These past weeks of this series on healing we have been encouraged to explore our own needs for healing. We have taken on the pain of our neighbours and the world. We have been anointed for where we and our neighbours hurt. In this time of worship and anointing, how can we draw on the experience of pain to become healers?
The idea that we become ministers out of our own experience of pain is not a new one. The twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are built on the idea that we can draw on our own experiences of pain and healing to support and heal others. A recovering alcoholic – even one who has been sober for years – will always feel the tug of addiction and remember the pain that they caused themselves and perhaps those around them. Yet their experience of that is powerful for others who are mired in trying to give up their addiction. In some ways it makes perfect sense. And yet, when we are in the midst of feeling pain we rarely think about how what we are experiencing might impact the way we relate with empathy to others.
I’m sure that some of you have read Henri Nouwen’s book The Wounded Healer . Nouwen begins the chapter ‘Ministry by a Lonely Minister’ with the story of Rabbi Simeron. This rabbi asks Elijah where he can find the Messiah. Elijah answers, that the Messiah is sitting at the gates of the city “among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay a moment.'”
Nouwen says about this story, “Jesus has given this story new fullness by making his own broken body the way to health, to liberation and new life. Thus, like Jesus, [those] who [proclaim] liberation [are] called not only to care for [their] own wounds and the wounds of others, but also to make [their] own wounds into a major source of [their] own healing power.”
When I read this story of the girl who was raised I though, she doesn’t have a name, but I know her age. And in some ways that makes her almost more real than a name would. Do you remember what it was like to be twelve? Or maybe you have a child that has been twelve.
When I was twelve I was on the brink. I was still waiting for my life to happen. I was certainly not thinking about how pre-teen angst could be a catalyst for ministry in the future. I was a girl but at the point of that time between childhood and adulthood. I was awkward in my own skin. I was worried about what people thought of me. I didn’t know what to do with my body. I thought I must be different from everyone else but I was afraid to say anything. Sometimes I was lonely.
Perhaps when you were twelve you were not the awkward, moody pre-teen that I was. Perhaps you made it through that stage later. But at one point or another in our lives most of us have felt isolated, afraid, awkward, embarrassed, sinful, unsure. This is what it is to be human and it is also what makes it possible for us to imagine how it might feel to be in pain when we are not – what makes it possible for us to empathize with another’s pain.
The girl in Mark’s resurrection story is also on the brink. She is on the brink of womanhood. In Judaism the age 13 officially marks the coming into adulthood for boys. Though I’m believe it to be likely that girls were considered women when they became marriageable and able to bare children and certainly she is on the brink of that milestone. She is on the brink between life and death. Though people from her house proclaim her dead; Jesus says she only sleeps. Who do we believe?
Henri Nouwen encourages us to bring ourselves also to the brink – to escape from our places of comfort for a little while. To draw from our own place of or experience with pain and loneliness to feel with those in society who hurt and to listen for those who give voice to pain. He calls for a ‘willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all [people] share’
I wonder: How did Jairus’ daughter use this experience of death and new life subsequent to it? How did it mark her? Certainly she was different now, from her peers – alone in this experience. (Maybe it is for this reason that Jesus tells people to keep quiet – it may only serve to isolate the girl). Was she treated differently by her family? Were there whispers behind her back? What did she tell her children later about her encounter?
I have more questions that I have answers but there are some things that I imagine. The moment at which Jesus says to her, ‘child, get up’ strikes me with such tenderness and solemnity and joy. How can she not have been changed? It is a moment filled with potential for this young woman. She immediately gets up and begins walking around. We don’t hear of how having a hand tenderly reached out to her, allowed her to reach out tenderly to others. We don’t hear that being on the brink of death allowed her to feel for the sickness and isolation of those who suffer and are alienated. We don’t hear how the gentle voice empowering her to rise, allowed her to lift others out of their depths.
Nouwen talks about hospitality as the healing response. Hospitality more than compassion, or understanding or fellowship or forgiveness yet encompassing all of those. A response of hospitality requires that we know our own ‘house’. In other words that we are aware of and draw from our own pain. And hospitality requires that we create a free and fearless place for the visitor. It involves knowing one’s own pain while concentrating carefully on the visitor. It involves confrontation – bringing the awareness that pain cannot be escaped, yet moving from that pain into a common search for life, transforming despair into signs of hope.
In past Sundays we have been offered anointing by members of our pastoral care team and our pastors. Today during our experience with anointing we will have the opportunity to anoint each other, offering a small glimpse of hospitality to each other. Because we are each ministers who draw on our own pain and feel for the pain of others, we are empowered to offer each other anointing.
In preparation for anointing, I would invite you again to participate with me in a time of meditation and introspection.
I encourage you to focus again on your breath as a way to center yourself and sink into yourself. With each breath invite God’s healing Spirit into your body and exhale deeper into your own center. Allow yourself to hear your breath and be aware of your body.
As I read the story, place yourself there.
Hear again the story of Jairus’ daughter.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.
Imagine that you are your 12-year-old self. The years and experiences have been stripped away. How do you feel about that return to the brink of adulthood? What awaits you? How are you lonely and wounded?
Imagine Christ at your side. Imagine Christ taking your hand and saying to you, “Child, get up!”
Your body is filled with light. You are warm. Your are safe.
Christ is still beside you. What have you to say to your healer and friend?
How does Christ respond?
Christ who calls us to rise up from our pain,
Call to us now.
Call us even as you sit beside us and see the agony
Call us even knowing how difficult it may be to rise.
Hold our hand and bear us up
Give us to eat the food that will nourish and give life.
Put in our hand the love and strength that we need
To be ministers to others in our midst.
So that we may reach and call and nourish.
In your healing name we pray, Amen.