This is the message shared on mother’s day, Sunday, May 13th during our community gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on Luke 13:10-17.

Last Thursday,19-year-old Noura Huseein was sentenced to death.

Noura grew up in Sudan, where it’s legal for a girl to be married at only 10 years of age and where rape within marriage is not considered a crime. A woman, even if she is not a teenager yet, has no authority over her own body.

Noura was told she would marry at age 15 against her wishes. Soon after her engagement, she ran away & was gone for 3 years, until her own family tricked her into coming home and forced her to marry.

Unwilling to consummate their marriage, her husband’s family held Noura down while he forced himself into her. A day later, when he tried to rape her again,
she stabbed him to death and she has now been sentenced to death.

This kind of sexual violence is still too common so many places around the world. We know this from our work with women refugees in Uganda, and this repulses us, doesn’t it?

This level of sexual trauma,
the idea that a woman would not be able to choose when & whom to marry,
that she would not be able to control when and who has access to her body,
that she would be treated like a piece of property…this repulses us,
but it’s an idea as old as scripture itself.

In scripture, we find story after story that describes a world in which women are “taken” by men. Think about the story of David and Bathsheba. He saw her bathing on a roof and summoned her to lie with him. This was not an affair. She had no choice in the matter.

In scripture, we find story after story of women were bartered & used as a means to benefit their family’s economic status. Think about the story of Leah and Rachel, two sisters who were Jacob’s reward for his labor to their father, Laban.

And in scripture, we find story after story of women who knew their worth depended on their ability to bear children. Think about Sarah who pleaded with God for children even in her old age, Hannah who was so desperate to bear a child that she promised to give her son back to God in service & even Mary, the mother of Jesus saw her untimely pregnancy as God’s favor on her.  These women knew their worth was measured by their ability to bear children.

Throughout scripture, in one way or another, a woman’s worth has always been connected to her body.

That’s what makes this encounter Jesus has with a bent over woman so powerful.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when he notices her. He had a habit of noticing broken bodies, didn’t he?

She’s been bent over like this for 18 years.

She’s unable to stand up straight,
not able to see eye to eye,
only ever able to look down at the ground.

Considering the way sickness & disability were viewed in the ancient world, she was probably not expecting anything good to come from this encounter – perhaps another public shaming or another lecture about how her sin caused her suffering (“she just needed to get right with God.”).

Not this time. Not with Jesus.

When Jesus calls her over, he immediately heals her of whatever spirit has been keeping her body bound. He literally raises her up to new life. He sets her free.

And instead of throwing a party to celebrate her new life, the religious leaders had a problem with it. Apparently, this was not the right time. There were laws that must be kept on the Sabbath & keeping the law was worth more than healing this woman’s broken body. Maintaining the status quo was more important than mending this weary woman’s life.

They use the law to justify prolonging this woman’s painful position.

There is a better way to relate to the law according to Jesus. Jesus was committed to observing the Sabbath. He was not throwing it out altogether, but what he was holding onto was the spirit and the intention of sabbath. See the Sabbath was intended to be a day to refrain from certain types of work so that Jews could remember their freedom from slavery. Freedom was at the heart of the laws about sabbath.

In Jesus’ mind, what better way to practice freedom than to set a woman, a daughter of Abraham, a human being created in the image of God & worthy of healing, to set her free from what has been holding her captive all these years.

Her healing could not wait until the Sabbath was over.

Jesus heals her & now it’s the men who are looking down at the ground. They are the ones unable to see that Jesus has come to set them & all of us free from every way of seeing that make one group of people any less worthy than any other. They could not yet imagine what Paul would later declare: that there will no longer be “Jew or Greek…slave or free…male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28).

Scripture is still used to keep women bound, but it’s not just scripture, it’s also our culture that keeps women bent over.

I want to share a few ways we are being kept bent over & then invite women to add to this list:

Women’s bodies are bent over …

By the heaviness of too many messages telling us it’s our bodies that make us worthy. We see & hear it in films, in music, in marketing & even from one another (both women and men tell us this).

By the grief of not being able to or the shame of choosing not to bear children.

