I have written before of a watershed moment in my spiritual and religious development which happened to me in my first ever trip to Romania, not as a priest but to help in a children’s hospice for kids dying of AIDS.
I looked into the eyes of a little girl who couldn’t speak, was mentally and physically disabled. Had full blown AIDS and was soon to die. It was looking into the eyes of that little girl, innocent yet suffering and not even going to make it to her teenage years that all faith in a healing God drained from my body.
Most of you will know that the first funeral I ever took was of a nine year old Romanian boy called Logan who died of AIDS and was buried on a dusty hillside in this grimy industrial town called Cernavoda – a name which literally means Black Water.
But that wasn’t the only spiritual experiences I had on that seminal visit to that country that would see me four years later pack my bags for Bucharest.
There was another, that I won’t go into now that told me in a very deep way that “God is”, and that despite everything I was meant to be in that place. It wasn’t that God was not a reality – it was that my understanding of the nature of God had to be smashed open and put back together again in a new way. A belief in a God that heals had to be radically altered.
About four years after these experiences on post ordination training I wrote an essay entitled “why God doesn’t heal” which earned the comment from my tutor, who now works in Durham as it happens as probably the most depressing piece she had ever read. (I wear that accolade as a badge of honour). Unbeknownst to me at the time she has a disabled child.
This is by way of saying that my relationship with healing stories in the Bible is shall we say rather ambivalent. And yet I do believe in healing in a holistic sense with a faith that could move mountains.
Healing for me implies peace and wholeness in a much wider sense than the mending of bones and curing leprosy.
Spiritual wholeness and peace are where these stories lead us. Wholeness and peace depend on incorporation. The whole tenor of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this morning is basically one of “Once you were separate, now you are a part of it”. “Once you were without God, now you are in God”. His narrative uses the Jewish/Gentile division as his base line and then tells how we are now all one, children of the same covenant.
I used to ask myself where God was in that orphanage in Cernavoda. God, in St’ Lawrence’s hospice was a Scottish nurse called Lorna Jamieson. She worked all the hours God sent , in terrible conditions with hardly any resources, to try and alleviate the suffering of those children. She brought as much healing and peace as she could muster to make sure that they spent the last days and hours of their lives in as little pain as possible and knowing that they were loved.
I knew then that this was true Christian healing.
And Lorna could love like that because she felt loved. Her resources came from deep within her, enabling her to go on against sometimes almost insurmountable odds.
It is those internal spiritual resources that I am nowadays trying to cultivate both is myself and try and share with others as much as I can.
To enable ourselves, to empower ourselves we need to be able to dig deep and plumb huge reserves out of which we can operate. This is why I push contemplative prayer and meditation. This is why I try and communicate spiritual concepts that I have actually experienced as being true.
Jesus wanted his disciples to retreat to a deserted place to re-charge their batteries. Retreats like this are wonderful and helpful, but what about when the retreat is over and you have to re-join the rat race. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take that place of refreshment and resource with you and be that calm refreshing place and draw your resources from there in the midst of life.
To find and live out of that centre, which is God, is the goal of the spiritual life and in finding that centre is the spiritual practice that enables us to find and live out of that centre. It is there that we find the healing, the wholeness and peace, which results in the kind of compassion exhibited by Lorna.