Thursday, December 22, 2011

Choices for healing

I've been coughing my way through this week with what turns out to be a sinus infection. I rarely get sick and even more rarely feel the need to go to the doctor for anything. I tend to think that the body is a pretty miraculous thing and that it (mostly) balances and heals itself if we don't get too much in the way with medicines and such. I'm not prescribing that approach for anyone else, of course--but that's how I tend to look at the care of my physical well-being: I go to the doctor only if I have to.

But this week things looked like I was heading down Have To Lane. My cough got worse and worse; I couldn't sleep; I couldn't eat. I finally decided that if I wanted to be well enough to enjoy Christmas with my family, I'd better go let the doctor tell me what's going on and prescribe something if needed. The diagnosis: sinus infection. And today, after 24 hours on the antibiotic, I feel about 85% better. Thank God.

This morning the passage I read was in Matthew 9, which was fitting. It was the story of Jesus saying to the paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven," and then, when the Pharisees gasped in shock and whispered, "Blasphemy!", he responded, "Which is easier, to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or 'Get up and walk'?" So he then told the man to get up and go home, which he did, to the astonishment of all the people looking on.

After my bout with sickness this week, I looked at that passage a little differently. Instead of just marveling that Jesus was able to do that, I heard that we have choices about how we heal, and about how we help others find healing. For some, it's through church. For others, it's through the doctor. For still others, it's through alternative routes. Some people go directly to the spiritual or mental cause; others focus on solving the physical puzzle. I love that the path we choose for healing--or the channel by which wholeness returns to us--may be less important than the fact that we heal. That feels freer and more in line with a big-hearted, compassionate, Everywhere God.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Would you just please leave?

It seems to me that the eighth chapter of Matthew is all about  how people project all over Jesus, and what they project determines how much blessing they are able to receive from him.The chapter starts off with a man who has leprosy; he believes his healing is possible, and he believes Jesus is the guy to do it. "If you're willing," he says, "you can make me clean." Jesus tells him he is willing and the man is healed and whole.

Then the centurion comes along and asks for help because his servant at home is suffering terribly. Jesus feels compelled to go help the servant, but the centurion stops him (which is interesting in its own right) and says, "No need--you can just say the word and it will be done" (because God's words do not return void). Jesus is surprised and pleased by the centurion's faith, and the servant healed "at that very hour."

Then, in the boat with the disciples, a "furious storm" arose and the waves were sweeping over the boat. The guys woke Jesus in a panic, and he stretched and made a comment about their lack of faith, and then rebuked the waves and wind. I wonder what he did there, don't you? Did he take a big dramatic Moses pose and throw his arms up in the air and yell something boldly at the thrashing environment? Or did he simply lift his hand and make a simple, smoothing gesture, and all was calm? In any case, the disciples were baffled and likely a bit frightened by the power of the one in the boat with them.They asked, "What kind of *man* is this?" (emphasis mine; it's an important question!)

And finally, in the demons-to-pigs story, Jesus casts the evil spirits in two violent, demon-possessed men into a herd of pigs, which run crazily into the lake and drown (which makes me sad--poor, innocent pigs). Instead of marveling at the healing power of this visitor, the townspeople freaked out and "pleaded with him to leave their region." The commentary in my NIV says the people were more worried about their own possible financial losses than they were the healing or saving power that cleaned the psyche of those two miserable men. This resonates so much with me in terms of the personal cost our own healing may bring--if you get healthy, will it cost you the relationship you're in? If you begin treating customers more fairly, will you lose some of your income? If you give money to causes you care about, advocate for the disempowered, speak up for the voiceless, invite the rejected to your table, will someone, some place, or some system say to you, "Would you just please leave?"

The receptivity of our environment has so much to do with how our gifts are received, whether we are designing a web page for someone, ministering to the elderly, or reading a child a book. It took me years to grasp this. Whatever our actions, our own internal motivation is important (the clearer and the more compassionate, the better, I think), but the receptivity of the environment, which includes the type of image that is taking shape in that place and time--who do you say I am?--has a big shaping influence on the outcome. If someone has a mistaken idea of you, that thought shapes their relationship with you. If a group is not ready for an idea you suggest, chances are that your good idea won't blossom--right away, anyway. We're not "doing ministry" or "teaching others" or "serving the group" as though it's a one-way action that flows from us to them. We are co-creating, in every moment, a shared experience--you, me, others, the thought environment, the physical environment, and God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Smiting and other miscommunications

