Healing

The gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ healing of a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and unable to stand up straight.  This is a wonderful story that is very easy for readers to identify with.  There are so many things that weigh us down.

I first thought about this story the day we had a number of first-year college students visiting our Quaker meeting before their classes had begun.  They were bright and perky; but I remembered other students I had seen in other years in the middle of the term, weighed down with schoolwork, relationship issues, concerns about the future, lack of sleep, and more.

I can also remember being weighed down feeling overwhelmed with many different projects that needed to be addressed, feelings of inadequacy, and a sense of great responsibility.  And, especially as a young woman, feeling burdened with being a woman and the struggles that brought me in trying to find my place.  I really value that in the story Jesus sees the woman, speaks to her, and lays his healing hands on her.  All three actions bring healing.  What a joy to be released from the spirit that crippled her—or cripples us.

One time I had been feeling weighed down for several days, with no particular cause that I could point to.  The more I felt uncomfortable about the feeling, the more I paradoxically seemed set on being bent over.  Until I heard a friend, who knows God’s love for her and has a deep and abiding love for God, say, “Sometimes I have things come up that I just can’t handle, and I tell God he is going to have to take care of that himself.”  So I tried that.  “God, I can’t handle this feeling.  You’re just going to have to handle it.”  I first had to agree to let it go if I were released from it, and I had to trust it into God’s hands.  The next day I woke up cheerful.  My anxiety about a particular responsibility had shifted.  I felt companioned by Jesus, open and curious instead of fearful.  The crippling spirit had been lifted.  I was standing up straight again.

Queries:

In what way are you, or someone you know, bent over with a spirit that cripples?

How does your faith speak to that condition?

Prayer:

Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  In thee I trust.  (And thank you, God, for faithful friends.)

For further reference:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16a).

“Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15: 4).

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Light of Christ

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:9). This key biblical text for early Friends contributed to the shape of their theology.  Their emphasis was on the power of the Light of Christ rather than on human sinfulness, although it was that power’s ability to bring change in their lives that mattered.  The Light revealed what was hidden, it convicted, and then it empowered change.

Recently I’ve become aware of some small examples in my life of what that might be like.  A friend I see only on rare occasions reminds me at those times of some words I said to her years ago in a particular context and place.  I at best vaguely remember the occasion and have no sense that my words came from any spiritual depth or wisdom. But for her, those words gave her hope when she was despairing.  She must have experienced through the words a light that allowed her to see a clearer picture of her condition, brought her worry up short, and comforted her so that she could go forward in greater peace.  A little incident, but significant enough in her life that she continues to remember it.

While in Rome for a family wedding I was asked by a friend why I did a particular behavior.  Her tone kept what she said a question and not a criticism.  And I gave her a quick and reasonable answer.  But the question stuck—a light shone on that issue.  Later I was able to reflect on the revealed behavior, see it for what it was, and choose to change, although I wondered how I would be able to.  As if the prayer of my heart were answered, I was empowered to live differently, at least for a time.  The old behavior remains in the light, and the desire of my heart to change is not forgotten.  I am more aware of what the behavior does to another.  I remain dependent on Christ to live in the new.

Queries:

When has someone’s words revealed to you what was hidden in you?

What has enabled you to change—for a short time or more permanently? And how could you or do you stay connected with that power?

Prayer:

May your light shine in my heart revealing what is hidden and needs the light of day.  Increase my consciousness of your light in my life, and the openness of my heart to be changed.

For further reflection:

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8: 12).

Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, &c. then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the Light, that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation: then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you.  (George Fox, Epistle 10)

Being Prepared

Anne is a birdwatcher (what English people call a “twitcher”).  As a child she began learning to recognize and name the birds she saw—robin, cardinal, blue jay.  Now she has a life list and travels to special sites to have a chance to see birds she has never seen before.  Being prepared, she says, is the key to birdwatching.  But it isn’t the kind of being prepared that one does for some event occurring at a certain place on a certain date.  It is a preparation that allows one to receive gifts whenever they show up.

To be prepared to see birds takes having a body of knowledge that develops little by little; the more you know the more you can know.  It also takes some aptitudes and attitudes—skill at using binoculars, a framework for interpreting what you have seen, practice, patience, and joy at seeing whatever shows up or even nothing.

I practice a kind of Christian meditation called Centering Prayer, promoted by Contemplative Outreach.  It is a method that prepares the pray-er to receive the gift of contemplation if and when it is given.  Like those seeds that, once planted in the ground, wait months or even years for the conditions to be right—enough water, nutrients, and the right temperature—for germination, centering prayer involves staying put and waiting.

I believe that the whole of the spiritual life is about being prepared—both actively preparing and passively being formed and readied (and everything in between)—for living and for death. The elements of such being prepared include experiences and a framework or knowledge base for interpreting those experiences; a deep desire for, commitment or dedication to this life and to the One who gives it; and a community with whom to prepare.  There are also aptitudes and attitudes that help—practice, ability to listen, trust, and gratitude.

I believe that God’s goodness grants us moments of abundant life, and being prepared enables us to notice them and soak up the joy that might otherwise simply fly by without being seen or appreciated.

Queries:

For what do you have a deep desire to be prepared?  What do you need to do?

In what ways have you been prepared and in what ways are you in the act of being prepared?

Prayer:

Knowing rote prayers of the church can be a way of being prepared.  There are multiple ways of praying. Being prepared happens when one prays regularly.  Take on a spiritual practice of prayer.

For further reflection:

“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (See Matthew 25: 1-13).

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (See Luke 3: 1-14 and Isaiah 40: 3-5).

Lost Baggage

On a trip to Rome for the wedding of a relative who grew up there and whose parents still live in Rome, my husband and I arrived but our suitcases didn’t.  Trying to sleep the second night we were there, lying in bed wearing my friend’s nightgown, I fretted.  Not only was I missing my clothes for coping with the heat of Rome and the special dress I had picked for the wedding, I was missing jewelry I had packed, including several pieces of some value and much sentimental significance.

I felt foolish for having packed the necklaces, helpless in the face of cultural and language barriers and airline run-arounds, and pained by the mistakes and losses.  I lay there hurting.  Eventually I turned to prayer—not so much the kind with words addressed to God requesting a fix or a rescue, but more putting my heart in the goodness of God.  At a certain point I felt myself let go.  I valued the clothes and jewelry; but as far as I knew they were gone, and they were only things, possessions.  I had a choice—to be miserable or to make the best of things and be open and present to the adventure.

I had a wonderful time.  Letting go of fretting about my losses also let go much of my usual need to be in control and even my perfectionism.  In the week we were in Rome I found joy all over the place.  And that joy has followed me home, allowing even more spiritual and psychological changes and freedom.

In reflecting on the experience I find myself back in the Lord ’s PrayerGive us this day our daily bread.  As I understand these words, all we need is what God knows we need for this one day.  All the extra is unnecessary, maybe even baggage that gets in the way of life.  I still have too much stuff, and I’m not interested in losing anything.  But I do have a taste of another way.

(P.S.: We did retrieve our luggage, with no items missing, one month after it should have arrived in Rome.)

Queries:

What baggage would you benefit from letting go?

Where can you go for comfort and direction when things go wrong?

Prayer:

Creator and Sustainer, help me to know what really matters and to be able to let go of the rest.

For further reflection:

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (See Luke 12: 13-21.)

“. . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . (See Matthew 6: 25-34).