Scripture: Mark 10: 46-52
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[a] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Before considering the story of blind Bartimaeus, I think it will be helpful to consider the wider topic of spiritual healing in general, which this Fall’s cruise through the gospel of Mark highlights over and over. About spiritual healing, CS Lewis said this:
“The character (of spiritual healing) can easily be obscured by the somewhat magical view which many people still take…There is a sense in which no doctor ever heals…The magic is not in the medicine but in the patient's body- the recuperative or self-corrective energy of Nature. What the treatment does is to stimulate natural functions or to remove what hinders them. We speak for convenience of the doctor, or the dressing healing the cut. But in another sense, every cut heals itself…that same mysterious force which we call gravitational when it steers the planets and biochemical when it heals a live body, is the real cause of all recoveries. And the energy proceeds from God in the first instance. All who are cured are cured by God, not merely in the sense that God's providence provides them with medical assistance and wholesome environments, but also in the sense that their very tissues are repaired by the far-descending energy which, flowing from God, energizes the whole system of nature.”
In other words, healing is not so much an intervention in natural law, as a restoration of spiritual law! Indeed, a restoration of the very spiritual nature of things from before what Christianity calls “the Fall” into a world shrouded by distortion and estrangement, where it’s like we all have blurry contact lenses in our eyes and we don’t even know it. (Or, if you don’t like the Biblical archetype and metaphor, consider it as an early evolutionary stage when we were not in touch with the image of God within us.) You see, we live in a Genesis three world, In Genesis one and two everything was crystal clear, and sort of super-animated, and love ruled the day. We all operated out of our highest, “made in the image of God” selves and there was no sorrow or sighing, but only the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. But after what Christianity I believe metaphorically calls “the Fall” we are stuck with a distortion of all that, although some of it still shines through. We see it in beauty and in nature and in one another when we are in touch with our higher selves. But now we see the other stuff as well, a distortion of beauty and betrayal of nature, like the heart-breaking seals covered in oil a couple weeks ago after the oil spill. More to the point we see it in ourselves and one another when we operate not out of the imago dei (the image of God) but out of our lower, fallen selves where fear, not love, holds sway and translates into all manner of defensiveness, anger, and ego mind. Still, we have an archetypal memory of that realm of God, and we long for it, even if we don’t quite know that’s what we’re longing for, and Christ says we are to live our way into it in fits and starts, create glimpses wherever we can until that time when the Spirit comes with power and the realm of God comes once again in fulness, where the new Jerusalem descends and we will once again find ourselves in an unspoiled garden. And indeed, sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Spiritual healing, then, according to CS Lewis, is not so much a magical interruption in natural law as it is a restoration of the deeper, original spiritual law. A brief return to the ways of the Genesis one and two world. A glimpse of the realm of God that we as the human race once knew but lost and long for, and will someday know again fully.
I remember hearing about it in a way that really made sense when a nun friend of mine told about her whole community going on a three month retreat together. They are an activist community, spending themselves in work on behalf of poor women and children. But one summer, they pulled in their oars and spent the entire summer on retreat together with nothing but time for rest, renewal, prayer, recreation, exercise, spiritual conversation with one another, etcetera. And what they found at the end of the summer was tangible evidence of healing: blood pressures came down, vague, mysterious symptoms disappeared, some diagnoses were actually reversed! In a setting where the Genesis one and two world was sort of recreated, natural healing flowed!
So yes, I believe in spiritual healing. And I believe that Jesus, as the full manifestation of that Genesis one and two world from before the fall, was a person of unspoiled imago dei, a person so whole and full of God that just to be in his presence could put somebody on the wavelength of that unspoiled garden, where healing naturally flows. Just to be in his presence could activate one’s own immune system so the natural, healing forces could flow. And really, it’s not as “out there” as it sounds. One of my favorite writers, Brenda Ueland, says it still happens when we are deeply in the presence of people who are unusually spiritually centered. She talked, in her brief essay, “Tell Me More” about how being deeply listened to by a spiritually whole person, unblocks the little fountain within so it can flow again, and it is actually healing! Ueland said this:
“Deep listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.
You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies? Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people whole and free when they are deeply listened to.”
I believe this was Jesus’ healing secret. In his robust, whole, deep presence, his deep listening with people, they couldn’t help but experience the freeing up of the little,, creative fountain, the spirit within, and that would manifest on every level, the emotional, spiritual and sometimes even the physical.
I also think this is why Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “your faith has made you well.” The Spirit, the little creative fountain, the imago dei, is within all of us, it just has to be freed from the debris that gluts it over in our Genesis three world. But make no mistake, it is within all of us! Jesus just activates it, frees it up, within us! He’s not a magician who does unmediated parlor tricks. He is a pre-fall human, so full of God that that Spirit cannot help but spill over. Deep calls to deep. And the same pre-fall wholeness still within us in fits and starts, senses our true nature and begins to flow in healing vitality.
We see something about this on Easter morning. In the account where Mary first recognizes the risen Christ as the Jesus of history. She goes to embrace him, and he says, “No, Mary. Do not cling to me.” It’s as if he’s saying, “don’t locate or identify this powerful force within me only, find it within yourself. It’s in you, too! The kingdom of God is within you. Greater things than I have done will you do!”
Dare I say it? I think Christianity has committed a subtle, theological error in locating divinity uniquely in Jesus. The whole point is that it’s within all of us in fits and starts, and we need to start fanning it’s flames, freeing up its flow, until it flows more fully through us, restoring, to some degree, our little corner of the world to the love-based, healing-based, pre-fall way of things!
Chelan Harkin says it well in her piece, “The Worst Thing We Ever Did.” I quoted it for you just this summer, but it’s so good and so pertinent to this topic that I’ll ask you to suffer it again:
The worst thing we ever did
was put God in the sky
out of reach
pulling the divinity
from the leaf,
sifting out the holy from our bones,
insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement
through everything we’ve made
a hard commitment to see as ordinary,
stripping the sacred from everywhere
to put in a cloud man elsewhere,
prying closeness from your heart.
The worst thing we ever did
was take the dance and the song
out of prayer
made it sit up straight
and cross its legs
removed it of rejoicing
wiped clean its hip sway,
its ecstatic yowl,
The worst thing we ever did is pretend
God isn’t the easiest thing
in this Universe
available to every soul
in every breath.”
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the worst thing we ever did was locate divinity uniquely in Christ! And you’ll have to forgive my grandiosity if I say I think he’d agree with me. People ask me, “do you believe in the divinity of Christ?” And I say, absolutely. And I believe in the divinity of you and me too. True, it’s clearer in him, and in spiritually evolved people in all religions, for that matter. But the whole point is that it’s in every one of us. He says it plainly in today’s reading, “your faith has made you well.”
And I couldn’t complete this sermon without pulling out what has now become the old classic by Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
And here’s the bottom line: we need to get in touch and stay in touch with our own divinity, with the far-descending energy which, flowing from God, energizes and heals the whole system, not just for our own well-being, (although certainly we will have more well-being if we live this way.) We need to live this way because it is the key to healing the world, to living our way into the Realm of God, a society of joy and justice and righteousness for all people, the oppressed and estranged first, I might add. When we live this way, rooted squarely in God’s love, in divinity, if you will, we can’t help but order our lives differently on a collective level. We know in our bones that every other person on this planet also carries divinity and we work to create a world where justice flows like mighty rivers for all of us.