Today I shared the story of Koala Blue, then a reflection on healing and wholeness with the congregation of Augustine United Church. I appreciated being carried through the songs on Fiona's voice (minister at AUC, she led worship), held in the soulful music of fiddle and piano, praying the poems of Jo McFarlane and prayers of Lewis, and the warm and generous embrace of this community of faith.
Koala Blue is a story you can only hear live until it takes recorded, printed and illustrated form next year.
But you can read my reflection from this morning, if you like.
mark 10:46-52 The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
A story of Jesus, healing
In this season of wholeness, and the day after Mental Health Day, I wonder, what do we hear of ‘healing’ in such stories of Jesus as this?
How does that shape our expectations of the healing we pray for, for ourselves?
The ‘healing’ miracle stories of Jesus feature cure – of withered hands, leprosy, unhealthy spirits, blindness, even death.
Jesus cures. It is a miracle. Regardless of what actually happened in Judea and Galilee centuries ago, in the story the cure functions to get our attention.
Immediately he regained his sight.
But is this where the story ends?
In our story workshops through September, we remembered the shape of a story is beginning, middle, end. How often is the cure the end of the story? Much more often it is the middle, perhaps the climax, sometimes even where the story begins.
So what happens at the end of these stories? If beginning, middle and end of a story can also be understood as where the characters came from, where they are here, now, and where they are going from here, in the healing miracle stories, characters come from the edges of community, excluded, unclean, unwell. Where they are now is encountering Jesus – and this is always a transforming encounter.
he regained his sight
But it is where they go from that encounter that is perhaps more important than the rest of the story – think about the way Gospels are told, this Gospel in particular, according to Mark. The ending of Mark’s Gospel has the women saying nothing after they encounter the risen Christ – but there is an audience listening to this story, an audience of people seeking to follow Jesus, who lived, taught, healed, died and rose. So even as the listeners hear of the women not telling the story, they know, they are hearing the story being told – and the invitation is for you who hear to live and tell.
The Gospel stories are invitations into transforming encounter with Jesus, invitations into the story itself, invitations to hear, own, and tell this story of transformation and life.
Back to the healing stories, then. Where do the characters go, once they have encountered Jesus, encountered healing or transformation? They go into community. Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. In other stories, Jesus sends the people to the Temple, go to the priests, go back to your family … go. don’t stay here. This transformation is not the end. Your return to community – Bartimaeus joins this community on the way – is where the transformation really takes root.
What might this say, then, about healing, about human wholeness?
I think it says that healing is more than cure. I think, and from my own experience, healing is possible without cure.
Part of my story is that I have lived with a black dog in my corner for twenty years. the statistics were at one time, and I don’t imagine they have changed very much, that 30% of people who have one experience of depression will endure a second. 50% of those who have two experiences of depression will endure a third. 70% of those will endure a fourth. 90% of folk enduring four experiences of major depression will experience depression for a fifth time, or more.
Whether I have lived with three or four experiences of depression, or one bloody long one, it would seem from the story of humans living with depression that I have this black dog companion for life. I would love to be cured. I would love to experience adult life without the shadow of despair – I think I have for a year or two in there somewhere, and I remember the lightness …
Let’s assume I won’t be cured. Is healing still possible for me? Or is it out of reach?
I think I have experienced cure-like moments – insight and understanding that lift the darkness a little, medical help to minimize symptoms, strategies for response and prevention. Which is like my sight being restored, but actually I’m also missing a few limbs.
The healing, the transformation, is an ongoing process of reintegration into community, into healthy relationships after the isolation of experiences of deep depression. It has been a process of embracing mutual vulnerability, sharing of stories for the health of myself as an individual, us all together as a community.
healing for me has been and continues to be a process of learning to live well, to reduce my hate and resentment of the black dog, and care for it as a guest in my life.
The healing is transforming how I live with myself, how I love myself, broken and imperfect.
Healing is a continual turning and returning into the heart of God.
beneath a sepia sky
of rainclouds reflecting
my cheeks are wet, not by rain,
but by the profound
of wholeness, however tenuous,
painted against a black
scars an etching of regret, edges
faded and worn, colour
and yet –
piercing through to the heart
eyes that shine despite it all
for a precious, tenuous
(Sarah Agnew, On Wisdom's Wings, Ginninderra Press 2013)
The story begins with someone on the edge, disconnected, deemed unclean. Recognising Jesus as a source for healing, Bartimaeus cries out, reaches for, claims connection.
Jesus sees the unseen, loves the unclean – and there, my friends, is the miracle. In love. Love is the transforming power. Love is what connects, what restores a person into relationship, and the fullness of their being. Love heals.
Love is the Sacred gift that affirms the dignity of the beloved. It may not cure your illness, but it will begin to heal your brokenness and restore you to life.
Love is in the look of Jesus, the touch of Jesus, the words of Jesus.
If we are to be a community of Jesus, his body in the world, then we, too, will look with love, will touch with love, will speak with love. And thus we will participate in the healing, the transformation, the miracles of God.