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/

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