Healing through relationship
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today we have transferred the feast day of St. Luke so that we can celebrate it on a Sunday. St. Luke was the author of the gospel by that name, and he was a physician. That’s why we have the first reading from Ecclesiasticus, honoring the physician, reminding people of faith to go to the doctor, whose skills have been given to them by God. The reading says that They too pray to the Lord, that he grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
And so today at all three services, we will invite those of you who work in various healing professions to receive God’s blessing upon your work, and to join in the anointing and laying on of hands for healing. As we do this today, keep in mind that the time when we pray for others is in the Prayers of the People, either spoken or silently. When we receive anointing, however, we bring our own need for healing to God, quietly naming that need to the priest, if we choose.
St. Luke, being a physician, emphasized the healing ministry of Jesus when he wrote the gospel. Luke’s view of Jesus is probably the most familiar to us. In this gospel, Jesus is a figure of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy, especially to the sick, the poor, the lost, and the abandoned. He radiates love and healing. This is why in our Collect for this day, we pray that the love and healing power of Jesus as set forth in Luke’s gospel may continue through the church today.
This is what I’d like to center in on today: love and healing. The two are inseparable. Healing always takes place in a caring relationship; we can’t accomplish it by ourselves. Love itself is healing. TLC, chicken soup, a beside manner, the healing touch: these are not just for emotional comfort. They actually help heal us.
When we see a doctor, healing is most effective when there is a relationship. When the doctor has time to listen, to carefully observe our condition, to have some history with us, and to approach us prayerfully with a caring attitude, we are much more likely to be healed.
When an alcoholic realizes that they are powerless over their addiction, they enter into real relationship with others who understand, who listen to them at AA meetings, who walk with them through their struggles, into sobriety.
When someone needs emotional and spiritual healing, they often include a spiritual companion, a wise spouse or partner, a therapist, a clergy person, a faith community. Through these loving relationships, they are able to access the love and healing power of God.
Today at the 11:15 service, and in two weeks at the 9:00, we will celebrate baptism. Baptism begins the most important relationship of healing and love that we will ever have, a friendship with God and the community of faith that extends from birth into eternity. In the rite of baptism we say to the new Christian You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are marked as Christ’s own forever. We are part of the community of saints. We belong to one another and to God. In this lifelong relationship of love, we experience and we exercise the divine power of healing.
Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk who is the founder of the Centering Prayer movement, speaks about the process of divine healing that takes place in relationship with God through prayer.
Keating describes how, when we place ourselves in God’s presence, when we settle down and rest in God’s love, our defenses begin to lower, and whatever we carry around in our warehouse of emotional and spiritual pain begins to emerge. Our frustration, impatience, anger, fear, grief, disappointment, or wounds comes to the surface in the form of thoughts and emotions. Just out of nowhere, we find ourselves in a memory or a fantasy about the future. Things come up out of the unconscious, charged with the energy of our brokenness.
As we allow this stuff to manifest itself in prayer, within the safe place of a loving relationship with God, it is as if God’s light melts it down. We don’t necessarily figure things out or come up with an action plan for change. Transformation happens because we have made ourselves vulnerable in a loving and safe relationship. We have been accepted as we are, and the love of God allows us to move forward, out of our stuck places.
What Thomas Keating describes as the process of healing in silent Centering Prayer can also be found in many other forms of relationship. The principles of healing remain the same. That safe, defenseless place can be a marriage or friendship, with a priest or therapist, or in this community of faith. As we risk exposing themselves and entrust ourselves to another, as the one who is listening takes it in without judgment, healing takes place.
This is what can also happen in the general life of faith from baptism onward, throughout our life. Again and again, we come to God just as we are, humbly and honestly, exposing our soft underbelly to the One who will always love us and never betray us. We do this in private prayer, by being anointed for healing, in confession, in receiving Eucharist.
But it has to be real. Perhaps you remember Jesus’ teaching when he said "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” It appears that a religious life alone does not bring us into that quality of life Jesus called “the kingdom,” a place of healing and new life. Why not? Because, as Jesus said to those outside it, "I never knew you; go away from me.” I never knew you. I always find these words completely arresting, realizing that in order to access the Spirit, I need to be more real with God than perhaps I want to be.
We have to let God know us in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, in order to be healed. Sure, God already knows everything about us, but knowing us implies a real relationship, a mutual vulnerability. When we speak of an acquaintance we know a lot about professionally or socially, we might say “but I really don’t know him.” Knowing another means that we are in a relationship that is open and real.
When we are honest and open before God, asking for healing or guidance in prayer, we may never hear any words. We may never see a vision. We might not even get a clear sense of what we should do next: no explanation, no plan for self-improvement. We might only experience a slight relaxing of tension, a settling-down into the arms of God. We don’t necessarily need to know what transpires in that embrace. All we have to do is stay there for awhile. God will do the work. God’s love will bind up our brokenness and make us new.
This is a life-long process of healing. We are never done with it, because we are broken sinners, we are only human. But as the Spirit works on us over time, we become more and more able to offer the same thing to others that God offers to us. For we are not healed just to satisfy our own private needs. We are healed in order to become healers of the world, to participate in the redemption of all.
With our own baggage out of the way, we can be that non-judging, non-anxious, accepting presence that others so badly need. We can be, in a sense, like God is to us in our prayer, just allowing the other to be real, to expose their weakness, accepting them as they are, letting the light of love melt their brokenness.
So today as we baptize people into a relationship with God, as we pray for others in the Prayers of the People, as we bless the healers among us, and as we seek healing for ourselves in being anointed, we offer a safe place where the divine power of love and healing can do its work. We offer a community of relationship with one another and with Christ. The only thing left for us is to open our hearts and be real.