Tag Archives: healing

Mark 8:31-38 and suffering

So I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart, and, if you read my previous post, then you know the huge impact the rhetorical questions here made on me, how they made the passage come alive, in a whole new way.

But another thing is slowly swimming up in my mind about this passage, which is so familiar that it can be hard to hear. Jesus says he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again.

The order of that strikes me: He is suffering first.

His heart is broken at the brokenness of the world, at this “adulterous and sinful generation” that has not kept faith with God’s rule of love. Out of suffering, everything else will follow, including the redemption.

Was it just chance that he put the order this way? How does the story change if he is rejected, then suffers, then is killed? That’s just the story we would expect isn’t it? Of course you suffer when you are rejected, aren’t listened to, are not believed. And then that escalates to killing. Sure, that’s the proper plot.

But Jesus suffers first, and not perhaps bodily harm, but (I think) because his heart just aches for us, for the widow and the orphan and the sick and the dying and those in chains and those in loneliness and those in madness and those in prison and … everyone.

I’m not eager to suffer, I don’t know what my cross is that I have to take up, but certainly my heart aches when I hear of another school shooting or mass shooting or impulsive suicide and then yet more inaction on commonsense gun laws. My heart aches with the thought of another hurricane season and what might happen to places still not fully recovered from 2017’s season. From violence and wars and heart-breaking stories of refugees. To simple stories of families breaking apart and illness and the ordinary suffering of life. This is only the tip. I limit the news that I take in.

Yet suffering is what happens to Jesus, what happens to him first. Perhaps the suffering heart is the most important thing. Let’s have soft hearts this week, let’s have soft hearts together, as foolish as that may be in this world. That may be a cross we have to carry, in order to fully follow Him. Broken hearts may be what we give in return for the priceless gift of life itself.


John 9:1-41 a bit deeper

So remember my upset about how this story starts? Let’s review:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

And I was upset because the idea that God caused the man to be born blind just to reveal God’s glory is …. upsetting to me.

Well it turns out that, if I had remembered to read the footnote, that might not be how the lines “really” go. It might be:

So instead Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; we must work the works of him who sent me …. ”

That it doesn’t matter to Jesus “why” the man was blind, nor does it matter to him “why” is this world so broken”. It just is. So Jesus aims to hurry and work to fix the problem.

A pastor friend of me, not knowing I was studying this, wrote about this in her blog and then there it is in the footnotes. Well. Don’t you love that? God found a way to “answer” me. 😉

I know that, just my life experience anyway, that “why” can be a trap. “Why did you do that?” says the parent to child. “I dunno,” says every child everywhere. “Why” can have you going around in circles. Instead, I can imagine Jesus (once again) shaking his head a bit at the disciples, smiling gently, and basically saying, “Let’s not waste time. Let’s get to work on healing.”


I also want to point out that right after the healing the point of view changes from Jesus to the blind man. So when I told this story at church, I put my hands over my eyes to “wash” them and then moved them away (like jazz hands a little bit) to reveal my sight — and to “show” that I was now a different character in the story.

For the glory of God!

The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!


*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?







Matthew 1:18-25 and sin

Let’s zero in on verse 21: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

So often you hear that this is a season of love — which it is but then isn’t every season and every day supposed be about loving each other? So often you hear that this season is so joyful, so fun, so special. And it is.

But ultimately what the Incarnation is about is God entering into the story in our realm and saving us from our sins. What sins? Not those things that are merely designated wrong by the culture you find yourself living in — which sometimes may be ill-advised things and sometimes may be just fine. In terms spiritual, in the view of God (perhaps), what is a sin (or sins) so profound that Godself had to come here in person to solve and fix?

And if something needed fixing, then why did God arrive here as a newborn baby, helpless and powerless? Why not arrive like a king or a rebel or a magician or someone with the power to order people and the world around and fix things? And even if arriving here as a baby was the thing to do, then it took a number of years to grow up and be ready to fix things and He still did not fix them with orders and clarity and a flowchart (I think there should be flowcharts) and action steps and programs.

