Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

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6 thoughts on “Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

  1. You say many things in this short piece, but I’ll comment on just one of them. Over the past several years, I have become increasingly worried about the kinds of stories we as a people are serving up for ourselves.

    I don’t blame Hollywood or New York. There has always been a complicity between storytellers and their audiences. We are co-conspirators. Audiences have always wanted their storytellers to scare them, but only so much. The key to being an effective storyteller is to know where to draw the line: to put audiences on the edge of their seats, but then to give them a resolution that allows them to sink back at the end, satisfied.

    Somehow, in recent years, we as a people have raised the fear factor higher and higher. We don’t go to the theater to feel good. We go to be frightened, and each sequel must outdo the previous episode in providing terrifying villains who find newer and better ways to hurt people. Whenever there seems to be a happy ending, we can be sure the sequel will unravel it.

    I’ve watched this happen for many years. I’ve seen how each TV program tries to have a more shocking season finale than it did the previous season. The stress level just keeps getting higher and higher. And I’ve noticed that this has happened during the same exact years when real life has become increasingly shocking – and consequently has made it harder for us as a people to find peace.

    I can’t tell my society to stop cranking out harmful entertainment, but I can be deliberate about what I will watch, or read, or listen to. More and more, I have found it necessary NOT to watch the latest shows or movies; NOT to read the latest books – for the sake of my spiritual well-being. More and more, I have recognized the importance of being a stabilizing influence in my social circles, and in order to do that, I’ve got to cultivate habits that allow me to be at peace in my soul.

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    • Yes indeed, I think you’re spot on. I’ve been thinking about this a lot–I listen sometimes to a podcast about The West Wing, the political show from the late 90s/early 00s, and they comment on the fact that a show like that (which has a sort of hopefulness about what politics can do) would never fly today. Our political shows are Scandal and House of Cards, both infinitely more bloodthirsty and cynical. I don’t know why we want our fictional worlds to be as unsettling and so lacking in peace as the world around us, but I’m not fond of the trend.
      Teach me your ways of “being a stabilizing influence,” Magister. I don’t know that I know how to do that.

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      • I was initially overwhelmed by your closing question and thought I might get away with just “Liking” it. But upon prayerful reflection, I feel it might be helpful to answer you with another question.

        This question is from Alisdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue. He says there is one question we must all answer in this era, and it cannot be evaded. We will answer it by the way we live, even if we avoid answering it with our lips.

        The question is: Is Life (not your life or my life individually, but LIFE in its totality)… Is Life – in essence – a tragedy or a comedy?

        I know you will understand the question. The word “comedy,” as used here, has little to do with being funny. And if someone tells me, “I believe that Life is an absurd farce,” then what they’re really saying is, “It’s a tragedy.”

        I have come to believe that secular society views Life as a tragedy. And this is true even though we love to laugh… and we laugh at everything. But it’s a laughter of the damned. It’s an “in spite of” kind of laughter.

        But when Christ tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), he’s calling us to a life of comedy. When the Apostle Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8), he is standing resolutely on the side of comedy. And when John the Revelator proclaims Jesus as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16), he is taking his stand as one of the greatest comedy writers of all time.

        So you and I must also declare ourselves, in these days of ours.

        Is the life that we are living (our individual life, that is) part of an Ongoing Tragedy or is it part of a Divine Comedy?

        The way we answer that question will determine whether we live a stabilized life… or not.

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        • I remember the first time I read Dante’s Inferno and wondered what on earth that had to do with being a comedy since it wasn’t funny in the least; yes, I do understand the question. And I agree, though I hadn’t really considered it before, that society sees itself as a tragedy for all its talk about the progress of history. Some of Shakespeare’s funniest lines come from the tragedies.

          I really like your phrasing of this question, Magister, and will consider it in the various spheres of my life. How do I live into believing this is a comedy in the sense that there truly is a happy ending? Things worth pondering.

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          • I apologize for taking your blog hostage one more time, but I’ve been thinking about this all day and feel that it’s important. It seems to me that cultivating Life as a Comedy is not just believing in a happy ending, although it does include that. As I understand it (and try to practice it), to believe in Life as a Comedy means that the victory is won, and that each episode leading up to the Ultimate Victory is to be cherished rather than merely endured.

            I mentioned last night that our society’s laughter is an “in spite of ” humor – a kind of gallows humor. We laugh because the alternative is to cry, as people often say. But there’s something better: a “because of” humor, where we laugh because there’s a fountain of joy bubbling up inside us and we just can’t contain it. This “because of” humor arises from the consciousness that victory is won. It comes from seeing the world the way the Prophet Elisha saw it, with horses and chariots of fire all around us (II Kings 6). It comes from the awareness that even here, even now, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – not temporally, perhaps; not that Christ will come in the clouds by next week at this time. But spatially – or better yet, relationally – “he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

            The enjoyment of his presence, and the appropriation of our “victory in Jesus” (as you preached about recently at Chapel Hill): that’s what it means to embrace Life as a Comedy. I’m not sure I could remain calm if it was really just about waiting for a happy ending. I believe it’s about stepping into another world right now – into the reign of God. So then we really are sojourners – “pilgrims,” to use your metaphor. We’re in the world, and yet not quite of it.

            That’s all. Thanks for letting me spout off. Funny how these dark days have given me a greater sense of urgency about these things… as if I mustn’t let an opportunity pass, to say what needs to be said. Thanks for listening!

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          • I miss you. We better have lots of these kinds of conversations when I come back in the summer.

            And don’t worry about taking the blog “hostage,” I want people to chime in and challenge. The posts are always meant to be a conversation; I’d disable comments if I just wanted to read my own words.

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