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An Ordinary Friday Miracle – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Luke 4:14-21

I remember very well one particularly horrible Thursday in 2009, it might have even been my worst Thursday ever. I had laid myself down on a couch in the student lounge, barely moving for long stretches of time, eyes staring blankly at nothing in particular, overcome by a very painful depression. Kind-hearted souls would wander by, sitting beside me, offering words of support and encouragement, but I hardly ever glanced at them, let alone responded. It was like being trapped in a deep pit filled only with darkness, suffocated by loneliness, and paralyzed by some unnamable anguish. It felt as though there was not even a sliver of hope, no hope at all for any kind of reprieve, restoration, or healing.

But when it comes to the gospel of Christ, healing and stories of healing seem to go hand in hand with the good news of God’s Kingdom. Wherever Jesus went to spread the gospel, healing seems close at hand. Depending on how they’re counted we can find 30 to 40 healing stories in the gospels. Saint Luke the Evangelist, whom we celebrate today, includes the most which makes sense since Luke is thought to have been a physician, and the healing of body, mind, and spirit would have been crucial elements of his life and writing. He also might have felt a special bond to Jesus since Jesus referred to himself as a physician, ministering and being present for those who were unwell, those needing to be made whole, those suffering and wounded.

Jesus was always very clear about the source of any healing. He repeatedly tells people that “your faith has saved you,” or “has made you well.” He moves attention away from himself toward the Holy One, Yahweh, who invites us into His infinite love and mercy. And Jesus didn’t limit this helping of others into God’s healing embrace, to only himself. He “called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” But we also know the twelve endured their own wounds even while following the way of Jesus, attending to the suffering of others. It might seem like a lot for Jesus to ask of them, or we might wonder if they were cut out for the job. Except it turns out that those most qualified to minister to the wounded are the wounded themselves.

This theme of the wounded healer has been around for a very long time, though the term was coined and popularized by Carl Jung, one of the founders of analytical psychology. He writes: “Freud himself accepted my suggestion that every doctor should submit to a training analysis before interesting himself in the unconscious of his patients for therapeutic purposes…. We could say, without too much exaggeration, that a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself… it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal.” Originally, Jung applied this wounded healer architype to clinical analysts, but it quickly came to be applied to counselors, psychotherapists, doctors, nurses, and really any helping profession at all. In fact, it applies to anyone helping another on a healing journey, especially for us as Christians with our common calling to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.

Now, Jung said half, but given what we know today about what works best in helping relationships, I’m willing to bet that the healer compassionately acknowledging their own wounds, surrendering that woundedness to God, and being present for another from that place makes up much more than fifty percent of the healer’s role. Which means, we’re all in a position to be very well qualified to help our suffering sisters and brothers. And our perfect role model in this is our Beloved God who is always present for us as we suffer our wounds, present with an all-embracing love and compassion. The Holy One, in the person of Jesus Christ, chose to live among us, suffering with us, and bearing the weight of our wounds. In return we wounded him, tortured him, and crucified him. And even then, when he arose from the dead he came bearing these same wounds, offering them as a means, perhaps, of recognition, and a demonstration of shared humanness. In God’s perfect economy, these very wounds become Christ’s healing power in a broken world.

So back to that horrible Thursday seven years ago. At the time I was an intern working each Friday at a homeless day center. Now, I’m not sure how I got off that couch, much less went to work the next day, but maybe those kind strangers passing me by helped more than I knew. I arrived at the center, still trapped in my own suffering, not sure how I was going to function, and my supervisor, with an urgent tone in her voice, and not waiting for my reply, told me to talk to a someone new as she pointed me in his direction. After we found a private spot to sit, he began sharing his story. He had just recently lost his wife, his children, his job, and his home, and amidst all of this he had to face the prospect of living on the street. His humiliation, pain, and despair where palpable, although when he spoke of drowning his sorrow later that evening with some cocaine, numbing or perhaps even erasing his pain, there seemed no emotion at all.

At first I only vaguely listened, anxious over whether I could offer any help, just this inexperienced student with a warm house to go back to, not wondering about his next meal, someone who couldn’t even seem to do anything about his own depression and despair.  How could I possibly be of any use to this anguished man sitting before me. But then I began to notice something. The language and tone he used while describing his horrible desolation seemed very familiar. He spoke of a numbing pain, being buried in a dark pit, feeling alone and separated, with no future and no hope. It was like a retelling of my horrible Thursday just the day before, and I felt a strong impulse, almost a calling, to share my own story. Now, in that context this type of self-disclosure is rarely helpful, although it might sometimes be. The question to ask was: “is what I’m about to share in service of this person or is it only serving my own needs.” But as I pondered this, the answer just hovered somewhere in the middle. So without anything else to go on except that anonymous stirring in my heart I took a risk.

With unfeigned earnestness I told him about my Thursday. I took my time and described the pain, the loneliness, and the anguish in great detail. He barely had looked at me before this, but as I spoke he gazed at me intently, he sat up straighter in his chair, and his eyes seemed brighter and began to glisten. I felt something powerful pass between us, and then told him something that wasn’t true until that very instant. I said “look, here we are on Friday, and even though I didn’t believe it was possible yesterday, the darkness isn’t as dark, the pain doesn’t hurt quite as much, and I don’t feel quite so alone. So if you can trust me, then trust that tomorrow can be better for you, too.” The words themselves were insignificant, just an attempt to point to that powerful something that passed between us. We both clearly felt a healing touch, a movement towards wholeness. I didn’t even believe in God at the time, but if you had asked me about what had happened I would have said it was some kind of miracle. Not one of those spectacular sorts of miracles, but one of the common every-day varieties.

All of us are invited to this common healing miracle, because we share in common both our infinite beauty and goodness as children of God, as well our woundedness. Being human means being created in God’s image and being mortally wounded, things we often forget about each other, and about ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ shared this truth with his disciples and with us, revealing his glory and his wounds for all to see. Everyone in this chapel without exception, our friends, our family, people we know, people new to us, people who annoy us, people who confuse us, people we don’t like all that much. Everyone here shares in this truth of being fully human, both in our divine joy and our earthly pain.

Imagine for a moment turning toward someone nearby, perhaps someone you don’t know. Maybe, just for a moment, you surrender the stories about who they are, gently looking upon them as the gloriously wounded humans they are. Maybe, just for a moment, you glimpse the holes in their hands, their feet, their side. Maybe you lean a little closer, touching their wounds, and in doing so let your own wounds be touched. And then you whisper to your fellow traveler in Christ, “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I just didn’t know. But I am here for you now.”

And that’s all we really need do for our part: some measure of surrender, recognition, and openness. The Holy One does the rest, allowing a small every-day miracle of healing to flourish. Of course, it’s not easy following Jesus’ lead, answering our calling to be wounded healers in the world, like Saint Luke. But it helps to remember that in answering this call we are never alone. Christ is here with us, and we are here for each other. So let’s renew our commitment today, to be here for each other in Christ, to be one body in Christ, to help each other be present for our Beloved’s God’s merciful grace and healing power, and to start by letting ourselves be known to one another in all our glory and all our woundedness.

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1 Comment

  1. Nicki Bourne on October 20, 2016 at 16:51

    This is a generous gift, nicely articulated and inclusive. Thank you Br. Nicholas

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