The Wellness Within You
"Do you want to be made well?" This is not the typical question Jesus asks of those in need of healing. This question that implies wellness for this man might be bigger in scope than the healing of a particular infirmity.
Wellness connotes wholeness. Some people are able to say – it is well with my soul – whether or not their infirmity has been healed.
For the past two weeks I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist. I’m sure some of you are familiar….several months ago I noticed a developing an ongoing pain in my shoulder. There wasn’t an event that caused it – all of a sudden I found I was waking up in the middle of the night because I was sleeping on my left side and it hurt. I bought new pillows. It didn’t go away.
It got worse – and I wanted to be made well – I also didn’t want to deal with it – something I think we’re all familiar with from time to time. Anyway – the pain got worse – more constant and after about three months it really hurt to lift my arm in that way that used my rotator cuff – so I decided I was going to get a referral to a physical therapist. And I was telling a friend of mine about it and she said she had had something very similar – a pinched nerve that she believed was brought on by stress. And she had gone to see this acupuncturist and after a few sessions – gone.
So maybe if you’re not familiar with acupuncture, you’re wondering what it is. Well, just like religions – there are different kinds. My friend referred me to someone who practices Chinese acupuncture. Which is explained like this -it involves the insertion of very thin needs through your skin at strategic points in your body to treat pain. And the practice grew out of the belief that pain/disease is caused by a disruption in the flow of “qu” – chi – or energy in our bodies.
That’s ridiculous you might say – well Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn’t think so – and the first recorded practice is in 1500 BC – so that is enough validation for me! A more modern day hypothesis for how it works is that the needles are connecting with neurohormonal pathways, stimulating nerves, stimulating energy.
So I was lying there last week with a couple of needles in my forehead – my hands – my shoulder – my calves (it doesn’t hurt by the way, but sometimes there are these weird twinges) – and I asked the acupuncturist – so, what’s the 3 min elevator pitch you give to explain how this works. And she replied with this description:
Within every person there is a spring of wellness – when one part of our body is hurting, its broken – it can’t connect with what is healthy within. So acupuncture opens up a channel to direct that wellness – that energy – to the place in our body that needs it. We go with our bucket to the spring – get more of what we need for healing.
It seems to me that Jesus knows this man needs to be made well – even if the man cannot, or chooses not, to see it. Jesus asks him a very straightforward question – Do you – which should elicit a straightforward reply – yes or no. Instead in answer to the question – the man replies – no one will help me and when I try and make my way – people step in front of me. What do you make of the fact that this man externalizes his problem – there is nothing for him to do, to participate in his own wellness – it is the responsibility of everyone else.
In praying this gospel this week I’ve been led to three lessons on what this conversation – and what this man has to teach us, or me. The first is a reminder of how God’s goodness, God’s grace is undeserved – we don’t earn it.
Now, on the one hand, I can open myself to a compassionate interpretation of the man’s reply – where I hear him blame. Blame is trying to rid yourself of something uncomfortable and unpleasant by pinning your hurt on someone or something. And for goodness sake this man has been suffering for 38 years. Chronic pain – that’s no joke. Add on poverty – that’s probably another reason he is there with the beggars. Thirty-eight years of suffering – I can relate to his response.
The thing is – this man, I’m sorry, but he’s kind of a jerk. There is no thanking Jesus – there is no gratitude. And a few verses later when the religious authorities accuse him of breaking the law on the sabbath by being healed – he says, don’t look at me – it was that guy’s fault, he told me to pick up my mat and walk. This guy is very good at uttering statements that absolve him of any responsibility.
We need to be reminded of the gospel truth that we don’t earn God’s goodness. It is always a gift. In Isaiah God says – I make the rain fall on the good and the evil – in Matthew Jesus reminds us – God makes the sun shine on the righteous and the unrighteous. Often times I make my own decisions about who deserves God’s goodness. Sometimes I have some serious envy when I think someone has had undeserved good fortune. Sometimes its hard for me to feel worthy – to feel like I’m doing enough to earn God’s grace.
We don’t earn God’s grace – its given – it’s a gift – the living waters – God is always pouring out for us.
Second, when you’ve been struggling, if you’ve been debilitated, if you’ve been in a dark place for 38 years – it can be very hard to imagine what it is to be brought to the light! The devil we know – is at least – the devil we know! We can’t always see what wellness looks like. By ourselves, alone in our heads – we can’t imagine all the possibilities – especially if our soul is in need of healing. We need friends, faith communities – teachers – counselors – therapists – pastors – we need people to help us imagine what is possible.
I’m on what was newly created this year – the St. Luke’s Youth Center Visioning board – that sounds fancy. Its not. It me, two members of the St. Luke’s Episcopal church, Amanda Talbot the director of the program – and one woman who has lived in Franklin Square her whole life, Edith – and Sonya who is a social worker in the Franklin Square elementary school. Today after worship – I’m heading down to St. Luke’s church to talk with the congregation about what we imagine is possible in that space.
When Edith tells me about what growing up in that neighborhood was like 50-60 years ago, it was very different. It wasn’t blighted, it wasn’t a food desert – they built a church to hold 800 people down there for a reason. We’ll be talking with the congregation about supporting an effort to make that space a mission center, a community center. And joining with us in going to the diocese to get some support to do that work – we need resources.
Some members of that community believes they remember wellness. I believe that transformation is possible because thankfully the environment where I spend my days – is beautiful. It can be much harder to imagine what is possible when the darkness has clouded our sight – much harder to believe that light can overcome it.
Finally, the third lesson I hear this morning – is Jesus’ question as a spiritual practice. Every day in ways that are major and in ways that are insignificant – we will find ourselves dissatisfied with a given situation. Something or some one will not be meeting our needs. We can externalize the problem – and say my dis-ease is the result of factors and people outside of my control and no one is helping me!
Or, we can become aware of our dissatisfaction – name it – and then ask to find the channel that will direct us towards the spring of wellness that is within us. Gratitude is a very helpful channel for that. There are many ways we can ask God to help us find what will help us participate in being able to say – even though this is happening – it is well, with my soul.
Grace is a gift. Seeing health, seeing wholeness can be hard – we can ask for help. Practice participating in your wellness. May each of us this day be led to living waters as we seek to be at one – as we ask God to help make us whole. Amen.