It is an Ignatian practice to put oneself into the stories of scripture and see what can be learned. The first time I did this with the Gospel story of the paralytic, I imagined myself as that man, lying miserably on my mat at home. Suddenly, my friends burst into the house with stories of a miracle healer who could make me walk. Brimming with excitement, they pick up my mat and start running through the rough stone streets, causing me to hang on for dear life. When we reach the house where Jesus is, there are so many people we can’t get in. Somehow, my determined friends manage to climb up onto the roof, me and my mat in tow! They start literally ripping the roof apart until they have a big enough hole, and then breathlessly lower me down until I am face-to-face with Jesus.
Trembling, I look up at this miracle worker, waiting for his words. And what do I hear? “Your sins are forgiven.” …………. WHAT? I thought you were going to make me walk! What do you mean, my sins are forgiven? What kind of a healer are you? ……. In other words, I thought that I’d be hopping mad!
But then I did a double take. I thought about the sick, dying, and grieving people I’ve worked with, and especially those who lived with disabilities. Combining their experience with the gospel story, I re-imagined a very different possibility.
Maybe when Jesus said those words, for the first time in my life, I realized there was someone who looked at me and didn’t see a disability. Maybe I recognized his insightful wisdom that the kind of healing I really needed was not outward and physical, but interior and more deeply rooted. Maybe I needed to be healed of the pain I had caused others when I took my frustration out on them, healed of my lack of acceptance of myself, healed of the guilt I felt when I considered myself little more than a burden, and healed of my distancing from God when I blamed God for my circumstances. Maybe, just maybe, instead of being angry, my heart was pierced, I felt completely loved just as I was, and I cried for joy.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for the bystanders, who loudly refused to believe that Jesus could forgive sins. So he acquiesced and said, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t get up and throw a party. In fact, the story seems almost anti-climactic, and perhaps at that point it was. Perhaps I had been healed in the most important ways, and being able to walk was just the extra bonus – nice, but not so necessary anymore. So I unceremoniously walked home praising God.
There are many lessons in this story. One that is often overlooked is exactly the point of my reflection: When we pray for healing, God always heals. But God heals us in the ways we most need healing, and those may not be physical healings at all. Sometimes we need a healing of relationships, or healing from hurt and abuse, or spiritual healing, or even healing into a peaceful death. So when we pray, we need to allow God to act as only God knows how. We need to allow God to heal us and our loved ones where we most need it, rather than in the very narrow definition of healing that we intend.
Every day since I engaged in this practice, I decided to begin my prayer by asking God to heal me where I most need healing. Then, when I pray for someone else, I ask for the same thing. One example of such a prayer: God of compassion, your daughter Mary is hurting. Look upon her with love, see all the places that need your healing touch, and embrace her in those places. If there can be a physical healing, then please, O God, let it be. But we trust that you will heal her in the ways she most needs it, filling in holes that are empty, repairing what is broken in her life, and raising her up where she is brought low. We trust in your goodness and rely on your loving power, for you are our God forever and ever. Amen.
In fact, I prayed this prayer with my mother last month as we walked her on her journey, entering her into hospice care in mid-November. God did indeed heal her, but not physically. She died and went to her eternal home on the feast of Christ the King.
In our broken world, filled with hate, division, prejudice, and violence, we need healing more than ever, and I dare say, the type of healing we most need is rarely physical. In fact, if all those hurting, afraid, broken people who feel justified or compelled in carrying out abuse, exclusion, and violence were healed in their hearts, our society and world would be a very different place.
This Advent, then, as we work to birth Christ in our world, let’s join together to pray that all people may be healed where they most need healing, that they may be made whole and brought into the awareness of God’s love for them and for all people. Let’s pray and let’s work tirelessly to be instruments of God’s healing and loving power. If we start with ourselves and work out to encompass our neighborhoods, cities, nation, and globe, we may yet be able to make straight the path and see the glory of God on this earth.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.