Thursday, February 23, 2012

Healing and Ministry

A. Hanson 2009

The following piece is from a seminar that I led for my Lutheran Mission Identity class: 

In early December 2009 I received a call from my friend Jeff, who lives in Kansas City, MO and works at the International House of Prayer (IHOP), an evangelical missions organization.  Our theology could not be more different, but our friendship has transcended that, and we challenge each other to examine our beliefs and assumptions and take nothing for granted. He called me that day in early December to share something exciting that was happening at IHOP. 
On November 11, 2009, the spirit moved in a first year class, bringing healing and deliverance, and sparking what came to be known as the Student Awakening.  The movement lasted for about a year and a half, with 24-hour live streaming, and had thousands of people flocking to IHOP for healing.  Below is a press release from IHOP:

"We recognize that the Holy Spirit is awakening our students and many others. In each of these meetings, many people are being set free from addictions, shame, depression, demonic activity, and every sort of emotional pain. We are also witnessing an increase of physical healings, as God is touching and restoring bodies inside the building, as well as healing people watching via the webstream..."

My immediate response to Jeff was disbelief and extreme skepticism.  Frankly, I just did not believe that this could happen.   I very clearly remember Jeff telling me the story of a miraculous physical healing of a classmate’s leg, and my own emotional reaction. I thought it was backwards and actually just downright crazy, although I kept that to myself.  My response was that because I had never seen such a miraculous healing, it could not be true.  But also a part of me longed for the power and passion that my friend Jeff and his classmates were experiencing. 
While exploring the healing ministries of Fifohanza, we were implored to consider that maybe our society was coming at the reality of spiritual healing in a backwards manner.  What if the same was true about this particular healing ministry at IHOP?  What does it say about my theology that I do not have necessarily have enough faith to trust that God could work miracles in my life if I have not personally seen them?  What if instead of looking down my theological nose at the ministries of IHOP, I opened myself to the possibility that God could work miracles in my life and in and through the people around me?  What would it mean for my faith if this were true? 
In College I remember talking with a friend who stopped taking insulin to regulate her diabetes as an act of faith that Jesus would heal her.  She ended up in the ER with dangerously high blood sugar levels and experienced a crisis of faith as a result.   Our campus pastor suggested that God also worked through medicine and science, and the fact that she was able to take insulin and live a fulfilling life was in and of itself an act of healing by God.  The theology at work here is that spiritual peace and a relatively healthy life in spite of a chronic illness could also be seen as a form healing.  This approach is also echoed on page 467 of the Roschke article with regards to the treatment of tuberculosis at the toby.  In this regard, the Malagasy communities are far ahead of Western culture.  They see the person as a whole, someone who is experiencing un-wellness, not just a disease, and in need of many types of care to be restored to health, though not necessarily “cured.”  In the toby, the process of illness is understood to impact someone’s entire life, and not just their physical health.  Part of being healed by God is restoration to wholeness in both spiritual and mental health, even if the body may still be weak.
Pastoral care is my main professional interest, and looking at healing and the theological approaches and responses to will undoubtedly come up frequently in my ministry.  There are a number of questions here: What is healing?  Who decides if a healing has taken place?  How do we cope with not having our prayers answered the way we think they should be (cosmic vending machine theology)?  What if despite our most earnest prayers and adherence to our faith, we still do not experience relief?  How does the minister respond to that?  The orthodoxy of believing that God will heal, bound up in a continuous cycle with the orthopraxy of healing prayer, is fraught with theological landmines. 
For my own personal theology, I believe that God works in this world and through others to provide healing for the whole person through physical, spiritual and mental healing.  I believe that even if someone is suffering physically, God will provide comfort and healing through spiritual means, and this often means through the hands of ministers and the community.  As a pastor, I see my role in this situation as one of holding the hope for wholeness in mind, body and spirit, and being fully present with those who are suffering.  Life has taught me that just because I want something to be a specific way, does not mean it will happen and just because something does not happen that I wanted, does not mean that God is not working in my life. My ministry to a future congregation will involve walking with the community in their grief and pain, making known the presence of God in suffering, and holding the hope that God can and does heal, even if we cannot understand how, when, or why.   

Friday, February 03, 2012

On walking the labyrinth

Iliff Labyrinth
The prayer labyrinth is a medieval tradition, found in many cathedrals from that time.  The best preserved example is the Chartres Cathedral in Northern France.

The labyrinth has been reborn as a form of contemplative meditation, a pilgrimage of sorts.  A person slowly walks through the labyrinth, gently wending and winding through to the center.  It is not a maze, there is one way in and one way out.  I have found that walking the labyrinth is an exercise in trust for me.  You have to walk slowly and deliberately.

I think that it is a function of who we are as a society that we are naturally suspicious that we are going to be taken advantage of or tricked.  The labyrinth is a challenge for me because I am somehow afraid that I will get lost.  I know this is not possible, because I have literally walked various labyrinths hundreds of times, but each walk through the labyrinth is a pilgrimage of trust.  Trusting in the presence of God to guide me.

In a way, walking the labyrinth is like walking through my life.  I need to slow down, and watch only where I am walking at that point in time.  I need to trust that the journey is what is most important, and that even though I cannot see the ending, I must keep walking.

I try to walk a labyrinth as often as possible.  Some of my favorites have been at Flathead Lutheran camp, the UCC retreat center outside Colorado Springs, the labyrinth at Holden Village, and an informal labyrinth created by visitors to the lakes at St. Etienne at Taize in France.  My seminary offers the opportunity to walk a labyrinth a couple times a month, and I crave that quiet time in the dimly lit Great Hall.  It is a respite from the craziness of schoolwork and writing and discerning.  It is just being. And I need to do more of that.