Tag Archives: Jesus

Healing when healing doesn’t come

I’ve been considering a talk I’m giving on Sunday about healing. It’s a challenging consideration as I wonder how to approach this, especially along the lines of grief and being hope free. Currently, I am sitting with two different aspects of healing. They are real, I would guess, to each of us, and they are connected. I’ll shoot a few arrows up and see if they land by the end or if they make sense. If not, that’s ok… maybe after a week’s time or maybe at some point before the end of your life.

The first aspect is that healing happens and it doesn’t happen, and often we don’t know why. Often healing happens to those who have done everything “wrong” and it doesn’t happen for those who have done everything “right.” Now I’m tempted to throw the whole framework out the window, but it is worth diving into because it is so real for so many people. Jesus says in Matthew 5, “God causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t.” I wish he didn’t preface that saying with “You will be children of your Father who is in heaven” because honestly, it doesn’t really make me want to have that kind of father. The truth is there, though. The sun… the rain… they are indiscriminate of evil and they are indiscriminate of good. What about the sun that burned so hot, with no rain on so many parts of our country while fires burned homes of so many of our fellow earth brothers and sisters? Indiscriminate? And what about the rains that have fallen on Texas and Florida and all the destruction that was wrought there? Iniscriminate. And what about the rain that fell on the people in Las Vegas from the window of the Mandalay Bay hotel? Indiscriminate. And what about the drip, drip, drip of the medications that have no effect on people I see every day in the hospital. Again… whether they are do right or whether they don’t. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes,  I’ve seen it all in my brief and pointless life—here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?” (I love this version from the Message). So wisdom… over rated. Being good… over rated. Being bad or reckless… over rated.

Mary Oliver seems to have a response.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. The world goes on and no matter how lonely, how distressed, how broken down, this same world that continues to go on, offers itself to your imagination and announces your place in the family of things. You belong. The rain falls on you and the sun shines on you. And we are held, as one amongst the many, in the midst of our sadness and sometimes anguish of not finding the healing when we would give everything to receive just that.

This leads me to my second wondering, is there healing even when there IS no healing? As a chaplain, this is, of course, a rhetorical question. Anthony de Mello tells a story:

To a distressed person who came to him for help the Master said, “Do you really want a cure”
If I did not, would I bother to come to you?”
“Oh yes Most people do.”
“What for?”
“Not for a cure. That’s painful. For relief.”
To his disciples the Master said, “People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favour progress, provided they can have it without change.”

De Mello taught that healing comes from dropping sickness… getting rid of that which is causing the sickness. Our natural state is health. So when someone has an infection, we want to get rid of the infection. When someone has cancer, we want to get rid of the cancer. We don’t add anything to be healed and we don’t add anything to be happy. So just at health is our natural state so is happiness. Happiness comes from dropping our illusions… our programming. This is the natural way of things. We are as natural as the world around us and where it is natural for us to be in a state of health, so it is natural for the world to be in a state of health. The world doesn’t need us to survive. The world will go on just fine without us.

Interestingly enough, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes his reflection on the overratedness of striving with the consideration that “it’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.” This is why earlier, I said I would rather just throw out the whole paradigm that healing might happen to some and not to others. Reality demonstrates otherwise.

Our healing comes from embracing the reality and the paradox and letting it transform us. We are meant to grieve. We are meant to feel the absolute heartbrokenness that comes from those who do not experience the healing they so desperately desire. It increases our love which opens us to more and more areas in our world that desperately need healing. There is always healing that can happen and there are always things to grieve. And as we embrace, we heal, and the world heals, and we see that the more grief we can hold, the more joy we can hold as well.

Listen carefully to these words by Kahlil Gibran, and hear how closely this resonates to all I have been saying so far:

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say to you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily, you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at stand-still and balanced.

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My soul resource in suffering

Now that I have begun my residency for hospital chaplaincy, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my view and process of suffering. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked my view on suffering as it pertains to helping others work through their own suffering and being able to internally deal with my own suffering and that suffering I hear on a daily basis. How do I not become overwhelmed? How do I translate my views in such a way that helps the other despite differences in theology or spiritual paths? What is even appropriate to share with others about why suffering happens?

Why does suffering happen anyway? My immediate response is one of, “I really don’t know.” There is some suffering that simply cannot be explained. I have heard from many different places that we live in a sinful world, that humanity is inherently sinful because of what Adam and Eve did in the garden when they disobeyed God. So because humanity is sinful, we do sinful things, and of course that is why we need to repent and believe the right things about Jesus so that we have access to his transformational power to change our nature and at least not have to suffer for all of eternity. In my thinking, this doesn’t cut it in so many ways. It still doesn’t answer why I and so many others still have to face suffering in this life. It also seems like a minimization of someone’s current troubles in order to fit them into a system of beliefs that moves them from focusing on the pain here and now to hope in something that they or we haven’t experienced yet. It doesn’t fit with my belief in a God who suffers with us and doesn’t want his children to suffer. I have also heard people say that suffering happens to teach us something. While God doesn’t want us to suffer, he allows it to happen to us so we can become stronger. I could never give this to someone as a reason for why they are suffering. “God wants to teach you something.” What kind of help does that give when someone has lost their child or their loved one, or they are faced with the loss of a limb or cancer? Continue reading My soul resource in suffering

Blame, job loss, and the paradoxical way of love

I’ve had a lot of chances to reflect on blame and shame these last couple weeks as I have been laid off along with all the other staff at Common Table, a nonprofit cafe that we all worked at. They needed to make some budget changes so they didn’t keep losing money and most of us, all having put so much soul and energy into the place, find ouselces jobless and unsure where to turn next. A lot of heartbreak all around. My desire, above all else, has been to avoid blaming any one or any group for these changes.

