Lectionary Readings for May 5. Acts 16:9-16, Psalm 67, Rev. 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29, John 5:1-9
This week I've been hard at work on an article for the Canadian Mennonite, a feature about a journey with chronic pain. I had a chance to interview Rod and Susan Reynar twice, to hear them tell about their journey with debilitating condition called arachnoiditis. The pain has kept Rod in bed for 10.5 of the last 13 years.Their story is incredible, and there is much to learn from people like this who have done so much reflecting, meditating, and living through difficulty.
When I read John 5:1-9, I couldn't help but think about the Reynars. In John, Jesus heals a man who has been crippled for 38 years, telling him to pick up his bed and walk. I read this differently now. I used to simply be impressed by the physical healing, that solves the problem, right? Now, I wonder about the crippled man. What kind of person was he? How did he deal with questions of faith and identity when he was an invalid? What was his life like? What about his family and community, how were they engaged with him? Now I think about the questions that come after the healing. This is a story of physical healing, but that can't be the whole story. Right now, Rod has experienced physical healing through a procedure that allows for pain control. He is up and walking, but he doesn't describe healing in primarily physical terms. He talks about the redemption, spiritual healing, that happened well before he had this surgery. He and Susan told me that physical healing after such extreme pain comes with a cost too. I hadn't known, but it's common for people who experience a dramatic physical change like this to undergo depression and post-traumatic stress. Life has just changed so fast, the adjustment is difficult, the fear of the pain returning is real, and there is stress (alongside the great joy) of re-engaging in life and allowing yourself to hope for things. The family goes through the changes too-there are so many adjustments! Where did the formerly crippled man go with his mat? Where did he re-engage in community life? Who walked alongside him and shared his life? I realize now, in a very new way, that spiritual healing is the more miraculous thing. All those stories of Jesus saying"you are forgiven" those are the most amazing miracles! That healing lasts, even when the physical healing may not.
The other scripture that caught me in a new way is the Acts piece. I've been reading Sally Armstrong's book, The Ascent of Women. Armstrong is a journalist who has spent many years writing about the lives of women in (mainly) African countries. She talks of horrible cultural practices like female circumcision, the lack of education for women, etc...Then, she recounts stories of change and redemption coming into societies through women. When women are educated, the health levels, economies, and general well being of whole societies are improved. Many things often improve when the formerly oppressed women organize themselves and work for the good of their people. In Acts, the disciples travel to Macedonia to preach the gospel, and they end up (verse 13) speaking to the women gathered at the river. This is what starts the change! They meet Lydia, a prominent merchant and leader, who ends up being a powerhouse of welcome and change for the fledgling church. Wow. That's a neat reminder for us to pay attention to the people who are sometimes forgotten. They are sometimes where the needed and best changes can take shape!