FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Prayer of the Day: Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. Isaiah 35:5-6.
What does it mean to be healed? I asked that question of myself a lot over the last few weeks, during which I spent the better part of each day visiting my wife at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. As those of you who follow me know, Sesle sustained a severe spinal cord injury necessitating spinal surgery and intense inpatient therapy. During our time at Spaulding, I made a few observations about the healing process. First, healing is miraculous. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13-15. It is nothing short of breath taking to witness how nerves reawaken and muscles regain their power to move once flaccid limbs. It is marvelous to behold how hearing, taste and smell often sharpen to compensate for lost sight. As far as we have come with our medical technology, the best we can do is aid the human body as it repairs itself-until finally it does not.
That brings me to my second observation. Healing is always incomplete this side of the Resurrection. Everyone Jesus ever healed died of some other human aliment-just as each one of us finally will. We are inescapably mortal, no matter how desperately we try to cover it up with lotions and creams; no matter how rigorously we exercise; no matter how wholesomely we eat; no matter how effectively we hide the reality of death away in end stage hospital rooms, nursing homes and hospice facilities. At best, healing gives one a reprieve. To be healed is to be given more life, more health and more opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God for whatever time we have left. In that respect, healing is no different than waking up in the morning to a new day. The question is, will you live it joyfully, thankfully and obediently as God’s faithful creature and beloved child?
Third, healing never returns one to the status quo. When illness is serious, it leaves scars. Recall that the Resurrected Christ still bears the wounds of the cross. Sometimes those scars are visible-as were the third degree burns left on one Spaulding inpatient I encountered. Sometimes they lie deep beneath the surface manifesting themselves in nightmares, panic attacks and spells of depression. Sometimes scars make one stronger, wiser and more compassionate. Often they leave one crippled, bitter and withdrawn. The difference between healing and worsening sickness frequently turns on how one’s scars are treated, the meaning given to them and the degree to which one is able to make peace with them.
Finally, and most important, true healing is cosmic. That is to say, we can never be made whole individually. Not until “God is all in all” will we finally be healed fully and completely. I Corinthians 15:28. Only when the broken bodies and wounded minds of all God’s people are finally woven into the fabric of the new creation can it be said that we have been truly healed. We ought to know that. If this Covid 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our own health can never be assured until the day that disease of this kind is given no more slums, no more malnourished populations and no more space where persons are deprived of basic health care. Such healing as we experience in our lives, as marvelous as it is, remains but a sign and a witness to the ultimate healing God desires for the whole creation and of which the resurrection of the crucified one is a sign and a down payment.
Here is a poem by Joan Aleshire that speaks of illness, morality and a healing that transcends them both.
If the tests come out wrong, if the cells
begin to fail in their quiet weaving;
if the body that so lightly carries
this life betrays me — some night
when the pines talk to one another,
when no moon would tell my secret, snow
would fill my steps, I could go to that hill
so far beyond my neighbor’s it has no name.
Walking and waiting for numbness, I’d feel
the blade of air I’d chosen for my chest.
And if winter were too far away, the water
I watched today could take me — swift
churn of Otter Creek Falls, fanning out
smooth, moving from shore. Entering
such depth, a body would be part
of a motion, alive in its last time.
The doctor sensed the first tear
in his own tissue. The hand
with scythe-neat nails began to belong
to someone rebellious, his feet
were marble boats headed different ways,
his tongue turned against the thoughts
that tried to guide it. His country lost
its history — the childhood house
with its wings and boxwood borders,
the woman he noticed as she turned away.
He dreamed of dusty arenas, every exit
barred, a roar coming from the bull chute.
Doctor, he knew there’d be no reversal;
no way to cut or soothe. The ocean was open
all the way to the skyline; generous and deep.
How did he choose the time — after a day
of stumbling, or one so bright it tempted him
to stay? One night of no moon, he listened
to his wife breathing deep and even,
slipped back the broad cuff of sheet. Standing
he let his night clothes fall like snakeskin,
rustling down. He stepped in the last future
he could make — cold salt marking his ankles,
his calves as he waded in. Thighs, balls,
belly, chest. The tide began to love him
then, its pulse pressing his nipples,
answering his heart. He kept on,
letting in the water that would be his new air,
opening to the larger world, the failed body
lost to the final healing.
Source: The Yellow Transparents, Joan Ashire (Pub. by Four Way Books, 1997); also published in Poetry, (August 1988). Joan Alshire was born in 1947. She lives in Vermont where she is a library trustee and the founder of SAGE, an organization that supports sustainable agricultural education and the arts. She has written several poems touching on human frailty, mortality and resiliency. You can sample more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation website.