Blame is so easy to do. It is an escape from the mystery of not knowing what god is doing or what I might have to learn or do with the situation at hand. It creates more division and more unhappiness for all involved as it begins a vicious cycle of placing responsibility on others. We want answers and reasons and blaming gives them to us.

Shame is so deeply embedded in our history of religion. It’s easier to look at Jesus’ words as prescriptive and as a way to assure ourselves that we, in our right thinking, are in and others are out. It’s easier to feel ashamed and make others feel ashamed at wrong action than to imagine how god could love us the same no matter what we do. It is harder for us to feel inspired by unconditional love than inspired by god’s wrath or justice.

For this reason, I think it it is imperative that we choose the more paradoxical and love inspired way. Initially more difficult to let go into, we find that once there we have the fresh air of grace and acceptance, not just from God, but towards ourselves and others and from ourselves and others. It is wonderful that Julian of Norwich got this. Not surprising that she got it from a deep prayer and listening rather than from the religious ideas at the time. It is exciting that so many mystics throughout history and other religions get such similar messages from their prayer lives and that they are so often the minority in their traditions.

One year ago… Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

As I am sitting here at George Fox Sem, I am reminded of these posts from last year. Enjoy!

Folks, I want what I do to be for the village… the community… the place where the spiritual unites with the physical.

So, for me, taking classes at George Fox Seminary to get my certificate in spiritual formation is about more than just me. I am doing it because it is what I must do… for the community and for God.

I recently finished my semester paper for my class on prayer and as I wrote it with the community in mind it is important for me to share it here. I will be posting it up in sections over the next week or so. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To read part 1, Starting with Prayer,  GO HERETo read part 2, Prayer and it’s place in the Spiritual Life (pt 2), GO HERETo read part 3, The difficulty of sustaining our prayer life, GO HERE

Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

Perhaps the one of the most difficult reasons for maintaining a sustainable prayer practice and perhaps one of the most painful parts of being in relationship with a God who is so much greater than any of us. How do I respond to someone who prays for healing of a loved one and does not receive it? How do I respond to someone who prays in his infertility that God would give him children and yet still remains childless? So much pain and so many unknowns…

I do believe that God calls us to compassion and presence, but not necessarily answers. Compassion is entering into the suffering of another, as Jesus entered into our suffering. This is being the presence of Christ to my community. Compassion may very well be just sharing the tears and the burdens while so deeply dwelling in the terrible, “I do not know…” So someone who’s prayers are not answered? It is the spiritual leader’s responsibility to provide compassionate presence… whether it be from myself, or from the community. Again, there are no good answers as to why or how or when or what… It is so much easier to go into this as a leader, even slightly. How much more difficult it is to allow someone to be in their pain, their anger, and their blame! Walter Wangerin, in his beautiful book, Mourning into Dancing, says that we MUST let the griever blame God. Better God blamed than others because God is the only one that can so lovingly take on this blame. This is hard for the spiritual leader trying to give the “right” kind of help.

Unanswered prayer part 2 can be found here.

When life makes us raw…

It’s so easy to ask the questions of why good things come to those who do evil or why bad things happen when I work so hard to do what is right. We want answers, don’t we? “God, can’t I get a break once in while? Why is this so hard? Dammit… I thought we were past this…”

It is so important for me, personally, to remember that God does not play the tit-for-tat game of allowing evil when we do wrong and rewarding us when we do right. It is so comforting to see the times when Jesus affirms this. “Teacher, what has this man or his parents done that he should be blind all his life?” He refuses to play this game, which is very much a lower-consciousness human tendency. “He was born blind so that God’s work might be done in him…” Isn’t this the case for all of us?

The beauty of the God I serve is that he has shown me that his love is constant… even when I am bound to ask, in the wake of tragedy and hardship (and especially ANYTHING that causes stress), “Why, why… WHY?!?” Life keeps us so raw in the storms and deserts and challenges. I am living it so deeply, these days. Changing, changing, everything is changing… some things slip away, some new stresses added… all of it coming with drama. And in the midst of it, I want a damn reason. We humans have always wanted a reason.

And here we have a God who doesn’t always give us a reason. This is the wonder of the divine mystery. This is what makes truth… a being in the midst of paradox and tension. To relax into this is to embrace our divine sonship and daughtership. It is to live awake to our own union with God and the love he/she always has for us. The rain and the sun fall on the good and the bad, making thorns and flowers grow. It’s not an easy truth.