So it seems to me that the sneaky little hook in the Christmas story is that God is saving us from the essential brokeness of this world; a world that He had created* without brokeness and called Good. (Let’s set aside how the world got broken — can we all acknowledge by glancing at a newspaper that it is broken/not perfect?) God is saving us from making our wrong choices over and over that lead to unkindness and hurt and suffering. God is saving us from hard hearts. God is saving us from sin so profound we want to shrug and say “that’s just how things are”. We don’t want to even see the broken relationships (and, perhaps, the very lack of relationships) that is the sin God has come to save us from. We want to say that God sent his son here because He loves us and then just stop and have a birthday party. (And, as the saying goes, God does love us, each of us, completely and wholely and loves us too much to leave us like this.)

Godself came to earth as vulnerable as any baby, but immediately in a network of relationship. God came as a son. And was loved and cared for and protected and taught. I can see him helping Mary, the way a toddler does, to make bread, pouring in the yeast with a shaky little hand. I can see him playing with toy tools that Joseph whittled for him and then learning to carefully measure and cut and work with wood and stone.

And all of this was to restore humans to right relationship** with God and with each other and with self not just feel good or celebrate….perhaps this restored relationship is all right here, at hand, now. Perhaps it is not yet, not quite yet. But it wasn’t for mere happiness or for just a yearly joyful season that God arrived here in flesh. It was for so much more; it was to save his people (all of us) from their sins.

FTGOG!!! Merry Christmas! Hallelujah!

*Interpret artistically, I suggest. While human art is never perfect, never flawless, God’s work is — or was — and it was good.

**Perhaps should discuss in a future blog, but think about words such as loving-kindness and law-abiding and reconciliation. Think about how self-care and care of a baby/child differs from self-indulgence or spoiling?

And note — God has not come here to show us how to be rich and powerful.

Matthew 1:18-25

Let’s review: A man, Joseph, whose life is turned upside down. A vulnerable girl. The time cues in the story; the “now” of the story. The holy spirit. Family and relationships — particularly healed relationships.

This is a lot for just a few verses!

Perhaps what strikes me today, right now, is the “dream-ness” of this. We don’t know at first Joseph has fallen asleep — was he turning over his “Mary problem” as he was lying in bed, the way one does, an endless night of worry, the same thoughts churning in your mind, over and over? We don’t know. We are told:

“But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”

And then later “when Joseph awoke from sleep”…

Now there is another biblical Joseph, who also dreamed, back in Genesis. I seem to keep connecting this nativity story to Genesis. Joseph’s dream made his brothers so angry, they sold him to folk who took him to Egypt. And then his dreams caused him him to rise in influence with Pharaoh. Joseph was a famous dreamer, this is the merest bare bones of the hint of the story (Genesis 37 and others). But what that Joseph did most of all was help Israel survive, because what man intended for evil, God turned to good (Genesis 45:4-5). The line of David does not spring from Joseph, but without Joseph there would have been no house of David.

Likewise, without this Joseph, Mary’s husband, son of David, there very likely would not have been survival for this child. This Joseph protected the son of God, gave him a name, gave him a trade and a family. Jesus will be the start of a new relationship between God and man, a re-genesis perhaps. So it seems appropriate for there to be another Joseph critical in ensuring the survival of this new start.


Luke 7:1-10 and amazement

When I’m the lay reader, I try to prep the piece and while I rarely have time to learn it by heart, I try to make it more than just blah blah blah. I try to think about the piece and where to put pauses in and what it might mean and what questions I would ask. Tomorrow I am lay reader for Luke 7:1-10 and although I’d heard and read this story before, prepping it brought it to life.

As storytelling nearly always does.

In verse 9 Jesus is amazed by the words the centurion’s messenger relayed. Think about that Jesus, very God in some fashion, is amazed by a human action. He didn’t know this would happen. He didn’t expect this to happen. He wasn’t going to heal the centurion’s slave because he knew how faithful and good this centurion was — he was going because the elders asked him to. Jesus is amazed. 

