Imagine, if you will, that you and I are standing in the front yard of a house on a quiet, residential street. Both sides of the street are lined with houses, all medium sized, neat, well taken care of. It is a bright sunny day in late summer, with a gentle breeze blowing. As we look across the street, we see in the yard next up the street, a little girl around 4 or 5 years old playing with her dog. And these two are not just playing a little bit. They are going at it for all they're worth. The little girl is laughing and chasing the dog around the yard, calling to him, and hugely enjoying the chase. The dog, in turn, is leading her a merry chase, barking for the sheer joy of it. They are a great pair, and the whole neighbourhood seems to be brighter because of their play.

But then things change. The girl has tripped and fallen a few times before, but it never mattered, because she just rolled over and over on the grass, and the dog came over to her and sniffed and yipped at her until she was up and running around again. But this time, she fell just as she was running across the sidewalk, and landed very hard on one knee. Her laughter ended very suddenly, and, for a moment, there was complete silence. Then, as the shock and pain of her fall began to get to her, her voice raised in a loud cry, and she picked herself up and began to limp toward the front door of her house, the tears by now rolling freely down her cheeks. Her father, who had been inside the house, had heard her cries and met her as she got to the door. He scooped her up in his arms and turned to carry her inside.

As he carries her into the house, you and I quietly cross the street to their yard, and very quietly walk up to their front window. From there we can peek in the window and watch as the story continues to unfold.

The girl's father has carried her into the living room. He sits on the couch and holds his daughter on his lap. Gradually her cries give way to a soft whimpering, and she explains to her dad what happened. After a bit he gets up, still holding her, and carries her into the bathroom to get a better look at her knee, and to apply a little first aid. For the first time, we can see what she did to her knee, and it is not pretty. Her knee is cut, and scraped, and bruised, and dirty . . . It looks very painful. Very tenderly, her dad cleans off the wound and, when he has it good and clean, he applies some salve and not one but three Band-Aids. He then carries her back into the living room, and again they sit on the couch. He begins to read to her from a book. She snuggles into the comfort of his lap for a while, but then she begins to squirm and wiggle, and we see her father smile, and he lets her slide down to the floor. Maybe it's the sound of her dog barking outside that calls to her.

As she heads for the front door, we go back across the street, and stand where we were when this story began. Turning, we see her come out of the front door. We see the Band-Aids on her knee, and a little trickle of blood that still seeps from the wound and runs across her knee. But we also see the light in her eyes and the smile on her face, and we hear her laughter again as she and her dog resume their game of tag. The blood trickling across her knee makes it clear that she has not been cured; her knee is still very much wounded. But the light in her eyes, the smile on her face, and the sound of her laughter leave no doubt at all that she has, in some very important ways, been well and truly healed.

Sermon: Finding Healing in a Broken World

Let me tell you another story. This one goes back to 1985, and is decidedly true. In April of that year, at the tender age of 40, I suffered a fairly major heart attack. As I was playing basketball in a Masters' League game (the Masters has to do with age, not ability) in Woodstock at the time, I wound up in the Woodstock hospital. After a few days, while I was still in Intensive Care, the doctor came in with a clipboard and began to ask me lots of questions. He was, he said, trying to figure out why this had happened to me, and what I might do to keep it from happening again. He went through all the usual suspects - What did I eat, how much did I exercise, how much did I drink, was there stress in my life, family history . . . - a whole long list. When he finished the questions, he paused for a minute, and then said, There really isn't anything I can tell you to change; you're doing it all right already. Your problem is that you picked the wrong father. I responded that I didn't recall being given any choice in the matter. He had obviously picked up on the fact that my father's side of the family has a long history of the males dying from heart trouble of one sort or another, with it happening to each generation at an earlier age than the one before. My father had had his first heart attack when he was 48, and had died from his second one14 months later. The doctor's words didn't come as a surprise to me; I had always known it. It was simply part of the fabric of my life, and I assumed it always would be.

I finally left the hospital, and after six months or so, I resumed my work building furniture. There were few days when I did not think of the heart attack and its future implications, but life does have a tendency to go on, and I was bound and determined to go on with it.

