Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:45-57
How can Mary rejoice in God as savior when her path of healing has led her through banishment in the hill country of Judea to have a baby that everyone believes is illegitimate? How can Isaiah speak of the ransomed returning to Zion with singing when the people hadn’t even accepted they would become exiles? How do people pursue the path of healing when the path becomes barely perceptible and meanders through barren deserts and isolated villages that don’t seem to have the resources to sustain life? How do the American people find integrity in this time of turmoil in our country?
Life is a healing journey on which we become what we were intended to be. Isaiah’s healing journey is a highway on which the eyes of the blind shall be opened; the ears of the deaf unstopped; and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. Mary’s healing journey is an upheaval brought about by her son, in which God shows strength to the fearful, scatters the proud, lifts up the lowly, brings down the powerful, fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty.
The healing journey comes as both gift and task. We don’t choose it, just as Mary didn’t choose to have the Holy Spirit overshadow her; but we do have to say “Here am I” and set out on the next leg of the journey, even if it leads to the hill country. We don’t build the highway, and we certainly don’t choose the desert; but we have to take steps to get on it and walk down it.
Israel’s destiny was written on their heart. It couldn’t be erased by either final judgments or impossible recoveries. Isaiah describes what happens when exiles start walking through the desert. They start and continue when all looks hopeless. Transformation doesn’t just happen; it happens because people traverse it on their way to their destiny. It’s the opposite of a mirage. In a mirage we see water from a distance and it disappears when we get closer. On the healing journey, we see a desert from the distance; only when we keep walking in spite of it being a desert that the desert bursts into bloom with resources for life.
When I speak of healing I’m not just speaking of physical healing. I imagine people discovering who they really are and what they are to do on this planet. When Isaiah says the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, he is describing Israel’s vocation as people who belong to God and who are to dwell joyfully in God’s presence, even when they are in exile.
When Mary sings, God has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, she is reflecting on an incomprehensible experience that nonetheless felt true to who she was. Conception became the turning point in her life journey. Her situation looked impossible to everyone but her. She could not see the possibility but knew it had something to do with becoming who she was meant to be.
She chose faith and courage because she sensed that she had to follow that path to make peace with herself. Israel sensed the same thing, though sometimes it made them arrogant. Mary sometimes she wished she couldn’t sense it. Both perceived what others couldn’t yet. The path of healing isn’t obvious before pursuing it. Those who walk according to God’s promises need to help those who can’t see when all they have is a promise, and a sense that this is for me. We need more people who pursue the path of healing, and prop up those who can’t believe the promise.
The path of healing isn’t just for those who are sick. I’ve spoken with many folks who resist psychotherapy because they think only sick people need healing. Many have been raised to think that being sick makes them weak or bad. We wrap ourselves in armor to get people’s approval. On the road to self-discovery, we can shed our armor and allow ourselves and others to experience our true selves.
This involves deeper healing –of emotions, relationships, childhood wounds, and spiritual slavery. That gets my attention. I have seen how healing like that breaks open the seeds of life that allow life in the face of death, freedom in the midst of oppression, joy in the presence of great sadness and love in the face of hurt.
Henri Nouwen wrote about this in the final journal of his life before he died. He is talking to himself, and he speaks about the wound as loneliness: “Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to find the source of this feeling. You’re inclined either to run away from your loneliness or to dwell in it. When you run away from it, your loneliness doesn’t really diminish. When you start dwelling in it, your feelings become stronger, and you slip into depression. The spiritual task is to find its source. When you can identify the place from which these feelings emerge, they will lose some of their power over you. It leads you to discern something good about yourself. The pain of your loneliness may be rooted in your deepest vocation. Your loneliness may be revealed as the other side of your unique gift. You may find your loneliness not only tolerable but even fruitful.” (The Inner Eye of Love, p. 36)
It takes tremendous courage to make this journey. It requires waking up to the deeper wounds and pain of life and moving beyond self pity to a practice of love in which enhancing the life of another truly matters even at the cost of ones own comfort.
Sometimes I get tired of reflecting on my life. But I keep returning to the work of connecting my life experiences to my healing journey in order to clarify my vocation. It involves observing things about my life – noticing dynamics that are consistent: how I react to a mistake; what keeps making me angry; what kind of ministry activities I keep choosing when the choice is there; what situations I consistently avoid.
I have to be willing to admit I don’t know what the healed state is going to look like. It may not look like what I hope for, but it will be what I truly wanted, even when I cannot perceive the truth of that. I don’t know what a healthy multicultural community at St. Athanasius will look like. I have some ideas and visions, but sometimes the path seems like it is a series of dead ends. In a relationship where I experience alienation it is hard for me to imagine that there is any path toward reconciliation. I want to run in the other direction, avoid the conflict, avoid the person & avoid the subject. But the promise is that by facing the conflict, facing the person, & facing the subject there can be reconciliation. It is not guaranteed and it is not painless.
The new world is already present if we can perceive it. Even when the old world seems so powerful; when it takes faith and conviction to believe that the new world is really coming, it is available to all of us. The new world involves healed relationships and emotions. When the old one dominates, it’s really hard to believe in the new one. When I can’t stand to be with a certain person, it’s difficult to imagine reconciliation. When the nation’s core values are under threat of being smashed, it’s difficult to hold out hope for the future. When I am out of work and can’t see a path toward employment, it’s difficult to imagine security. In the same way it’s difficult to imagine that a desert will burst into bloom while we are walking through it; or that a rose will bloom in the wintertime, when roses aren’t supposed to bloom; or that a son who will cause a sword to pierce the heart of his mother will be the savior of the world. But the Word of God tells us that’s how it is; and it invites us to believe it. Are you willing to believe in the possibility of the future promised by God? Then let’s live as if we believed it!