Further, generally as far as I know, it is the crowd that is amazed — the townspeople who heard the shepherds tell Mary about the angels on the night the Babe was was born were amazed. They likely didn’t believe a word the shepherds said, likely figured they were crazy. But they were amazed to hear the shepherd’s story about angels, no less. When Jesus healed the paralytic, to prove he had the power on earth to forgive sins, “the crowd was amazed and glorified God, saying, “we have never seen anything like this before.” It was a magic trick, it was a show, it was a super hero action movie — did their amazement turn into faith? We don’t know. The crowd that follows Jesus might desperately want to believe, to be healed, to be forgiven, perhaps to want a Messiah to come and bring Israel and the Temple back to glory. I don’t know what the scholars say, but I envision the crowd as a movable feast — Jack who hurt his back so didn’t go to the fields today, Milly who had a time before baking another batch of bread, Alex who was passing through town. Just folks. And just folks thrilled to be amazed to pass the time.

This time it is Jesus who is amazed. And what he is amazed by isn’t a feat of derring-do or healing or an angel or anything like that. He’s amazed by a person’s faith. A person who isn’t one of the peoples of Israel but, in fact, technically an enemy, a Roman, a centurion, a warrior. Jesus makes sure the crowd, all the folks about, understand what he is amazed by — not the man’s power, or his wealth, or his generosity for building a synagogue or any worldly thing one might expect. Jesus is amazed at the power of a faith that doesn’t even need the physical presence of Jesus laying on of hands to heal.

I’m just nearly speechless with amazement. This story went from boring and dull and what-is-going-on to one making me feel richly blessed. Like the centurion, can I believe in a healing from a far? Like the crowd, can I understand the amazement of faith? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, I just feel humble. And amazed.

And I’m so eager to hear the sermon tomorrow because nearly always what grabs my attention in a story is not anything like the sermon. ha!

Interrupted by Free Will

In several contexts, the notion of “Free Will” has come up — from TV shows to folks at a centering prayer circle I attend to an article I read on The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/). So science shows that a belief in free will seems to help people chose to do good; and a belief that everything is just “nature/genetics/brain chemistry/etc.” seems to allow people the freedom to cheat, be less compassionate, etc. Yet science also seems to say that everything is just “nature/genetics/brain chemistry/etc.” and we are basically programmed, and we don’t have free will. It seems to better for people to think they have free will even if it doesn’t exist.

I want to suggest that this is really maybe a misunderstanding of the whole “free will” thing. Now there is no doubt that I’m not going to be able to really express perfectly what I mean especially because I’m not sure, I can’t be sure, about this sort of big fluffy idea stuff. So please don’t get in a huff. There might really be some nugget in my thoughts that is interesting or helpful …. and that part would be the part by God’s grace and not my muddle of thinking.

So here I go: We humans have only the free will to err. We can only make mistakes. We can only be confused. We can only see as through a mirror darkly. We get things wrong. We do the best we can and still leave undone the things we know we ought to do and do the things we know we shouldn’t.  I rather think science has got this one right! I think it is pretty wild that science and Calvin (and Paul) would agree, I think.

What frees us from this cycle of good intentions and errors and problems and brokenness is Christ: he died for us, he freed us, thanks to Him the Holy Spirit can work in our hearts and change our hearts and heal us and help us do right.  Help us help each other. Help us to want to help! The Holy Spirit can work in any of us, of any age or stage of faith or anything: we don’t control God. Yet God doesn’t control us like puppets; He fills us with love. We are not prisoners of our biological status or how we were raised: we can change.


My centering prayer group folks, whom I love, are really uncomfortable with the word “sin”. They just roll their eyes (as politely as possible); they collectively do not want to engage with this concept. But without knowing what God has saved us from, what is the point of His death on the cross? And I think I mean something far beyond our society’s (or any society’s) culture wars. I want to invite us to think about sin as brokenness, especially as failures of love, as our using our free will choices to help — and then it goes wrong.

John the Baptist, whom long-time readers of my blog know is a character that fascinates me, is angry about sin, and angry at people and shares that loud and clear. And folks were sad and sorry, convicted in their hearts, at least for a while.  I think often it gets lost that Jesus too is angry about sin, sorrowful too, but expresses this in a different way for a more permanent outcome.  I think he is saying “the kingdom of heaven is here” because He wants us to have hope, healing, forgiveness, love, and so on. Let’s take on his yoke, which is light, and follow him.

God’s “rule” or “yoke” (or grace or love…words, it’s all words….) will be what actually frees us to chose the good stuff — and to open our eyes, to awaken us, to help us be fully alive! (Maybe even if we don’t know it.)

