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The Art of Healing

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, May 26

Trinity Sunday
Text: Psalm 138 & Romans 12:9-15

On these healing Sundays, it seems to me, it can sometimes be just a bit easier to hear and follow these exhortations from Paul. Maybe its because our hearts are made a little softer by the gentle hymns we choose. Maybe it’s because we anticipate seeing friends and strangers standing ready to share their burdens, open to and in need of a touch of God’ grace. For whatever reasons, during and after these healing services, we seem more likely than usual to, as Paul writes, to let our love be genuine, to share in mutual affection, to be patient in our suffering and persevering in our prayers. And the propensity to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those weep seems that much nearer at hand. I’ve heard some of you go so far as to say “we’ve gotten pretty good” at these healing services. I’m not quite sure what that means but I think it means we are now more willing to be vulnerable, more able to shed a tear or to name a need in the presence of God and each other. I at least know that the lines for healing prayer that form in the aisles are longer than they were when we first began these services. Perhaps we have gotten good at these services. Or maybe its just a recognition that the Spirit has been good all along, and we are just learning more and more to trust her presence with us.

If this is your first time with us, know that we don’t expect people to be dropping their canes or crutches at the chancel, or to be leaving here illness or addiction free. This is not to say that miracles of transformation don’t happen here, because many will attest that they do. Instead, maybe its when we leave our expectations and fixations on specific outcomes aside that we can all the more readily and honestly name those burdens we all carry, burdens beyond our control and burdens that are too hard to bear alone. We’ve learned here that it helps to offer a safe, confidential, worshipful space for sharing whatever is in one’s heart. It may be a recent joy, or it may be some sadness or grief for oneself, a loved one or for the world. It may be that you simply come forward in silence, trusting that God already knows your need. Following an ancient practice of healing that predates the earliest church, our healers respond with a touch of oil and a simple blessing.

We’ve been offering these services once a quarter or so for several years now and then. And yet, despite the fact that we may come and come forward, some of us may still have a sneaking resistance to the idea. Sure, we know Jesus offered healing and told stories about God’s healing. We know healing is a Christian thing to do. We get that God offers peace and healing to our world – a peace the world cannot give. We hope and pray and trust that this is the case. And yet when push comes to shove, if we were pressed to define healing, my guess is that most of us would default back to what we know of “real” healing – the kind that happens in the capable hands of medical doctors or nurses or mental health professionals or perhaps therapists. Here at church, especially in these post-enlightenment times, we can’t help but wonder from time to time, “yea, but does it work? Does this singing and do these prayers and does this oil actually do anything?

My first answer is “come try it and find out”. My second answer reminds me of a line I once read in a W.H. Auden poem called the “Art of the Healing”. The son of a physician, Auden once wrote these words as memorial tribute to his own doctor: ‘Healing,’
Papa would tell me,‘is not a science,
but the intuitive art
of wooing Nature.” That’s more like it. At least it moves our understanding of healing away from strictly scientific or material terms. The line again: “Healing is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing Nature.” There are so many ways to understand this sentiment, but given Auden’s deep faith background and the capital N he uses for nature here, we can at least ask, what is nature if not God revealed.

There is an instinct or intuition within us all, even an artistry, that gets practiced whenever we find ourselves experiencing and facing up to some pain, or grief or sadness, whether our own or that of another. Often when we want to offer a hand or a kind word to another, the most helpful ways of doing so are always the least self-conscious, the most effortless, the most instinctual, are they not? Healing is an intuitive art, and like any art, it requires practice and attention and some degree of trust – in ourselves, in our gifts, in our stories, in our timing and in a somehow natural and even organic process.

What’s more, when healing is set in the context of relationship that involves a certain tender, gentle, wooing touch, we may find that deeper parts of ourselves are invited or even coaxed forward to participate in and encounter the Spirit in our own healing. We need to let ourselves court and be courted by God’s healing love. As Malcolm X shared in a more intimate moment in his autobiography, “When we take one step toward God, God takes two steps toward us.” In these healing services we take the step of creating the space, of opening our hearts, of naming our needs, of letting the Spirit in. We invite the Spirit to come closer, right into our hearts, and to gently surround us and uphold us.

The spiritual teacher Ram Dass once said that "Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God." Allowing what is now to move us closer to God. This is another beautiful idea of healing. Just how do we do this, how do we let what is now move us closer to God? I think returning to our scripture from Paul may be instructive. Remember what he says:
Let love be genuine, as in let it happen, by God’s grace, let it come and don’t force it…

Hold fast to what is good, as in trust intuitively that there is already and always something good to hold onto, something good coming towards you…

Be patient in suffering, as in surrender to what may be beyond your control…

Rejoice with those who rejoice, as in accept the joy of others without envy….

And weep with those weep, as in don’t resist or try to stop another’s tears nor turn away, but instead cry your own tears with them. Instead, allow what is now, and let your hearts and all of our hearts together be healed.

Today, especially, we may have need for just this kind of healing, in our lives and in our world. Allowing for what is now, and with genuine love, we weep with those in makeshift churches in Moore, Oklahoma.

Allowing for what is now, and patient in our suffering, we continue to weep with all those impacted by recent violence in our city.

And on this Memorial Day, allowing for the utter sadness of a constantly warring world, we mourn and grieve and remember those who lost their lives in war while serving this country. We weep with all those in anyway touched by the tragedy and trauma of battlefields.

And still we pray and act for peace and for healing of the nations. Even as we lift up these current and ongoing events, we recognize too the need for healing in our own lives. And so I ask, what is that pain or joy that you need to allow room for now? Where do you need to let another weep with you or rejoice with you?

Whether you choose to consider this while singing in your pews or while stepping forward for a touch of oil and a blessing, remember, healing does not lead us back to what was. Rather it allows for what is and in so doing it coaxes and woos and moves us and the Spirit closer together. And in that union, all manner of things can and will be made well. By God’s grace, may we be both the healers and the healed, with our souls strengthened to live peaceably with all that is and with all that will be. Amen.

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