“Love’s Dark Healing”
All Souls Bethlehem Church
Rev. Tom Martinez
May 3, 2015
Editor’s note for those new to ASBC: Rhianna is Pastor Tom’s first wife’s ten year old daughter who died suddenly of natural causes related to an undetected heart conditions. The Gospel reading is the story (found in Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke) of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who made her way through the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment at which point she’s healed.
Here’s the second sacred reading, from, Anam Cara, by John O’Donohue:
“In nature we do not see the trees, for instance, getting seriously involved in therapeutic analysis of their root systems or the whole stony world that they had to avoid on their way to the light. Each tree grows in two directions at once, into the darkness and out to the light with as many branches and roots as it needs to embody its wild desires.
“Negative introspection damages the soul. It holds many people trapped for years and years, an ironically, it never allows them to change. It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life. you might not see anything stirring for a long time. You might have only the slightest intimations of the secret growth that is happening within you, but these intimations are sufficient. We should be fulfilled and satisfied with them. You cannot dredge the depths of the soul with the meagre light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.
“We all have wounds; we need to attend to them and allow them to heal. A beautiful phrase of Hegel’s is apposite here: ‘Die Wunden des Geistes heilen, ohne dass Narben bleiben.’ ‘The wounds of the spirit heal and leave no scars.’ There is a healing for each of our wounds, but this healing is waiting in the indirect, oblique, and non-analytic side of our nature. We need to be mindful of where we are damaged, then invite our deeper soul in its night-world to heal this wounded tissue, renew us, and bring us back into unity. IF we approach our hurt indirectly and kindly, it will heal. Creative expectation brings you healing and renewal. If you could trust your soul, you would receive every blessing you require. Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”
-John O’Donohue (Anam Cara, pp. 122-123)
While in the northwest for the anniversary of Rhianna’s death and the gathering of the community surrounding Lynette and her family, I had the opportunity to attend worship at local UU church there on Whidbey Island. It was really something to suddenly be a parishioner. Not just that, but to be in worship at a time when I was really in need of comfort and spiritual sustenance.
So what a wild surprise that the meditation with which the service started involved a hieroglyph from New Zealand, a beautiful spiraled work of art traceable to that Island’s indigenous peoples, the Maori. (This was the tribe featured in the film we discussed a few weeks ago in the context of the film The Piano.) The preacher’s message revolved around some of his favorite bumper stickers and the cars he put them on, including one of his all time favorites, “LOVE HEALS,” which happened to be on a VW bus he still had and was selling! As tempting as it was to drive back in a VW bus with that bumper sticker, I held off and am just borrowing the sticker for my sermon today.
The healing power of love is something we encounter over and over again throughout sacred scripture (in a multitude of traditions). In the story of Naji and the mirror Didi, Rumi tells the beautiful story of a seeker’s battle with Ego, which is beautifully interrupted by the appearance of love. Today’s story of the healing of the bleeding woman is a case in point. We could also describe it as the healing power of faith, since she clearly had the necessary faith to seek Jesus out.
There’s a few details worth noting in this story, beginning with the length of time the woman had been suffering, namely twelve years. Scholars point out that the encounter with the woman takes place as Jesus is going to the bedside of a twelve year old girl, so we have a literary mirroring of this special number, which in Jesus’ day would have elicited thoughts of the twelve tribes of Israel and in Christian circles conjures up associations of the twelve disciples. I happened upon one reference which linked the number twelve to the presence of God in nature, which seems random but then there’s often something somewhat peculiar about the detailed reference to numbers in these ancient texts. Rather than placing too much emphasis on any one association, I like to be mindful of what’s been said and how it might strike the ear (in its original context and for us now, in our time). Having just come from the anniversary of Rhianna’s passing I couldn’t read this story without thinking that she would be twelve now (like her surviving twin, Ryder) had she not died.
Another detail in the story that’s gotten a lot of attention is the fringe the woman touched in her quest for healing. Many commentators have speculated that the fringe here referred to were the tzitzit fringe mandated in Deuteronomy and worn by Orthodox Jews today (we forget Jesus was a Jew!), a remnant of which we find on the edges of Christian stoles. Like the symmetrical balancing of roots and branches mentioned in the Celtic reading by John O’Donohue, it’s as if the holiness of the stole as symbol then branches off in countless directions into the world. It’s worth noting here that the tzitzit serves as a reminder of liberation from Egyptian oppression, so there’s an element of liberation woven into this story (and indeed the woman appears to have been oppressed at the very least by her physical ailment for twelve years…).
