notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
A subject for retreat at Bishop's House, Iona
16-21 April 2005
RETURN TO Healing Places index
RETURN TO 4. The possessors at the frontiers
5. Healing at the frontiers - part 1
For the past few days we have been thinking in these sessions about places - our own special places, frontier places where people are at the edge of possibility or change or loss. We have spent some time with scripture and hearing other people's stories about being dispossessed in frontier places; and abo ut the equal challenge of being possessors, which can so easily lead us into a form of slavery. And through all of this we have heard hints of healing, suggestions about how God's grace may meet us in these places. We have wondered if the church might be itself a healing place.
In our time this morning I hope to offer some stories and reflections, and some ideas, which might help bring some of these strands together. I hope it will be a lighter sort of session than the previous couple, less theology, more applied thinking. And as I drew largely in those sessions on the work of Walter Brueggemann, today I shall be drawing on the work of Russ Parker, in particular his book Healing Wounded History: Reconciling Peoples and Healing Places (London: Darton …, Longman and Todd, 2001), which seems to me to offer us a lot in this direction.
I want to divide this session into four parts: healing places, healing people, healing powers, and healing church.
And to each of them I want to suggest that healing can come in four different ways: by listening, by walking, by words of healing, and by symbolic acts. This is because I find these in scripture, four ways in which healing comes to people on various frontiers.
Scripture shows how healing comes to the dispossessed when God listens to their cries; and when they listen to God: "If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray, and see k my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will for give their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7.14.And the gospels present us with numerous stories of Jesus, bringing various sorts of healing to various sorts of people by listening to them in particular places: the woman at the well in John 4.4-42, a centurion at the entrance to Capernaum in Matthew 8.5-13.
Scripture shows how healing comes to the dispossessed when God walks with them; with those escaping slavery in the great Egyptian exodus, where "the Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and a pillar of fire by night to give them light." Exodus 13.21. And the gospels present us with n umerous stories of Jesus, bringing various sorts of healing to various sorts of people by walking with them in particular places: with the outcast Zacchaeus to his house in Jericho in Luke 19.1-10, with the downcast disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke 24.13-32.
Scripture is full of words of healing for the dispossessed, the wanderer, the exile: "Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness he will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord." Isaiah 51.3. And the gospels are full of stories of Jesus, speaking words of healing to various sorts of people: a man with leprosy in the crowds at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 8.1-4 to whom he said, "I am willing to make you clean; be clea nsed;" a blind man outside Jericho in Luke 18.35-43 to whom he said, "Your faith has made you well."
Scripture is also full of examples of symbolic actions which have brought healing to the people in many vulnerable places: the rainbow at the end of the flood (Genesis 9.13), the parting of the sea for the Israelites in Exodus 14. And Jesus himself brought healing through symbolic actions of various kinds: washing the feet of his disciples at the last supper (John 13.5); entering Jerusalem on a donkey to herald a new way of healing the world in Matthew 21.1-11.
I have chosen these four ways of healing - listening, walking, speaking healing words and symbolic actions because I feel they relate particularly well to the theme of healing places. But they are by no means exclusive. There are many other ways which healing comes in scripture and in life. But I hope these illustrations help you see how rich is our tradition with resources for healing; they barely scratch the surface. And now I would like to take them as starting-points for suggesting how we as individual Christians and the church as a body - and a physical place - can help bring healing to the frontiers.
After a week on Iona and the sorts of conversations we've had about special places I suggest that the notion that places have spirits may not be that difficult to relate to. Places have characters, you get feelings about places - different feelings about different places. And this may be because of something physical about that place - its beauty, or its ugliness, its warmth or its coolness. Or it may also be about what has happened there - its history deeply attached to the human events and natural occurrences which have taken place - taken place - on that particular piece of ground.
You will recall the story of Russ Parker hearing the cries coming up from the city of Derry. You could perhaps imagine similar cries coming from the formerly-inhabited wildernesses broken by the recent tsunami in Asia, the cries of the soil carrying the blood of lost loved ones in battlegrounds across the world. All these suggest that places, somehow carry the pain in their very soil. The earth cries out for healing. An odd concept, maybe - or close to scripture, close to many psalms, or to Paul's picture of the earth groaning, waiting for the ultimate healing in Christ?
Healing Places through listening