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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Advent, Week Three: Angels We Have Heard on High

My very first memory of this song is from a tinny-sounding interactive sound book of holiday carols—you know the ones with the panel down the side sporting battery-operated pictures you could push to play something?  I can still picture it perfectly, with a cover showing tons of gold spray-painted ornaments behind a giant angel and little cherub faces on the song panel.  The book had lyrics with some musical notation so you could sing along with the recorded music, which got progressively more out of tune as I played them over and over and the equipment simply wore out.  These were the days before digital, after all.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” was one of those songs, and it remains one of my favorites to sing for the sheer joy of singing.  Even if you have no idea what “excelsis Deo” means or where exactly that is that we should be putting Gloria there, the roller coaster of melody on that chorus is just a fun thing to do with your voice.  After you realize you have no air left for the excelsis, that is.

Again, I’ve unintentionally continued the traveling theme, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s just a constant for Christmas songs in general.  (And also Advent, ad venio, which means “I come to”; hello somebody, as my marvelous district superintendant would say.)  I mean, there was a lot of traveling going on—Mary and Joseph were traveling, the kings were traveling, the shepherds were traveling (not very far, but still), the angels were traveling (maybe?  Not sure how they work with dimensional things like distance.  Maybe they have a Tardis?).  But this, like O Come, All Ye Faithful, calls to us to travel.  It’s actually a nice story arc of a song; we heard these angels, and then we’re asking the shepherds why they’re excited, and then we’re exhorted to travel, and then we see the Baby for which we’ve traveled.  Progression, and sense, which is not always apparent in some of the older carols.

Then there’s this chorus, which is in Latin, if you didn’t know.  I love that holiday stuff stays in Latin a lot, as if that adds charm or something by being unintelligible to most of the populace singing it.  It means “glory to God in the highest”—well, translated in its order it means “glory in the highest to God,” and I have no idea why a lot of publishers/typists insist on the comma after “gloria.”  That makes it “glory, in the highest to God.”  Perhaps if they had another comma after “excelsis”?  In any case, that’s the chorus.  Angels are singing.  Glory to God in the highest!  Shepherds, what’s up?  Glory to God in the highest!  Come, there’s a new kid in town.  Glory to God in the highest!  Hanging out with Mary and Joseph.  Glory to God in the highest!  (Glooooooooooooooory, in the highest, to God!)

Lot of praise going on.  And why not?  There are angels, yo!  Actual angels, as in celestial beings that may or may not have their own inner light source like living LED lamps.  Hanging out.  Telling some half-asleep shepherds to go to this nowhere town, Bethlehem.  Shepherds, why this jubilee?  I would start with “the shiny light being didn’t strike me dead,” for one thing, because God did that sometimes.

But then—well, then, we realize there is something going on that’s so big even the mountains are singing it.  And sure, you can go with the fact that mountains echo things because that’s what they do and sound travels in a specific way around non-porous material, but still.  Even the rocks will cry out, right?  A Really Big Deal just happened, in a very not-big-deal town, at night, in the middle of a government census.  People have other things on their minds, God.  And You send your angels to shepherds?  Really?  In an age of networking and flashy websites and the Need for Good Marketing, God fails utterly.  He would be the company with Clip Art on its website and no Facebook page, by these standards.

Joy, however, is a pretty powerful force, and some of the coolest parts of this story, this birth for which we are still impatiently waiting in the week before Christmas, in this season of Advent, are that it was totally improbable and not (from a human standpoint) terribly well planned.  Yet it includes everybody, from the mountains to the shepherds to your Great-Aunt Lou to you to me—yes, even us, Reader.  We get to hang out with angels, we get to sing their songs and live the experience because we get to go see this new King, born in a town that’s about to get a huge tourism boost.  Perhaps we don’t literally go to this stable every year now (2,000 years of annual birth would be a bit much to ask of Mary, after all), but we are still called to be part of this, called to this wonder that absolutely should not have worked.  We hear the angels and sing glory because really, what else is there to do?  Even in a broken world, is not the beautiful still worth our joyous song?

 

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Miryam, for you have found favor with God.  Look! You will become pregnant, you will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua.  He will be great, he will be called Son of Ha‘Elyon.  ADONAI, God, will give him the throne of his forefather David; and he will rule the House of Ya‘akov forever — there will be no end to his Kingdom.”  (Luke 1:30-31, CJB)