But we have to beware of the tendency to split hairs and lose the forest for the trees when it comes to some of the details. Irrespective of the exact nature of the fringe of Jesus’ garment, the point here seems to be that the woman barely had to make contact in order to be healed. (Later in the Gospel of Matthew [14:35-36] people implore Jesus, asking only to touch the “fringe” of his cloak.) She simply had to reach out toward the sacred, making the lightest glancing contact—and suddenly everything changes. Jesus stops, having felt power leave him, and the rest of the story including the woman’s healing unfolds.
What is this great healing force lurking in these ancient stories?
I think of it as the healing power of love. Just as the body has its own natural healing mechanisms, so too does the soul. And just as the body’s healing often occurs in the dark, within the body itself, shielded from the light, so too do our souls find healing and renewal in the darkness of sleep and the magic of dreams.
Of course for those who understand and believe in the power of synchronicity, life itself can become a waking dream. I was reminded of this during my time in the northwest. At one point I gave a gift to Lynette’s boyfriend Frank, who’s named after St. Francis. We had been talking about St. Francis so when I noticed a small statue of the Saint in a nursery I felt drawn to it. There were several actually, but only one was smiling. Something that’s the one that spoke to me so I got it for Frank, instructing him to place it anywhere on Rhianna’s trail he wanted. I stressed I wanted to put it where he wanted to put it as he was doing so much for Lynette and Ryder and I wanted him to do something for himself.
Somehow it worked out that I wasn’t around when he brought it out to the trail but later I heard the story of what happened. You need to know that Frank is half Japanese and as such has always felt like a bit of an outsider. While a very young child growing up in Japan he was judged as not being fully Japanese. Then after coming to states he was again rejected for not being fully American. As a result Frank has always felt like he had to stick to the margin of whatever group he was part of.
So when it came time to place the stature Frank put him at a distance from the altar at the end of Rhianna’s trail. He didn’t feel he had the right to come any closer. So despite my instructions to put it wherever he wanted, Lynette ended up having a say since she knows and loves Frank and is inviting him in from the margins, much like Jesus does with all those who seek to touch the fringe of his garment.
The bleeding woman would have been marginalized in first century Palestine several times over: she was a woman; she suffered from a physical infirmity; and the infirmity had to do with he menstruation. All of these factors would together serve to push her out to the margins. And yet because of her faith, she ventured into the midst of the crowd and reached out for healing. Stopping and turning, Jesus welcomed her into the sacred center of the world.
So while I didn’t exactly like hearing that Lynette was meddling in my manly gift exchange with Frank, I couldn’t help agreeing with her loving, Christ-like wisdom.
I suppose in this way Lynette is a little like Christ, and a little like the bleeding woman. In relation to Frank, her family and the entire community of people grieving the loss of Rhianna, she has invited people to the sacred, healing center of the universe. And yet she herself is on her own healing journey.
After everyone had walked Rhianna’s trail (including Rhianna’s grandfather, who stopped before every picture and read every word), everyone gathered back at the house and Lynette rose to say a few words, mostly thanking folks for coming. But she shared as story from the day of Rhianna’s actual death anniversary. She and her family were in Hawaii at the time and she and Frank had gone down to a lagoon to spread some of Rhianna’s ashes. Frank paddled her out into the calm water early in the morning and Lynette dropped some of the ashes into the sea, mindful that these were bits of her daughters body, reuniting with the deep, in this sacred place where wales pass, singing their songs like they have for many thousands of years.
Suddenly she was jarred from these deep, sacred thoughts by the loud jibber jabber of a couple of adolescent girls on paddleboards. Her first thought, she told her gathered friends, was something like, “who the hell is messing with my sacred moment?!” Then somehow she saw how appropriate it was that these two teenage girls, paddling on the surface of the deep, would be passing through just then. One of the girls was saying, “Yeah I dated him for a while, then we broke up….” Just your normal girl talk, the kinds of talk Rhianna would have might have one day engaged in. It was simply life, on the surface of the deep, going about its normal ebb and flow. As they paddled away they happened to pass directly through some of the flower pedals Lynette had dropped in the water, a meeting of life and death.
As Lynette told the story which I had already heard she stole a glance at me as I had encouraged her to share it. I felt like a preacher’s wife, knowing how the sermon was going to end. Only she was pledged to Frank and she and I were just friends. And so it is that that wound too was caught up in the healing.
The healing power of love. All you have to do is reach of it and make the slightest bit of contact. If you do, you’re life will never be the same.
May it Be. Amen.