Skip ahead about three years. I was at that time a conservative, evangelical, charismatic Christian. (I would claim only the last word of that description these days.) At the invitation of some friends, Charlotte and I attended a meeting which was part of a convention of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, a strongly conservative and charismatic group. The speaker that evening was a man named Bob Trench. He was a short (about 5'-4") Scotsman from Durban, South Africa. He spoke very well, about healing (among other things), and at the end of his talk, he invited any who wished prayer for any reason to come forward. This was pretty standard practise at these meetings. Along with about two dozen others, I went forward. It has always surprised me that, to this day, I don't remember exactly why I went forward, save that I do know it had nothing at all to do with my heart. Bob Trench worked his way down the line of people (we were all standing in a row across the front of the room), and as he stood in front of each person in turn, he would ask them what they desired prayer for. Then he would pray briefly with them, offer them a blessing, and move on to the next person. When he got to me, he stood in complete silence in front of me for a few moments, then he reached out and placed one of his hands firmly flat on my chest. With the other, he reach around behind me to place it on my back. Then with a voice that rolled like thunder (the only time I have ever hears a voice that really merited that description), he said, You are under an ancestral curse, and in the name of Jesus I rebuke and break that curse forevermore!

Now, I have reached an age at which I sometimes have to look up my own phone number. But I will never forget those words. As soon as he spoke them, I knew, deep in the marrow of my bones, three things: first, the curse he referred to was my genetic predisposition towards heart disease. Second, I knew that that disposition was no longer a factor in my life; I was truly free of it. (This did not mean that I would never have another heart attack, only that I would never inherit another one.) Third, and most important to me, I knew that our two sons would not inherit this curse. I have no idea how I knew these things, but I know beyond doubt that I did in fact know them, and have known them with that same certainty from that day to this.

And one more story, this one a little shorter. It comes from about the same time as the one I just told. One Sunday morning, Charlotte and I were attending the small United Church in Lake George (which we still attend when it is open in the summer). A friend from a neighbouring church dropped in for the service that morning, and after the service ended she asked us - Charlotte, me, and three friends - if we would pray for her husband. When we asked her what was happening, she said that they had found some lumps in his armpit, in a way that resembled very closely the symptoms for one form of cancer. They were very scared. He had a doctor's appointment for the following week, but both he and his wife would appreciate our prayer. So the five of us stood in a circle and offered prayers on his behalf. His wife thanked us, and we all departed for wherever we were headed to fill the rest of that Sunday.

The next Sunday she returned to our church. Her smile would not leave her face, and her eyes seemed very full. When we asked her how she was, she just said, They're gone! The lumps are gone! It seems that by Monday morning, neither she nor her husband could find any trace of the lumps that had so frightened them. When he went for his doctor's appointment, the doctor looked him over quite thoroughly, and then asked him, Why are you here? The lumps have never returned.

As time passed, these events kept tugging at me. They were the points around which my life seemed to circle; they simply would not let go of me, particularly as I entered training for ministry and my theological perspective began to change. As I thought through what had happened (and I did that over and over again), questions began to arise. The first one was a very simple two word question: Why me? Why should I be singled out for this miraculous event, while so many others aren't? It was a question which almost choked me each time I officiated at the funeral of someone who had died of a heart attack. There were (and are) lots of others who prayed harder and believed more deeply than I, why was it me and not them? After all I wasn't asking for this to happen; I wasn't even thinking about it. I wondered if I really had much of anything to do with it. And if I did, just what was my role? And that got me to wondering about just who actually did the healing? Was it one of the usual three culprits - God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Was it Bob Trench? If I were going to write a thank-you note, to whom would I address it?

And if it was God doing the healing, a host of other questions rose to the surface. If God somehow intervenes in human affairs like this, just how does God make the decisions that are involved? Decisions like Where? When? On whose behalf? To what end? And on and on the questions rolled. Surely (I thought) God must have some sort guidelines around these questions; is there any way we can grasp those guidelines? If God does in fact intervene sometimes (and therefore inevitably does not intervene in others), what does that tell us about God? Capricious? Unpredictable? Unreliable? Does God intervene on behalf of the unchurched? What of those who have simply never heard of God? Is that same God responsible for the healings that seem to be brought about by the shamans of various indigenous cultures?

