Text: Mark 2: 1-12
Sometimes what disappoints us leads us to discover a new insight about what we need to pursue. I once visited someone in the hospital. Although it was the first time for us to meet, we had a good time getting to know each other. My visit was interrupted by another visit of five health care workers, one doctor and four residents. They came to check on him. The doctor seemed to be specialized in bones, and obviously was helping those young professionals getting trained. I stayed out so they could talk with the patient, but was still close enough to overhear what they were talking about. The doctor asked him how he was doing, and then checked on his knee. He had a fall but I knew that’s not the main reason for him to be hospitalized. I was expecting more sympathy and more holistic approach from those health professionals. But all they were concerned about was a bone not the person. I was disappointed. What was even more disappointing was one of the residents texting on her phone while pretending to listen to what the doctor was saying.
Perhaps I don’t have to react to this particular slice of a hospital life. Overworking health professionals don’t have much time to spend with patients other than what they are required to do or trained to do. Residents, at the end of a long day, don’t have much energy to pay attention to the people they encounter with. But I feel sad because the system doesn’t allow us to treat one another in a way that we can truly honour who we are as people. We may have sickness, disease or illness, but none of them can define us. We may show a certain symptom, but no one can ever see the unknown part of who we really are. Don’t get me wrong. I have a high respect for health professionals and I am proud of the universal health care here in Canada. And I don’t mean to suggest anything to replace Western medicine. But I want to acknowledge the fact that when the system is broken, it’s everyone – those who provide and those who receive – who suffers from it.
I’m deeply concerned about the lack of human interactions in this part of the world. More and more people feel lonely. An increasing number of people live alone. Unless you fit into certain categories it’s easy to feel isolated. You have to speak the language that the majority of people speak. You have to know the culture that is not explained to outsiders. You have to be able and mobile or at least you need someone close by to rely on. Chances are, we all will have to deal with a sense of loneliness or isolation at some point in our lives. And it’s everyone’s job to solve the problem.
Not long after my arrival in Vancouver, I began to feel lonely. The wet weather and the early dark evening increased a sense of dislocation. I remember walking down the street after an English class when it was getting dark and raining all day. Not a single soul gave me a look or said hi. I remember taking SkyTrain full of commuters. There was not a single soul to talk to. We can’t blame the problem of social isolation on external influences such as weather, urbanization or globalization. The distance between people feels larger because of a certain lifestyle; we don’t get to share our feelings outside our group, our family and close friends. The danger of any culture is that once we become accustomed to it, we don’t feel the need to change it as if that’s the norm.
So it was an eye opening experience when I was first introduced to Healing Pathway ministry in a local United Church in the lonely city. A dozen people gathered in a circle in the sanctuary. I was a total stranger to them but they welcomed me as if they had known me already. After introducing ourselves, we broke into small groups to offer each other healing. Everyone got an equal chance to receive and to give. The instructor invited me to join her in offering healing to the receiver. A strong code of conduct and clear guidance made the space safe, and I was able to participate fully on my first day. All the barriers I felt before melted down as we communicated in such a deep way. No one claimed to be a healer. Everyone acknowledged God as the ultimate source of healing, and we were simply conduits of grace and love.
Many people confuse healing with curing. We need to make a distinction between the two. Curing is a term used in relation to the management of sickness, or eliminating any evidence of disease while healing means becoming whole. The medical professions, generally, concentrate on cures. Healing, however, seeks to repair and restore everything that surrounds the symptom. Grounded in the unconditional love Jesus embodied, a Christian understanding of healing can offer a more holistic approach – emotional, mental, physical and spiritual.
My brother died of a brain tumor 11 years ago. He died on the night before his surgery. My sister-in-law told me later what happened on the night. She was sleeping on the bench in the hallway outside the room where he was staying. He woke her up in the middle of the night, kissing her and saying ‘l love you and look after our children.’ As I look back on my loss and all the times that I have missed him, I’m beginning to realize a possibility to internalize his death in a way that I never thought before. His cancer was not cured, but I’d like t to believe that he knew that he was loved and cared for by his family, friends and his church family. I’d like to think that he kept the love in his heart even though he was facing uncertainty. Was he healed? I don’t know, but it was possible. Expanding my understanding of healing provides me with a new insight that I have been searching for 11 years.
There are many healing stories in the gospels, but today’s story stands out because it speaks about how the power of community can overcome barriers. So many people came to the house where Jesus was staying. There wasn’t even standing room left in front of the door. Then some people came up, carrying a paralysed person. Because of the crowd, they could not get him to Jesus. So they made a hole in the roof and let the man down in front of everyone. The Bible says, “Jesus saw how much faith they had.”
In a world where an increasing number of people feel lonely or isolated, we need more people like the brave souls who can notice someone in need, and accompany them. That’s all it takes. None of us are the healer. But we can learn how to carry someone in need to the source of healing. Nothing can prevent us from reaching out to the source, because nothing is more important than the person we care about. I like the fact that it’s more than one person who carried; they were four people. In community we can truly learn to give and receive. No one has to carry a burden alone. All we need is our willingness to notice, and willingness to accompany one another. That’s all it takes to reach the source of healing, to turn disappointment into a new life and a new meaning.