I’ve made no secret of the fact I love being Episcopalian. I love the fact that we are on the cutting edge of religious acceptance of homosexuality (although conservative elements in the larger church are fighting that tooth and nail), and that so much of the Episcopal service is devoted to the themes of social justice based on Christ’s instructions to care for the poor, the needy, the persecuted, and basically everyone who needs a helping hand. It’s the opposite of the hellfire and brimstone and God-hates-everyone-but-a-select-few theology I grew up on.
Yesterday we had a Friar from the Order of St. Francis come to speak in out forum (adult Sunday school, as it were) about healing. This friar was most active in healing ministries, trying to help people with mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual problems via prayer and the seeking of solace in God. At one point a congregant questioned him about the fact that there was no overt Christian doctrine in his work, and that it appeared to be something someone of any faith could do. Here’s what he said (paraphrased as best I could from memory):
“It can, and does, work for anyone. I’ve been trained with Buddhist monks and Native American spiritualists, and a lot of other folks too. it all works, provided the seeker is sincere. The reason my ministry is a Christian ministry is because I am a big fan of Christ, and I experience the Divine though him and his works. However, the Devine will always be there for His children, no matter who is looking for it or how.”
I loved this. It was a wonderful acknowledgment that God is bigger than any petty infighting over who has the “real” way into his grace. No one gets to lead a holy war to kill the apostate with this kind of understanding, and I treasure that.
But talking about healing did remind me of something that had bothered me. My mom only recently told me about it, because she felt like it was so far fetched sounding to anyone born after 1970 that I wouldn’t believe it. One of my mother’s brothers fell off a low bridge when he was about five, and afterword he couldn’t feel or move his legs. My grandparents took him to a doctor (there wasn’t a whole lot they could do in the 50’s, compared to now) who told them that he was most likely paralyzed for life, since there was clearly damage to the spine. In despair, my grandparents took him and their other children to a small Holiness church that was locally know to have had successful healing services.
My grandma had grown up Holiness, but took her kids to a Baptist church because she married a Baptist and you were whatever denomination your husband was back in the day. Nevertheless, for healing she knew the best bet was the church of her childhood.
Long story short, my grandparents carried their child up to in front of the altar and the congregation and the preacher had a “laying on of hands”. That’s when everyone crowded around the sick person and touched some part of them, or if they were too far back they would touch the person in front of them who was touching some part of the person being healed, as though prayer and the Holy Spirit could be conveyed a little like electricity. Then their was a massive and intense group prayer begging God to intervene and heal the afflicted, if it be His will. My mom’s brother cried out, and then stood up, and he walked home from the church. He could run and play thereafter like nothing had ever happened.
Now, logically, it could have been a coincidence that the swelling in his spine just happened to go down enough for his nerves to work again during the service, and that he ran and played afterwards because kids often ignore pain when they are busy. The other answer is that God intervened because the urgent pleading of my grandparents, their other children, the various extended family who had come to pray, and the church members who were lending their requests as well.
At first this story bugged me. Not because I don’t believe in miracles, because I do (although I tie myself in knots wondering why the happen for some people and not others). No, what bothered me is that particular uncle grew up to be a dirtbag of the lowest magnitude. Not only is he a liar, a cheater, a fraud, a swindler, and a piss-poor parent, he is also a child molester whose been to prison for the crime of raping his 14 year old sister-in-law. Needless to say, I haven’t seen him in years, because some things are too gross for me to go around (yes, this conflicts with my theology) and if he ever so much as looked at one of my girls I would use a shotgun to him only semi-solid (which also conflicts with my theology). Anyway, it bothered me that a healing was “wasted” on that scum-sucker.
Then I started thinking. First, he was only a small child at the time, and his evil was not set in stone but the result of his own free will in adulthood, so the person I despise and the child he was are really like two disparate people. Secondly, even if my grandparents had known what a vile pustule he would grow up to be, they would have still loved him. They would have still begged God fervently to heal their son. It is their prayers, and the prayers of the people who loved them or at least could sympathize with their agony as parents, that were answered. That I could make sense of.
Not all victories in the corporeal world are Mammon’s, after all.