By the fear of sexual violence. Do you know that 1 out of every 6 women is a victim of an attempted or completed rape? (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

By the lack of safe spaces to even talk about sexual abuse or mistreatment or bodily changes or sex.

By the weight of expectations to look like, to measure up to & to perform as well as women pictured in pornography. According to a recent episode of The Liturgist podcast, women are now taking pornographic screenshots to their plastic surgeons & asking for help to look more like these images.

By the fear of the bodily changes that aging will bring that may cause us to lose our youthful sex appeal.

Women, from your personal experience or what you have witnessed, what would you add to this list? [our community added many examples to the list!]

***

While men certainly have their own issues with body image, by and large, women have borne the brunt of the struggle. There is so much healing work to be done and it must begin with us.

We must begin by confronting scripture. The Bible tells us the truth about who we are & sometimes the truth about us is not good & instead of being imitated, it must be confronted.

Friends, we are misusing scripture every time we use the story of Adam and Eve to teach that women are deceptive temptresses who are to blame for man’s fall. We are misusing scripture every time that we take stories that describe households in ancient Israel & made them templates for us nearly 2,000 years later. So often we take scriptures meant to be descriptive & make them prescriptive.  We must confront this harmful tendency.

We must understand the world in which our scriptures were written. For example, there were reasons a woman’s childbearing ability was seen as a sign of favor. The household was the center of survival, lifespan was short & childbearing dangerous (only ½ of the children conceived were born!) so successfully having a child really was a miracle. We’ve turned it into a requirement. We must confront the wrong views of women in scripture & the way we misuse our Bibles to diminish a woman’s worth.

We must also challenge culture.  We must make more safe space to talk about the abuse, mistreatment & the violence towards women’s bodies. It’s starting to happen & it must happen more. We must confront the way women’s bodies are portrayed in speech & media & pornography. These words & images are so detrimental to our daughters, granddaughters, spouses & sisters.  They are a danger to you, too, men. What’s breaking women’s bodies is impacting you, too, and we need your help in advocating for a better, more just & whole view of women.

Finally, we must redefine worth. Women’s bodies are sacred & like men’s, they are created in the image of God. A woman’s value reaches far beyond her sex appeal or her child-bearing ability. Women are valuable because they have intrinsic worth. Period. We must learn to stop there. And as a community, as followers of Jesus we must make it clear that our standards for worth & value are different here! We do not measure or rate or hold to higher esteem women who have children over those who do not; we do not value younger bodies over older ones (just like we do not value straight or white bodies more). Our standards of worth & value must be different here – we are citizens of the kingdom of God, where all are loved & included & worthy of belonging.

The healing of this bent over woman was a sign of what was already happening through Jesus & a sign of what was to come. Today is Ascension Sunday in the church, the day we remember how after being resurrected & appearing to his disciples, Jesus was lifted up once again, this time to go & be with the Father.

It is a good day to think about the need for women all over the world to be lifted up. It’s a good day for all of us to be raised to new ways of seeing & defining women’s worthiness.

As those who profess to believe in resurrection, what would it look like for us to practice resurrection in this way?

**

If you were moved by Noura’s story, you can advocate for her life here.

Healing Our Broken & Beloved Bodies

by susan on May 8, 2018

This is the message that was shared on Sunday, May 6th during our community gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on the following scriptures:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.
– Genesis 1:27a

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. – Mark 1:40-42

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:3-5

When we began this series, I put out a piece of banner paper and asked for your questions, doubts & concerns related to the intersection of faith & our bodies. I got a huge response…

One question. One question, a good one though:

“Do you believe God still heals bodies?”.

The short response is yes, I do believe God heals bodies. What I cannot say for sure is what exactly that healing will look like or when it will come, but I do know this:

Healing is at the heart of God.

And since that is so, God has his or her work cut out,
starting right here in America.