And hopefully, for and thanks to the glory of god, I will get my blogging back on schedule!




Psalm 6

I’m off schedule; but I’ve been thinking about backs, bones, health, aging, limping, hope, joy, God, justice, mercy  — in other words I have been reading the Psalms. I want to deepen my prayer practice this year, and selfishly too — not just to connect with God but to allow myself to slow down, listen, heal, be. “Time outs” from the busyness of everything.

And thus Psalm 6 a few days ago, for some reason keeps echoing: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” And as this psalm goes on the poet describes despair and desolation that I am delighted/relieved/blessed to say I have not experienced. My prayer at once is for those who perhaps — right now — are in this state (“…weary with moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief….”). Go God, be with them them, wipe away the tears, provide the healing, may your strength to endure be known to them.

Bone-deep terror would be horrible, would be a living death. Let our bones be strong. Let our bones heal and carry us and dance and leap for joy.

FTGOG, amen.

Genesis 32:22-32 and footnotes

So, my back/leg pain is tremendously better. As grateful as I am, I have been thinking that ultimately my back going out might be the first sign of the decline of getting older….that seems somewhat logical yes?

So it was quite a surprise to read the footnotes in my study bible about this story of Jacob wrestling with a stranger and getting his hip put out of joint. “Limping…suggests maturation, both personal and cultural…This “diminished” Jacob is paradoxically more complete.”

How about that? I was thinking of limping as being vulnerable-to-wolves, weak. Instead it might be a sign of growing up, of being whole.

Or both. My “wisdom and maturity” says it is safe to admit that nothing is ever just one thing.

In chapter 33 Jacob reunites (however briefly) with his brother Esau and both survive the experience. In Chapter 34, however, is the sad and terrible tragedy of the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. Even though the footnote talked about Jacob’s limp as a sign of maturity — it may be just a moment. After the meeting with Esau, things seem to keep getting get of joint: He fails to protect his daughter Dinah, Dinah’s brothers take a nasty revenge, the whole family has to move again, and then in Chapter 37 the story of Jacob’s son Joseph starts: and that sort of favoritism is not a sign of maturity and wisdom.

So it seems to me that Jacob’s moment of wholeness was fleeting…. Of course this is the biggest “once over lightly” ever done in bible studies. There’s much meat on these bones that I’m not going into. My only point is that, sadly, is too simple to think that Jacob’s wrestling with the other/angel/God changed him for the better forever. Perhaps he limped from then on, and perhaps at times that limping caused him to remember (re-member, put back together, re-unite) to do God’s will, to listen to God, to look for God’s face in the face of others — even in his enemy. The dreamlike quality of 22-32 is definitely something to consider. Since we live in the “already and not yet” perhaps a dreamlike moment of clarity, one that is marked with a limp, is appropriate for us too.

Happy New Year! For the Glory of God!

Interrupted by pain and healing

Advent is waiting for God to be born in human flesh and human bones and the whole beautiful mess. God chose to join us, to walk among us, to suffer, to heal, to love us in the flesh. The Incarnation is amazing!

Since my back went out, I’ve been thinking about bones and incarnation. It was pretty brave of God to come down here, to be flesh, especially knowing what was going to happen. That much love…recently I was told: God’s love is like the biggest waterfall you can image. And what we do is hold a cup out and take a tiny sip. When what we could do is stand so we are flooded and covered with water! This image made my heart leap. In the midst of my healing — my wonder and awe only increases for a God being so loving as to be incarnated, encased in flesh, to be in some sense less than God in order for us to be more than human in some sense —

As my back heals, I’m going to think about bones:

God pulled Jacob’s thigh bone out of joint and he walked with a limp the rest of his life — but he saw the face of God in the face of his brother (his enemy) after that.

Ezekiel’s dry bones, brought back to life….

What other bones might I find in scripture?

Bones — a mineral, that gives our body a framework, that are vital, that are “living stones”, yes? When things go “down to the bone” they go deep, they go to the core, they hurt. When you have only the “bare bones” you have an outline or a plan that needs fleshing out. When you walk with a limp you are vulnerable, you are noticeable.

Many things to think about bones. And many many thanks for being on the path of healing!