All of which brought up another bunch of questions, these around praying for healing. Why do we pray for healing? To get God's attention? To adjust God's priorities? (Hey, God! You can finish whatever it is that you're doing later; right now you need to be over here looking at this.) How much difference does it make if there are lots and lots of prayers offered for someone or only a few? What if there are none? To what extent is praying for healing a numbers game?

As you can see, the questions built on each other, and the stream showed no signs of slowing down. The one that looked me squarely in the eye most often was this: how do I deal with the reality of my own healing? Every breath I took affirmed that reality; how do I deal with it? How do I deal with the apparent reality of the healing of my friend's husband? If I were to pour it all into one question, that question would be, What the Hell is going on here?

Wrestling with these questions over the years has been anything but comfortable, but it has taken me to new places and new understandings. I would like to share with you, in very brief form, some of these understandings. I do this not because I hold them to represent The Truth in any way shape or form, but rather in the hope that these approaches and perspectives might form some encouragement, some resources to draw on, in your own journeys, which will in their turn enrich and encourage others.

I have finally and completely stopped believing that there is a theistic God, a Guy in the Sky kind of God. Theistic is a word, coined as far as I know by John Shelby Spong, which refers to the notion of a God who exists as a separate and distinct entity somewhere other than where we are, and (usually) who has the power to reach down into the world in which we live. The traditional Judeao-Christian notion of God is strongly theistic. I have come to understand God as pervasive desire for the good of all creation. It is not that God desires the good of creation; rather God is that desire. No distinct entity, no distinct location, just pure desire.

With no theistic God, the whole question of God intervening in human affairs falls off the table. With no one (or nothing) to intervene, there can clearly be no intervention.

As a corollary of the notion of God as pervasive desire for the good of all creation, I believe that all of creation, the whole unimaginably vast width and length and depth of it, is filled with deep and powerful healing energy. There is no place where this energy is absent. Throughout history, there have been people who have been gifted with the ability to channel or to focus this energy in specific directions, most often to the benefit of specific people. It is a little like the thing I suspect we all did as kids with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. We would hold the glass just right, and the sun's energy would become concentrated on a leaf or a scrap of paper, and the leaf or paper would smolder away, and sometimes burst into flame. We weren't adding anything to the energy which had left the sun some eight minutes earlier, but we were focusing it in one spot, and it became very powerful at that spot. The gift of being able to focus healing energy seems to come in varying strengths and various times, with no particular pattern. Jesus seems to have had it in spades. We really know only three things about him with reasonable certainty. He told stories, he was crucified, and he healed people. These three are pretty well attested; the rest is fascinating speculation. Bob Trench certainly seems to have had this gift. Somehow, five people standing in a circle after church one morning seem to have had at least a touch of it.

This gift is certainly not limited to the Judea-Christian tradition. There have in fact ben healers in every tradition. Ayurveda is an ancient Hindu healing system, going back to some 1,500 years before the time of Jesus. Buddha is said to have healed some of his followers. Many, perhaps most, indigenous cultures have stories of healers who have lived and worked among them. In all of these cases, my understanding is that these individuals are able to focus the energies which always surround us on behalf of a particular individual or group.

There doesn't seem to be much way for us to predict when such healings, whatever their form or degree, will take place. Praying for healing, either our own or some else's, is a way for us to offer such part of that gift of focusing healing energy as we might have so that someone - ourself or someone else - just might receive healing. To offer such prayer, whatever name we may use for it, is to make an opportunity to use whatever part of the healing gift that we might have. I certainly can't predict whether such efforts will yield the results we desire, but I am pretty sure that not making those efforts will bring about no healing at all.

Let me close with a quotation. It comes from a book by Dr. Larry Dossey called Healing Words, but the actual writer of these words was one Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. He was a Spanish explorer who landed near where Miami, Florida, stands today in 1528. I'm not just sure what he was looking for, but it seems that he and a small group of his men left the place where they had landed, and spent the next eight years traveling on foot around the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, eventually winding up in what is now Texas. Along the way, he and his men encountered many groups of indigenous people, and in those encounters, it seems that de Vaca (and perhaps some of his men) developed a gift for healing. These words are from a letter de Vaca wrote to the king of Spain about those encounters:

Truly, it was to our amazement that the ailing said they were well. Being Europeans, we thought we had given away to doctors and priests our ability to heal. But here it was, still in our possession . . . . It was ours after all, we were more than we had thought.