Slick marketing campaigns may project images of well-maintained, beautified bodies, but statistics tell a different story. We live in a country where bodies are suffering & here are just a few numbers that show it:

  • We spend the most on healthcare of any nation, but our life expectancy ranks 43rd.1
  • More than one-third of adults living in America are obese, contributing to the number one cause of death which is heart disease.2
  • In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.3
  • One in five adults experience mental illness and one in 25 live with serious mental illness; 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million— have had at least one major depressive episode in the past 6 years and 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder.4
  • Approximately a half million teens struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.
  • Over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction (excluding tobacco). 100 people die every day from drug overdoses. This rate has tripled in the past 20 years.6

Despite those discouraging statistics, an estimated 31 million people still go without health insurance, causing many to not get needed treatment. It’s no surprise that most uninsured people are in low-income families and have at least one worker in the family. If you live in a poor community and if your skin is not white, you have a greater chance of not getting the care you need. According to the Center for Disease Control, African-Americans are more likely to die at earlier ages than Whites from all causes. The difference is often due to economic and social conditions.

Illness is part of being human. Our bodies do break down over time, but in America, something about our way of life, our way of eating, our lack of sleeping & our lack of caring for our bodies is making us get sicker and die sooner.

That is just here in America. We know there are many other places in the world where resources are lacking, some diseases are more difficult to treat & just getting clean drinking water is a challenge.

Our bodies are in need of healing.

So, what do we as followers of the way of Jesus do in the face of such overwhelming bodily struggle?

Thankfully, when we look to scripture, we find some guidance.

Beginning with the creation of bodies that bear the mark of God & ending with God’s declaration that God is making all things new, sandwiched in between we discover numerous examples of God initiating the healing of broken bodies. There are stories of God providing food for the hungry, rest for the weary & restored mental health to people suffering the symptoms of insanity.

Yet, when asked the question about whether or not God still heals bodies, the stories that most quickly come to mind for most of us are the ones where Jesus provided instantaneous healing of bodily suffering.

The healing of a man suffering from leprosy is one of those (see Mark 1:40-42 above).

What would have shocked people and what likely led to these stories being included in scripture was not the outcome, but the encounter itself. Healings were not everyday occurrences, but they were already happening in Jesus’ day. There are other examples of “faith healers” during Jesus’ time – some Roman, some Greek, some Jewish. Most scholars agree that Jesus was not unique in his ability to heal illness or drive out demons.

What was unique about Jesus is how he went about it; it was how his radical message of an upside-down kingdom of God was embodied in the way he healed bodies.

What stood out was how he went near to those considered unclean & preached that sin did not cause their sickness in the first place. What gained him attention was, how he announced blessing on those who suffered then drew close to those who were cut off from society because of their sickness.

I believe that when Jesus saw this man with leprosy, he saw a person created in God’s image. I believe he also saw himself. He knew through his own bodily limitations, his own bodily malfunctions & vulnerabilities that this could be him. He may have been taught that people like this had done something wrong & were unclean & unworthy of being touched; but Jesus rejected that idea. He came close & had compassion because he knew this man’s life mattered as much as his own.

His healing was about more than just the end of an episode of illness; it was about the whole person; it was a reversal of stigma, the overturning of the shame associated with sickness & a critique of the way we separate ourselves from those whose bodies are struggling.

The way Jesus healed seemed to begin with one simple truth: all bodies are worthy of healing.  Every life & every body is created in the image of God and worthy of healing.

So, how do we go about healing our bodies?

Perhaps we also begin with this truth. That our bodies & all bodies are sacred gifts worthy of care. Contrary to what our culture tells us, bodies are gifts to be cherished, not projects to be perfected. That is where healing must begin.

Think about that for a minute.

How would living by this truth change the way we relate to ours and others’ bodies?

God’s heart for healing looked like treating all bodies as gifts and it invites our participation.

I imagine it took some courage for this man to come out of hiding and come toward Jesus. His path to healing involved a willingness to be seen, to admit his need & to receive the healing itself. He had a part to play.

This week I made my first trip to Auntie Peaches, a newer small business in our neighborhood that specializes in natural medicine. You can purchase herbs and oils, natural handmade soaps & a ton of other things there. I heard more about the healing properties of these natural remedies than I could possibly take in. I was amazed & I was also reminded of how many resources are at our disposal that allow us to participate in our own healing.

