For our theme of “healing” this month, I thought I’d invite my wife, Virginia, to share her thoughts as a health educator:
Unitarian Universalists and other liberal religious traditions don’t practice the “faith healings” found in some churches. Most of us don’t believe that church rituals and prayers alone will cure us of infirmities. But this doesn’t mean faith and healing are disconnected in our spiritual practice.
This past week, my health science students have been learning about the psychosocial aspects of illness. We started the unit with a central question: What does it mean to heal? Our casual conversations often conflate healing and curing, but some scholars argue that these should be viewed as different processes. Curing, they say, involves removing all signs of disease or impairment from a person’s physical being. Healing, on the other hand, involves restoring a person to wholeness, allowing them to thrive once more – and this can occur even when a cure is impossible or far off!
Consider all that can come with illness in our world – pain perception, isolation, financial worries, difficulty maintaining meaningful activities and connections. These factors can vary based on one’s social situation, so two people with the same underlying physical condition may have very different illness experiences and different needs for restoration to wholeness.
Historian and former Catholic priest, John Dominic Crossan, draws from this distinction when he writes about the healing miracles found in Christian scripture:
“Whatever the actual disease, the illness was in the separation from family and village, a fate close to death in the ancient Mediterranean world of dyadic face-to-face culture, where one took one’s identity from the eyes of others. Such an illness Jesus healed (…) by refusing to stay separate from the sick person, by touching him and thereby confronting others with a challenge and choice. By so doing of course, he was making extremely subversive claims about who defined the community.”
As a health scientist who loves the ancient stories found in scripture, I find Crossan’s understanding of the “miraculous healings” compelling. What could such an approach to healing mean for us as people of faith in 2020? How are we called to restore individuals to wholeness, bring them back into full connection in our community, whether their challenges are of mind, body, or spirit? And how are we called to restore our communities to thriving, even if we can’t quickly and easily cure every social ill? As we explore this Soul Matters theme throughout November, may we each find ways to heal and be healed.
Rev. Jennifer Gracen
Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation
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