The Healing Touch
Sixth after Epiphany – Year B
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Sixth after Epiphany – Year B
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Let us pray: O God, may these words echo with your word. Guide them and use them. Amen.
With absolutely no pun intended I have to admit that the issue of faith and healing is a very touchy subject. History is replete with stories of healer-preachers who draw huge crowds of people with high hopes of having an illness or a disability cured. We, of the non-charismatic, liberal faith community, quite naturally and quite expectedly approach anything like that with a large degree of skepticism. While I haven't seen video clips or news stories recently – perhaps because I tend to shy away from them, or perhaps because such events are becoming less common, my memory banks are full of scenes where a so-called faith healer is commanding attention on the stage of some large sports venue. Crowds of people with canes, or sitting in wheelchairs, or perhaps even on stretchers, surround the stage, hoping that they will get the next chance to draw the attention of this miracle worker. The faith healer, with a stereotypical bang on the forehead, most commonly slaps the recipient of healing into a swoon on the stage, while at the same time yelling at the illness to come out. The healing done, at least that's what we are led to believe, the faith healer moves on to the next person who is earnestly and urgently waiting the same treatment.
For me it has always been a rather scary and perhaps even pathetic scene. My heart goes out to the people who are seeking some kind of healing, but I just can't believe that any kind of permanent cure can be given in such a showy and unscientific spectacle. My concerns have been affirmed in the past with high-profile current affairs program exposés showing that the so-called faith healers have deserved the “so-called” label because their cures were anything but that, at best being some kind of hypnotic trance that leads the healed people to believe for a time anyway that whatever they thought was wrong with them has been magically and mysteriously taken away.
It's not that I don't believe in healing. It's not that I don't believe that faith has a lot to do with healing. I'm just a little concerned when it is offered in such a showy and public way. It always seems to be more about the healer than anything else. And so, I continue to count myself among the skeptics.
Now I told you all that so you know where I stand on faith healing. A skeptic at best. But now let me tell you some stories.
The first one comes from my past. Back in the 70's my parents were part of a lively discussion group that met about once a month. This group of folks, stemming from a connection with the church they attended, met for discussion on any number of topics, sometimes including a meal together. I know that it filled an important part of their social and educational needs because even though I was a teenager who like most teenagers had as little to do with my parent's lives as I thought I could get away with, I could just tell by the anticipation and enjoyment they had when preparing for another gathering, that this was a stimulating part of their lives. The group also went on for years, despite the fact that as I recall it was originally started as a one year project. I also know that one of the most memorable topics this group discussed was on the issue of faith and healing. The group consisted of a number of professional people – teachers, engineers, and physicians, as well as some successful business people. I remember my Dad excitedly telling me of their discussion on the topic and the fact that it was such a lively time that it continued on for several different gatherings. In particular Dad told me about discussion on a kind of folk healing that he remembered from his childhood. It was the practice of having someone buy warts. The folk healer would give someone suffering from warts a penny, thus buying the warts. Sometime later the wart sufferer would be amazed to discover that the warts were gone. Dad brought this up in the discussion on faith healing and was surprised to hear a story from one of the doctors in their group that had a similar result. Except in this case, the warts weren't bought, they were simply told to go away, and they did – much to the amazement of Dr. Frid and in the telling of the story to the amazement of the others in the group. I probably would have forgotten this little incident completely except for the fact that at the time I had a number of plantar warts all over my feet. I had tried a number of different methods to remove them, but they were stubbornly still there. I heard Dad's story and thought that it could do no harm, for at worst nothing would happen. I was home from university and sleeping on the spare bed, my brother having taken over the bigger room that I had occupied when I lived at home. I remember this because the scene is so firmly etched in my mind. I remember going to sleep one night and as I dozed off I told myself over and over again that when I awoke the warts would be gone. I promptly forgot that I had done that. When I woke up in the morning something else was on my mind. But a few days later I suddenly remembered the the conversation and my bedtime mantra, checked the bottoms of my feet and the warts were all gone. It's somewhat embarrassing to tell you this because I still don't believe it, but it is absolutely true. And not only that but I've told the story to a few other people, who happened to have warts on their hands or feet and the same thing has happened – they've wished them away and it worked. Perhaps there is some perfectly reasonable and scientific explanation for what happened, and I am quite prepared for that to be the case. I just know that it worked. Don't worry, I'm not planning to rent the Multi-plex and call on Yellowknife wart sufferers to gather and be healed. I was only trying something that had worked unexpectedly for someone else, and for the most part I completely forget that it happened until stories of healing come up in the bible readings for a particular Sunday.
My second story is perhaps a continuation of the first. I'm not sure when I first heard about healing touch in United Church circles, but I probably approached it with some of the same skepticism that I held for the showy faith healers that I spoke of a few moments ago. But then I had a chance to experience it very briefly in the context of a church meeting at Sunnybrook United Church in Red Deer – the same church that Willy and Mariela are now attending. It was offered by someone for whom I had a great deal of respect. It was offered humbly and quietly – mostly as an introduction to the power of touch as a contributing factor in healing. Now I know that the ministry of Healing Touch is a widely accepted and much appreciated part of the Christian faith and certainly in many United Church congregations. Just this week, members of the Alberta and Northwest conference planning committee were asked to make a decision on whether we would give permission for a Healing Touch practitioner to offer Healing Touch during the conference annual meeting in May. The answer was a resounding yes.
Faith and healing. Touch and healing. They most definitely are connected. I still believe that healing most commonly happens as a result of well developed clinical methods, years of training and scientific research, and skilled and highly trained physicians, nurses and other medical care givers, and well developed research and development in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry. In other words, I trust my healing to doctors, nurses, occupational and phsyical therapists, and all the other medical care givers that do their work faithfully and skillfully and the drugs and medications that they use to complement their work and knowledge.
Finally I want to leave you with this take on faith and healing. It comes from Walter Wink, a much respected new testament scholar. Much abbreviated, he invites readers of the gospel to understand the stories of Jesus' healing as stories of the healing of dis-ease. In other words, what was troubling people such that they weren't at ease in their relationship with God. That's what Jesus cured – their dis-ease – not necessarily bringing healing for an illness, but comfort and cure for their dis-ease – letting them know that they were okay in God's eyes, letting those around them who might have shunned the outcast because they did not fit the bill of acceptibility in the culture of the day, that this dis-ease was as much a problem with the so-called healthy people as much as it was an issue for the person left on the edge by illness or disability. Those kinds of attitudes need healing too. Amen.