We know more about the body & what heals it than ever before. We are told what to eat, how much activity we need, what habits helps & what habits harm, but we still struggle to participate in our own healing. We still struggle to care for our bodies.

We still block healing.

As Episcopal priest Sara Miles reminded us in today’s Work of the People video, we prefer the cure. We prefer the quick fix, a how-to or three easy steps. Unlike a cure, healing takes time & patience & commitment. It does not guarantee the exact results we may envision.

Healing will also look different for each of us. In Traveling Mercies, one of my favorite storytellers, Anne Lamott tells the story of her own healing from an eating disorder. She had managed to finally deal with her alcoholism, but a week after her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, she discovered bulimia. She had struggled with weight gain and body image issues from an early age and at first, it was like she had discovered the magic cure to finally lose the weight. It took it’s toll though.

She writes, “I felt that when I got sober, God had saved me from drowning, but now I was going to get kicked to death on the beach. It’s so much hipper to be a drunk than a bulimic.”

Bulimia was an illness that had a painful grip on her & she felt unable to break free.

It stayed her dirty little secret for awhile until she finally went to see someone. Healing was no quick fix. It took time and patience and lots of small steps – in fact, it began with her making one phone call after each time she ate to buy herself some time before rushing to vomit up her food. Then she had to learn how to recognize hunger and even how to start feeding her hunger again.

Whether you call her healing a miracle or not she says that “learning to eat was about learning to live – and deciding to live, and it is one of the most radical things I have ever done.”

Does God still heal bodies?

YES.

God’s heart is for healing & that healing may look different for each of us, but all of us are invited to experience it.

Healing of bodies was certainly a priority for Jesus & it should be one for us also.

How will we participate in God’s healing? What healing habits could we begin? What harmful habits could we stop?

And, how will we be agents of God’s healing with our neighbors whose bodies tend to be marginalized, neglected or even blamed for their own suffering?

1http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-united-states-health-20180410-story.html
2 https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
3 https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics
4 https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf
https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/general-statistics
6 https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/

Re-imagining church & practicing sabbath

April 27, 2018

One of The Well’s core practices is that of “re-imagining” & we describe it like this: “While we respect and seek to follow a rich Christian heritage, we also value our freedom to creatively re-imagine the church in our current context. We are committed to questioning and critiquing our current practices, and are open to […]

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An invitation to come home

April 16, 2018

This is the message that was shared on Sunday, April 8th during our gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on John 21:1-14. — I came across a painting this week that captured my attention. It’s a painting by David Hayward entitled “I Embrace My Roots” (to […]

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Let’s start here: bodies do matter.

April 12, 2018

This is the message that was shared on Sunday, April 8th during our gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on John 20:19-31. — On my 40th birthday, I had the honor of performing my beloved grandmother’s funeral. It was one of the most difficult, yet richest […]

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Practicing resurrection through our bodies

April 5, 2018

“The Word became flesh & blood…” – John 1:14 The entirety of the gospel springs from this one not-so-minor detail: God came to us in a flesh & blood human being. Jesus came in a body. Through his body, we see what love & justice & generosity look like. Through his body, we see what […]

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Posture matters

February 13, 2018

We continue to move through the Narrative Lectionary & the art of seeing. Here are some words for the journey that were shared this Sunday. The text is John 9:1-41. — What is your initial posture toward “the other”? Before you can answer that question, it may be helpful to name who the “other” is for you […]

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Lent & returning to love

February 9, 2018

Another Lent is upon us & for some, this season can feel a lot like going through the motions. If we allow it, instead of a season of reflection, Lent can be another in a long line of religious rituals that leaves us less transformed & more weighed down in “shoulds” & shame. So, every […]

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On overturning the temple (John 2:13-22)

January 23, 2018

We continue to move through the Narrative Lectionary & right now we are in the gospel of John. Here are some words for the journey that were shared this Sunday. The text is John 2:13-22. — What would you do if you encountered an 8-foot bride on a busy street corner? If you are like […]

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A new year & a new way of seeing

January 6, 2018

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” ― Elizabeth Barrett Browning We live in an age of continuous distraction, of only paying partial attention & of invitation overload. We live in a time when multi-tasking, […]

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