Have you ever had a book let you know it's time to read it? I have had a George Muller biography for quite a while, but it sat on my bookshelf unopened. I bought the book after hearing about how Muller was able to care for 10,000 orphans in England in his lifetime and start a number of schools, without ever asking a single person for support. He literally prayed for all the support he and those in his care needed, and God provided, every single time. Muller knew what it was to live a life of prayer, and he was willing to keep after God, praying and listening, until he understood that his prayers were answered. A few days ago my attention was suddenly drawn to the book on my shelf and I knew it was time to read it. I picked it up and began scanning different pages, and then wondered what Wikipedia might say about Muller, which lead me to all of George's narratives, which are available free online (although you do have to create an account and log in to read them).

One of George's favorite practices was to read the Bible every day, reading at least one chapter from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament at each sitting. I've always loved the Bible (exegesis in seminary was one of my favorite courses, which surprised me!) and although I do read passages fairly often, I haven't done a consistent, daily study of it for years. [Note that I am aware as I write this that the Bible has gotten a bad rep because people often want to beat each other over the head with what they feel is true or not true about it and try to make others conform to their own interpretations. My own love of the Bible comes from what I would call an almost mystical sense of connection and "eye-opening" that arises as I read it--I consider it a gift from Spirit. I would never force my understanding of what I read on someone else; but I would invite you to read similar passages and hear what your heart and spirit says to you about them.]

As I began this daily practice, one of the first new ideas that leapt out at me had to do with the story of "the Fall." I've read Genesis over and over through the years (most recently as part of a course I teach in Eco-Spirituality), but one thing I never noticed before was the cause-and-effect aspect of God's action in the Garden of Eden. When God creates this lavish, abundant, perfect environment and places Adam and Eve in this lush landscape, God tells them about the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God tells them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil "for you shall surely die," but he doesn't put any constraints on the Tree of Life. Eat away! Life forever! I want you here in the Garden with me for eternity because you are so much in harmony with me--we will be great companions, living and walking and talking here.

And then the serpent comes along and calls God a liar, telling Eve, "you won't die--you'll have so much understanding that you'll be like God!" And with that seed of distrust planted in Eve's mind, she wonders about God's motives and decides that it's worth the risk--she eats the fruit. And it tastes good! She shares it with Adam. And their eyes are opened, and they see they are naked and they are ashamed and they hide from God. They are no longer in harmony with the divinity that created them--a new vibration has begun which has already separated them from living in awareness of All Good.

Perhaps it's their new-found knowledge of good and evil that causes them to fear God, the one who created them and gave them every abundant thing. Did they project their own inner guilt onto God, turning God into a wrathful, tricking tyrant? What images were now in their heads as a result of believing that good and evil could exist in their former paradise?

What happens next is heartbreaking, I think more for God than for Adam and Eve. God tells them they must leave the Garden--God can't have them ruining all of paradise by running around dividing everything into Good and Evil categories. God has already handled that--God created it all and named it Good! Plus the fact that they now look for evil and distrust creation means that they will likely create all sorts of drama in their lives, so God has to put a limit on the whole Tree of Life thing. They will need a rest after a few hundred years of ego-centric experience-making. So cherubim are put in the Garden to guard the Tree of Life so that Adam and Eve can no longer eat its fruit.

And you know what? Because their access to the Tree of Life is blocked, Adam and Eve will no longer life forever. God's statement about avoiding the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is now the effect of their distrustful act: "You will surely die." Not immediately, and not next Tuesday, but at the end of your days, there will be a limit on your existence. You are now mortal. That momentary distrust has widened and hardened into a gulf between God and people; they will no longer walk together in the cool of the evening and experience the same level of trustful connection they had just hours ago.

And then God makes them clothes--such a tender resignation/preparation for the existence they have chosen for themselves!--a sad, gentle attempt at care by a God who would develop a reputation for smiting just a few chapters later. It makes me wonder--is smiting really a part of God's nature? Or a result of ingesting the LSD of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Because suddenly people feel threatened and judged and they make God angry and they need to offer sacrifices (what? kill the life God so beautifully just created?) to win God's favor. It all leaves me wondering what God looked like to us before we ate from that damned tree. If there was never an interruption in trust, if you still walked in the Garden in the cool of the day with God, if the fall had never happened for you, what would that feel like right now?