Barb’s Reflection for Celtic Healing Service 30 April 2017

Barb writes: “I’m glad to be able to contribute to this service even though I’m not with you. In a way, my decision to go to the closure of St. Mary’s, Point Pass instead today is also part of an ongoing healing for me. This moment in the life of the Kapunda Parish was one I had hoped to facilitate, the farewell moment in a process I had wanted to have completed before I left. My husband says that going to this final service will give me closure. My CPE colleague Les says that aiming for closure is not the best way to attempt healing, better to think in terms of integrating the pain or loss or grief meaningfully into our lives. One thing I know is that being in this parish and with you people is helping me heal from the state of depletion and discouragement with which I left Kapunda. There is much to value in the Parish of Kapunda, and in my time there, but I was nearly burnt out by the time I left, mainly by my sense of failure that I couldn’t make a difference to the slow decline that was happening despite their admirable resilience and determination to keep going. I also felt discouraged that my identity and gifts were fully accepted and valued only by a few precious people there, and that much of what I did was constrained by role expectations and the goal of keeping things going and the same. I was not working out of wholeness a lot of the time, but out of mere survival, barely maintained. Being here has given me much more freedom to be who I am, which is what spiritual healing enables. Hopefully now I feel ready to try to integrate the Kapunda experience, to find meaning in it, and to celebrate it. Please pray for that ongoing healing as I face this symbolic closure at Point Pass.

I want to share with you a story that speaks powerfully to me about physical and emotional healing in the context of the sense of failure I had in Kapunda Parish. It comes from a chapter called “Cotton Candy” in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. Nadia is a woman pastor in the progressive Lutheran church in the USA.

To sum up Nadia’s overall story in a few sentences, she was hurt by the rigid faith of her childhood, and particularly the dismissive attitude to girls. She escaped into a rebellious and addictive lifestyle, and a career as a stand-up comic. She began healing through AA and the faith component of the twelve steps, and then found a fulfilling faith and life through her relationship with the Lutheran ordination student that she subsequently married. She studied theology and was ordained, and planted a church called the House for All Saints and Sinners, a place of healing and acceptance for marginalized people, including homosexuals. In the chapter I want to share with you, Nadia has been invited to speak at a progressive Lutheran conference about her church and its successes. Yet at that time she is discouraged that attendance has hit a plateau at about 35 to 40, with fewer over the vacation season. Perhaps with the need to speak of successes at the conference in mind, she decides to try to gather a bigger group for Rally Day, usually a celebration of the beginning of a new Sunday School year. Although her church had no children but her own and no Sunday school, Nadia tries for a big gathering for Rally Day on the eve of her conference commitment, and hurts her back doing all the running around and carrying of heavy stuff. She hires a cotton candy machine and buys six dozen burgers and buns, spending $300 on catering. She is acutely disappointed and resentful to find only 26 in the congregation that day, and has to go away for a moment to pray for removal of her anger and resentment just to get through the liturgy. They end up giving away two thirds of the burgers to homeless people in the park, and cotton candy to motorists, nobody puts money in the basket to help cover the catering costs, and her back and her resentment are killing her. One of her congregation notices her pain and gathers some people to lay hands on her back and ask for healing.

Nadia writes: “I stood there, my black clergy shirt warmed by the Colorado sun and the hands of my parishioners, and I submitted to the blessing of being prayed for. And it was hard. But then something happened. It sounds crazy, and if someone told me this story I’d assume they were lying or delusional. As Stuart’s big drag queen hands lovingly rubbed my lower back and he sweetly asked God to heal me, the muscles in my back went from being a fist to an open hand. The spasms released. I thanked them for the prayer and they offered to help with the rest of the cleanup.”

But Nadia’s healing didn’t end there. After stewing over a sense of failure and getting only two hours sleep when she knew she had a plane to catch at 4am to go to the conference, Nadia suddenly wakes up with what she calls a “bitch slap from the Holy Spirit”. She writes: “My eyes sprang open and out loud I said, “Oh wow.” The force of the realization hit me: My back didn’t hurt. It hadn’t hurt when they prayed for me and it didn’t hurt now as I laid in my bed, startled awake. I had received a healing. A temporary one, my back still has issues, but still…I had received a healing and I was too wrapped up in myself and my feelings and unmet expectations even to notice. And come to think of it, I hadn’t really noticed the joy people had in being together and handing out cotton candy in the street. I hadn’t really noticed that some hungry people in Triangle Park got to eat iron-rich burgers for dinner that night. I hadn’t really noticed that Amy, Jim and Stuart got to have the experience of caring for their pastor and that it was a blessing to them. I had decided the event was a failure since there wasn’t the right number of people and no one chipped in any money. How small.”

Later the healing goes on, because Nadia feels moved to tell this story of failure and healing and the realization brought by the Holy Spirit at the end of her presentation about her church at the conference. Later over lunch at the conference, she finds people coming to her table to share their own failure stories, “with heart and humour”. She concludes the chapter by saying: “…I realized that sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is talk honestly about being wrong.” In the context of my sense of failure at Kapunda, I still find this story profoundly moving, and healing.

There’s a couple of other points I wanted to make about healing by relating this story to the gospel passage for today. Although Jesus rebukes the disciples who couldn’t facilitate the healing of the boy by pointing to their lack of faith, it is only faith the size of a mustard seed that is needed for surprising things to happen. We have at least that amount of faith; but maybe we lack the confidence to act upon it. Furthermore, it is tragically wrong if the person in need of healing beats themselves up, believing that not being healed reflects their lack of faith. In many of the healing stories, it’s not the person being healed who has the faith to initiate the process. Someone who cares for them acts on their behalf. Nadia wasn’t in a space to believe in what her parishioners were doing in interceding for healing, and she didn’t even fully realize the healing had happened and had continued until later when the Holy Spirit made her aware. The father of the boy prays the appropriate prayer: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Then Nadia’s real healing is not only the relief from pain in her back which she acknowledges was temporary. It was the whole transformation of her resentment and self-blame, and the ripple effect that that had in enabling others to share their stories in a healing way, and then the further ripple of my cleansing tears as I read that story again in the context of my sense of failure in Kapunda and the closure of Point Pass. The sharing of our stories contributes greatly to healing and to the increase of faith.”