As a reminder of this mission, every time I enter the church I pass by this sculpture.
Once again I return to my favorite prayer church, La Badia Fiorentina. Their brochure tells us: ”The Monastic Communities of Jerusalem have the mission to live in the heart of the city in the heart of God.” Every morning this community of monks and nuns worships God in song and then goes out into the city, responding to Matthew 25.
As a reminder of this mission, every time I enter the church I pass by this sculpture.
Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister shares this story in The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. With a smile and plenty of humility, I pass it on to you.
The spiritual life takes discipline. It is not something to be learned, to internalized. It’s not a set of daily exercises; it’s a way of life, an attitude of mind, an orientation of soul. And it is gotten by being schooled until no rules are necessary.
Among the ancients there is a story told that confirms this insight to this day:
“What action shall I perform to attain God?” The disciple asked the elder.
“If you wish to attain God, the elder said, there are two things you must know. The first is that all efforts to attain God are of no avail.”
“And the second?” The disciple insisted.
“The second is that you must act as if you did not know the first,” the elder said.
Discussions about intercessory prayer often begin with a question. In my previous post Henri Nouwen posed one. Today, I ponder a question by George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister: “And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another?” Although he is confident enough to answer, he does so with another question: “I can only answer with the return question, ‘Why should my love be powerless to help another?’”
MacDonald was writing at a time and place when the Christian theology of a loving God, who created human kind in God’s imagine, was accepted and believed throughout the culture. I love his nineteenth century response, which I believe is an affirmation of the power of love; but must work through twenty-first century intellectualism and skepticism to turn his question into a statement of faith: my love is powerful enough to help another.
How important is my intention when I pray for someone’s healing? Henri Nouwen offers this: “To pray for others means to offer others a hospitable place where I can really listen to their needs and pains.”
Does this mean that if I am angry at the person, or deep down don’t want their healing, my prayer means nothing? That doesn’t sound like a prayer. Rather, it is self-centered me wanting what my self-centered me wants!
I believe that healing prayer should come from the best me I can be. Sometimes that is mighty pathetic, other times it is my better loving self. Regardless, I must offer my honest self to God. From that point I can listen to the needs and pains of the person for whom I am praying.
However, praying for ‘my enemies’ while not listening to their needs and pains is sometimes the best start I can offer. I know that God is there for the person. And, God is there for me, to help me move to love of self and neighbor.
The gospels are replete with stories of physical and emotional healings by Jesus. Through word and deed Jesus demonstrated that alough people have physical ailments and may need to be rid of demons, they are not sick because of sin.
However, as the western church grew in power and prestige, it began to ignore this message, as well as Jesus' actions of God’s healing presence in this life. Word of his healings, teachings, and miracles faded, and over time was replaced by the dogma of the ‘church fathers’, with overpowering emphasis on sin and preparation for life after death.
Most twentieth century theologians, including Bultmann, Barth, and Bonhoeffer, ignored Jesus as healer, claiming that Jesus’ healings were preparation for the church as an institution and thus not needed any more. And yet, there is nothing in the four gospels to suggest that Jesus was founding a church. In fact, he never mentioned the word church. Jesus taught, preached, healed, and offered intercession so people could live a full, joy-filled life in the kingdom of God now.
For sure, we need many thoughts and ideas to help us pray thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, however, offers a comforting aspect of intercession.
To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.
Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God….
The challenges to those who ‘dare’ think they are a healers or intercessory are many. Just the thought of embracing the idea is either arrogant or humbling, or both. If I choose humbling, then I have the chance of believing that whatever I do or however I pray is sacramental. God’s grace working within in and the person I pray for.
Morton Kelsey, in his in-depth study, Healing Christianity, 1995, offers this for us to ponder.
Finally, there is a religious or sacramental healing, the result of the healer’s conscious and deliberate relation to God. The healers as individuals are not viewed as the primary source of healing power. Rather they are seen as an agency through which the Spirit and power of God, the very creative force of the universe, is transmitted. The acts of healing depend on the power of God and are therefore sacramental. Spiritual healing is an outer and visible sign of particular grace, inward and spiritual, at work within both the healer and the one who seeks healing (p, 67).
Physical healing, emotional healing, psychological healing, situational healing! Healing can seem so obvious—you get better! You go from something bad, uncomfortable, and fearful, to no longer feeling angry, afraid or sick. You are now are loving, healthy, calm. You feel healed.
That summary just rolled from my finger tips to the screen. I didn’t have to do much thinking because like many people, I know what bad things need to be healed and the results of what this healing might look like. As a person of faith, I am intrigued with the healings Jesus performed and how they might translate into what we, 2000 years later, might do.
Jesus prayed, and so I pray. I pray to discern my part in God’s healing; I pray for God’s healing love to surround a person or situation; I pray that my loving heart reaches out to God’s loving heart; I pray Jesus walking with the person needing healing. I pray as I am able, which is the best I can do, all I can do. I’m not looking for results or proof that I’m on the right track, or for some amazing healing, or for some cause and effect result .
I don’t have THE ANSWER, but I know and have come to believe that healing happens through prayer. Through reading and prayer I have been gathering ideas about healing. I will share them in subsequent posts.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Every Tuesday evening at the Iona Abby is the Service of Healing. Although I missed it this year, healing was the center of my time on the island. I met a mom and dad and their son 12 year old son who had had intensive surgery on his legs—the first wasn’t successful, the second they are hopeful is working. For me, talking with this mom deepened my faith in prayer. Not just deepened it, but raised it to a new level of belief.
According to Morton Kelsey, one fifth of the narrative portraits in the four gospels is about healing by Jesus and his followers. What was Jesus showing us? That healing is real— not just for back in his times, but is for us now. What does this mean for me, who knows and has come to believe that I am called to pray for people? In following Jesus, how can you and I be healers? We mainline Protestant are missing the opportunity of a lifetime-no pun intended.
It is easier, one would think, to pray on Iona than in my backyard or in the Angel Room at home. I believe this is so. At least here on the island the physical surroundings and the time is right. Even in the rain and mist, I know God is here in this liminal place. My time is open to pray, even when I’m eating delicious meals prepared by someone else.
But as Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “We must always remember that the path does not produce change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is path of disciplined grace.” I can come to Iona to ‘walk around with God,’ only to find myself tapping into the news or fretting about this and that in my life. OR, I can come here and choose to walk the path of disciplined grace. It is God grace that has enabled me to come here; it is up to me to discipline myself to embrace this grace and walk around with God.